The polarization of a nation over Sandra Fluke's testimony before Congress on the rights of every woman to have contraceptive insurance coverage has been more than ratings-grabbing rhetoric. While anyone has the freedom to agree or disagree with Fluke's position, the conversation has devolved into personal attacks, sparking major news articles in the Los Angeles Times, the Huffington Post, and others.
On one level, so what?! One more time, a woman who stood up and advocated for rights for women, especially in the area of sex and money, has been attacked. Isn't that just what happens? Ignore it and move on. On another level, wow! The personal name-calling, public digging into every area of Fluke's past and constant opinions being debated will strike a chord in the wounded hearts of millions of women.
It's all about shame. Every woman who has been raised with put-downs knows what shame feels like. Every woman who has been in an abusive relationship (and even some who wouldn't classify their relationship as "abusive") knows what shame feels like. Sometimes it's the little things: jokes about your weight or body shape, little comments about how your needs are not important, dismissal of your opinions and so on. Sometimes it's big things: name calling and labels ("You're just a slut," "What do you expect with a past like yours?") or public putdowns and attacks like those received by Fluke. Influential Celebrities Speak Out Against Bullying
Guilt says: "I did something against my own values and need to make it right or make a change."
Shame says: "I am something wrong/bad and don't deserve respect or kindness." When Fear Says "Stay"
Whether you grew up with shame as your constant companion or learned it in dysfunctional relationships as an adult, you know the power of shame. Shame leaves you feeling less-than, incompetent, unimportant. It's the feeling of being a mistake, of being unacceptable, of being bad.
The power of shame is that it hangs on long after your mind brings up arguments against the illogic and paints everything in your life with a cloud of darkness. Shame will make you cower when you long to stand tall and ensure your silence when you wish to speak. Shame is why women who are beaten rarely press charges (I was one of those), why women from abusive childhoods often choose romantic partners to repeat old patterns (I was one of those) and why women so often struggle with low self-esteem, anger and depression (I was one of those).
Within the shame message of, "I am something wrong/bad" is the added complication of reality. If you're human, you've made mistakes. If you're an adult, you've had sex—perhaps with someone you wish you hadn't. If you've lived past adolescence, you've struggled with weight and body image. If you're alive, you are imperfect. Somehow we women compound the problem of shame by believing the message. Do All Women Have Body Image Issues?