Shakespeare gave us, “To thine own self be true.” He gave us a great many things, but today this quote means more to me. While it can apply to many areas of life or mean different things to different people, what it means to me is to honor who I am. Honoring who I am means being honest with myself, because if I’m not honest and true to myself then I’m not being true to others.
Recently, I had several talks with people about owning who we are, being proud of who we are, and why these things are important. The concept is simple enough and most people can agree that being ourselves is vital to our happiness. Yet when we got talking in depth, so many of us suppress a part of who we are. Not because that part of us is ‘bad’ but because we ‘think’ it’s bad.
Suppressing who we are is damaging.
When I began writing this post, I didn’t see how owning who we are, shame, rape culture, misogyny, and our differences were connecting. But they are connected. I’d like to share these insights in hopes that some of this will resonate with my readers.
The reasons why we suppress who we are mostly have to do with shame—whether it’s societal shame or self-shaming. We’re taught to think that some things are good and healthy while others are things to be avoided, and this doesn’t help any of us.
Shame is proven to be bad for our health. Both mentally and physically. Our shame is also horrible for those around us. According to Psychology Today, carrying shame leads to other negative emotions, as well as projection, depression, narcissism, and so forth. It makes us feel heavy and sometimes sick to our stomachs, or might make us hold back in a situation when we shouldn’t.
Along with being horrible for our health, carrying shame hurts others in ways we can’t often foresee, which I hope to illustrate by the end of this post.
To give an example, I struggled with owning my sexuality. I’m a highly sexual person that thinks about sex , sexual energy, and orgasms pretty much all day long.
If I were a man, most people would laugh and say that’s typical. Yet because I’m a woman, I’m a slut. Granted, I love being called a slut by D. It turns me on. But that’s because I know when D says it, he means it as a compliment. Not an insult.
Most others mean it as an insult.
So owning how much I walk around turned on and desiring sex was difficult. I used to get caught up in worry over someone thinking less of me. Or I’d start to feel responsible for my sexual abuse, like I somehow caused it—at six years of age—because I was projecting too much sexuality. And sadly, some of my family believed that women couldn’t be raped. That is was her fault for being too sexual.
Hearing family and friends and church members blame the victims shoveled all that blame and shame onto me. Despite all my confidence and acceptance of who I am, I still carried some of this until very recently. I had to fight it and remind myself where it came from.
Society didn’t helped either.
This whole notion of rape culture is tough for me. In fact, that topic was part of what spawned this post. While I know owning who we are and being proud of who we are is important, this post came from someone asking me what he could do, what his part should be in helping to shift rape culture.
That conversation ended with me suggesting that he own who he is, his strengths, then explaining why that’s important. For him, his strengths and ways to help made him cringe a little. That’s not how he wanted to help. He wanted to help in another way, but that way isn’t his strength. His strengths begin with his intelligence, but adding to his power are his height, muscle, and ability to knock a rapist out with one swift punch. The latter of these strengths were what bothered him.
We all have strengths and sometimes those strengths are what we are most ashamed of. It might be—like my case was—my constant exuding of sexuality, or it might be someone’s intelligence and ability to run someone in circles verbally, or may be someone’s size and physical strength, or mothering instincts, it doesn’t matter what it is because someone, somewhere will find a way to use that against us. To use that to claim we are somehow less.
Since I can only talk about my experiences with any clarity, I’ll get a bit more into this and how me owning who I am sexually and being public about it actually helps with rape culture education.
Rape culture is a sticky subject. Partially because it’s shifted over the years, just as feminism has. When I speak of rape culture, what I’m referring to is the entire culture of misogyny, sexism, and rape, whether it’s a violent rape or not. It’s referencing date rape, spousal rape, anything that blames the victim because of drunkenness or clothing choices, it’s the notion that women are below men and therefore are required to perform sexual acts upon request, even the belief that it’s okay to catcall a woman as she walks down the street. While rape culture is huge and covers many topics—therefore I suggest doing some research on this—what a lot of this boils down to for me is societal expectations.
Misogyny is about hating women and it feeds into rape culture.
