On Shame

3 Aug

A book I am currently reading – about which I will say very little, as the plan is to review it on my blog – features a character who donates her eggs, a process our very own Christie is currently undergoing. In the book, the character is acting out of financial desperation, and sees the process as a violation of her “purity”, and a deeply shameful way to make money.

I am reading this book and feeling absolutely flabbergasted. Call me naive, but I had no idea that people feel this way about egg donation. I can’t imagine it being something to feel ashamed about. The character feels that she is selling her body, and several times in the book there is an implied equivalency to sex work (which I also don’t think is shameful, but I recognize I’m not part of the majority on that one). Every time she mentioned her guilt, the gift of precious life that she was selling, the child that could have been hers, I wanted to reach into the book, take her by the shoulders and say, “You know that egg would have gone in the toilet otherwise, right?” I mean one of her main concerns seems to be that she is a virgin, and this is damaging her purity. But it’s like, if you’re a virgin, you’re not actively trying to get those eggs fertilized, so what’s the problem?

The whole experience of reading this book, while frustrating, is not entirely new to me. I am constantly flabbergasted by the things that women (myself included) find shameful or are expected to find shameful in Western culture. Sex work is a perfect example. I have a friend who is a sex worker – we are not super close, but we go out for dinner when we’re in each other’s cities, and we exchange the occasional email. When I reference her profession in conversation (usually to tell one of her hilarious/weird stories about ridiculous clients), I get more judgment and distaste than I ever did about working in abortion care. But it seems pretty obvious to me how they are connected. Women’s bodies are, after all, public property (didn’t you know?) and therefore it is acceptable for any perfect stranger to judge what you’re doing with yours.

Sometimes I find myself feeling ashamed about the most ridiculous things, and then I have to examine that shame and figure out where it comes from. Why should women be embarrassed to be sex workers? To have abortions? To have miscarriages, for crying out loud! To donate eggs? To shave/not shave their body/facial hair? To seek egg/sperm donors? To be/not be sexually active? To be queer? To masturbate? To suck dick/eat pussy/take it in the butt? To use birth control?

I mean, it’s not stuff you need to bring up apropos of nothing at the dinner table – in fact, you don’t have to bring it up at all if you don’t want to – but it just drives me crazy that we’re carrying all this guilt about stuff like this, and letting it take up so much of our time and energy. But we live in a culture that makes it sometimes quite dangerous for women NOT to be ashamed of these things. It’s easy for me to say, stop being ashamed of your egg donation. But when women risk more than judgment – when they risk being kicked out of their families, churches and/or communities for any of the above behavior – it’s not so simple. We need to change the culture, to make it safe.

I believe the way to do that is for those of us who can, who have the privilege of non-judgmental support networks, to make a conscious decision to stop feeling shame for the decisions we make about our bodies. One person at a time, let’s make it ok to take control over our bodies and our lives, let’s transform the culture into one that accepts a woman’s right to choose (and if you think I’m just talking about abortion, you haven’t been paying attention).

My own mother’s advice is not to fight feelings. When they show up, acknowledge them. “Hello little sadness,” she says. “Hello shame. What brings you here today?” There is no need to engage these feelings; you can decide on your own to feel or not feel that shame or that hurt. The important thing is, where does it come from? Is it even yours?

I don’t know about you folks, but I have enough of my own crap to deal with. I don’t need to be taking on the feelings other people have about my choices. So I reject them and get on with my life. At least I’m trying to. And I encourage you to try to, as well–because loving yourself is a revolutionary act. And revolutionary acts will change the world for the better.

2 Responses to “On Shame”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Anti-Choice is Anti-Awesome: Weekly Reader - November 26, 2012

    […] is back in jail. Anti-abortion images spur complaints. Church blocks anti-abortion protesters. And these two posts are my latest at Abortion Gang. What have you been reading? Posted by The Pedgehog […]

  2. Anti-Choice is Anti-Awesome: Book Corner: Nobody's Child by Austin Boyd - November 26, 2012

    […] recommending this novel. 1. The attitude towards egg donation: I blogged a little bit about this here. Basically, I just could not get around the huge and incomprehensible (to me) plot point of how […]

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