Slut-shaming. Period-shaming. Body-shaming. Mum-shaming.
Women are subjected to gender-based shame all the time and while derogatory comments are often downplayed, the reality is many women they have a long-lasting impact.
Now, one artist is inviting women (and girls) to take a huge weight off their shoulders by sharing their experiences in a safe and anonymous space.
Suzie Blake, 37, from Melbourne, Australia, created an installation called ‘The Wall Of Shamed’ so women could write down the nasty comments made about their bodies or the things people said to them which were derogatory, sexist or abusive.
Suzie tells HuffPost UK that the work has been both heartwarming and heart-wrenching: “The stories are so sad, but seeing that there are so many of them and they are often so similar gives each woman a sense of mutual understanding – a sense of solidarity. As individuals we are static, but as a group we can move mountains.”
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The wall, located at the Victorian College of the Arts Masters Graduate Exhibition (Melbourne, Australia), is scattered with upsetting and often heartbreaking comments detailing what some women have been subjected to.
Suzie says the ones relating to rape are particularly harrowing. One of the messages reads: “The man who raped me when I was fourteen told me I had ‘charging rhinoceros thighs’.”
Another says: “We were discussing recent rapes in our city when a friend who is a law enforcement officer said to me, ‘You don’t need to worry. You’re too ugly to be raped’.”
What’s deeply saddening is that while some of the comments came from strangers on the street, an alarming number of women were shamed by their boyfriends and husbands.
One admission reads: “My first serious boyfriend and the first person I had sex with told me that I couldn’t be on top during sex because I was too big to be on top.”
Suzie’s work was originally inspired by an exploration of teen pregnancy and the way teen mums are treated in society – but it soon spiralled into something bigger.
“I am a feminist artist and I tend to research and try to understand issues that affect women in particular,” she explains. “I try to combat these issues through my work. I feel that teen pregnancy is often ignored in mainstream feminism and I find that problematic.
“I think the shame piled on to pregnant teenage girls is unlike any other in our society – and it’s deplorable. I mean, let’s be honest, they’re all doing it! I could have got pregnant as a teenager, so could my sister and half of our mates. It happens.”
Teens aren’t the only group who are shamed, either. “I know of older women who got pregnant and had to give their babies away, or were totally ostracised in their community,” Suzie adds.
“Not only that, in so many parts of the world abortion is not an option, or it’s impossible to undertake, or worse illegal.”
Suzie notes that the shame experienced by women is vastly different to the shame experienced by men – and it’s almost always directed at their bodies.
Her wall is inspired by Germaine Greer, who wrote that “a woman’s body is the battlefield where she fights for liberation”.
Suzie says: “If we are to liberate ourselves we must understand ourselves, and part of understanding ourselves involves sharing our experiences.”
The artist believes the process of adding comments to the wall is extremely cathartic. “I was able to release some of my deep-seated shame, and it felt good to get it off my chest,” she explains. “Reading about other women’s similar experiences has had the effect of making me feel like I’m not alone. And also that it wasn’t ‘me’, but society’s expectation of what I should be.”
So what needs to change to stop this cycle of shame? Suzie says there needs to be a cultural shift. “It’s not up to women to bear the burden of this kind of shaming – to ‘deal with it’ as we are so often told,” she explains.
“This type of shaming has been created and is invoked by a society that thrives on keeping women in a place of a subordination and objecthood.
“Certainly, women shame other women, but it is through the lens of misogyny. The expectation that women live up to some fantasy of perfect womanhood is deeply problematic, and I don’t see those expectations lessening any time soon. If anything they’re getting worse.”