The hardest part of these two topics is that as a society, we’ve come to expect certain behavior and ways of thinking and speaking, and therefore we tolerate things we shouldn’t. Some of rape culture is about pure hatred of women, but not all. In fact, not even most. Much of this behavior has been passed down from older generations. Which means that every day we likely see something or say something that feeds into rape culture and we don’t know it. When we realize we’ve taken part, and I can say this as a victim of a great deal of sexual abuse that still says the wrong thing from time to time, it’s easy to get defensive and/or judge ourselves. Yet I know I’ve said things, even something as simple as non-consensual, and that feeds into this culture.
When it comes to sex, there is only consent and rape. By saying non-consensual, I’m taking away the depth of it being rape. I speak on consent and have for a couple of years now, yet this is something I’m just now coming to understand. There’s consent, enthusiastic consent (which is my preferred), and rape. Without realizing it, I was feeding that culture by not calling it rape. This is not to say that a hug can be non-consensual, or a violation of trust in a verbal manner, because those things are not rape. But when it comes to sex/intercourse, it’s consent or rape.
Education is key. Even as a victim, I needed to learn that using the word rape was necessary. I’d chosen the less offensive of the words by calling it non-consent. And this happens every day.
Linking Shame, Misogyny, and Rape Culture
A large part of misogyny and rape culture have grown out of sexual shaming. Whether that be from claims that masturbation is evil, or only bad women enjoy sex, men can’t enjoy their anus played with, women can’t have multiple partners, we have to be male/female partners only, or something else that involves shaming ourselves sexually. When we’re taught to shame ourselves and one another, the person carrying that shame might feel like a deviant, a pervert, some kind of sexual degenerate, and all of those things can lead to abusive behavior. It’s like the kid that is told he’ll grow up to become a thief so often that when put in a difficult situation, stealing is the first thing that comes to mind. Because in his mind, he’s simply being what he is.
When we’re taught that our desires are wrong, that women are subservient to men, that men must be emotionless drones of power and dominance, we create this culture of shame and hate. As with my earlier mention of Psychology Today, carrying shame leads to many negative emotions, including depression, projection, and even narcissism. While fear is also tied to misogyny and rape culture, I wonder where that fear is coming from?
Are we afraid of owning who we are? Afraid of being shamed? Afraid of the power we possess, no matter the genitalia we’re born with? Do we fear other’s power when they own who they are and we do not?
Owning Who I Am Was My Answer
By not allowing others to shame me, I walk around all day long, showing others that owning our sexuality is a beautiful and healthy thing. Because I’m happy. I enjoy myself. I’m completely comfortable with who I am.
By owning who I am, I am being honest with myself and others. This gives others permission to do the same. When we walk around without shame, we project confidence and joy outwardly.
Because I’m public about my sexuality and don’t hide my deepest and dirtiest desires, I can talk to people about things that others might not feel comfortable talking about. I have no problem sharing how much I love being Daddy’s princess, or how much I enjoy slapping a subby girl in the face, and that means it’s easier for others to share their darker, delicious desires with me.
A couple of years ago, I was ashamed of these parts of me. I thought they made me bad. And some people close to me told me they did. I allowed others to shame me and then I shamed myself. Had I not started submitting to D, I’d likely be on that path of self-destruction still. He—by not being ashamed of who he is—helped me on my path of owning my own sexuality. He was open, confident, and is himself all the time. He doesn’t pretend or suppress who he is and this helped me to embrace who I am.
Owning who we are helps the people around us.
Shame isn’t worth the price we pay.
We have differences for a reason. One of the things that makes all of this misogyny and rape culture so hard is that it attacks us for our differences rather than embracing them. It’s these differences that are the key to healing us. If we stop shaming ourselves and proudly own who we are—with integrity—then we can fill in these holes that previous generations have dug us into.
I educate others by owning my sexuality and being public about these things. Others protest, some write bills and fight for better laws, some speak out on social media, others write books and screenplays/scripts, and some—much to my friend’s dismay—are there to protect in a more physical way. We can’t all be gigantic and strong and have the ability to knock a rapist out with one punch.
We need all of us living in our integrity and being who we are to take us from this place of societal shame, misogyny, and rape culture into a place of acceptance and joy.
This is clearly a much larger topic than I can fit into a little post, but these conversations are healthy to have. They inspire education and growth when we approach them with compassion for one another. For now, I leave you with Shakespeare’s words once again, “To thine own self be true,” and Hippocrates (or possibly one of his students), “First do no harm.”
*image by Dawson Toth on freeimages.com*