*This talk has its loose origins in my doctoral thesis “Social Construction of a Bad Woman” from 2014 and has been presented at the conference “Engendering Difference: Sexism, Power and Politics“, that took place on 12-13 May 2017 in Maribor at the Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Maribor, Slovenia.*
Stranger shaming is an act of (secretly) taking pictures of strangers in public spaces and posting them to social media sites later. They are taken without permission of people being photographed to document their activity or appearance which is neither illegal, nor offensive but to the photographer, they seem socially inappropriate, morally wrong or just a way to mock someone publicly. Strangers do something that the photographer – who feels superior to them or their behaviour – disapproves of.
The dominant definition via Urban Dictionary, an Internet platform that creates many cultural stereotypes and debunks them at the same time, describes crazy cat lady as “an elderly suburban widow who lives alone and keeps dozens or more pet cats, usually many more than municipal code allows, in a small house, and refuses to give away or sell them even for the sake of the safety of the cats or herself”, “a woman, usually middle-aged or older, who lives alone with no husband or boyfriend, and fills the empty lonely void in her life with as many cats as she can collect in one place. Said homes are usually very stinky and the aforementioned woman may also very likely be white trash”, “a woman who loves her cats more than people”, “that old lady that lives down the street from you that has over a dozen cats named after each of her ex-boyfriends that have done her wrong”.
Overexcitement is for children only and is not classy. #How to shame someone’s feelings on basis of their age and/or class
We all know what sexism means – it is a prejudice (i.e. discrimination or uneven treatment) against people on the basis of their gender (e.g. women, but also trans, genderqueer, gender fluid or intersex people) that operates on the societal, organisational and interpersonal level, can be typed as blatant, subtle or covert and can manifest in different dimensions (e.g. formal/informal, cumulative/episodic, deliberate/unintentional, public/private, Benokraitis and Feagin, 1995).
But what is an internalized sexism or misogyny? It is not hard to imagine that if the society is sexist, women won’t pick up or internalise those attitudes and definitions about their own gender on the basis of those beliefs. Internalized sexism happens when a woman is using the same sexist attitudes and beliefs about her gender towards herself and other women. Any woman can be subjected to sexist attitudes from two different sources: the opposite (e.g. men) and the same gender (e.g. women), so being a woman is like being caught between Scylla and Charybdis.
We were all young and we will all age (if we live long enough). Age is more than just a sum of years, spent on this planet, it is a social construct that allows people to unjustly categorize other people. Falling into a certain age group is never neutral; it has social consequences on a smaller (i.e. individual) and larger (i.e. systematic) scale. Those consequences are sometimes manifested negatively – as age discrimination or ageism. Ageism refers to attitudes and beliefs, feelings and behaviour towards people based on their age, where the normal or “right” age is from 25 to 55 years old. Right-aged people represent the economic, cultural and social motor of the society and by this, they possess the symbolic power; power that allows them to define Others according to their beliefs on what is right (good) and what is wrong (bad).
In the postmodern Western society, sexism has become less obvious, which does not mean that it has disappeared, it merely changed its modus operandi. Instead of blatant sexism, as it was the practice in the past, it became subtle and covert. Due to the internalized sexist standards, subtle sexism often goes unnoticed, so it is perceived as “normal”, “unproblematic” and common. For example, condescending chivalry (i.e. courteous, protective men’s behaviour towards women carries an assumption of women as helpless subordinates) or subjective objectification (i.e. a type of sexism where women are perceived as “Smurfettes”) are subtle forms of sexism.
Women’s feet are supposed to be small and narrow, but what is constituted as ‘small’, varies from culture to culture and time to time. This is not just a tacit rule, the prevalence of small women’s feet is evident in the general lack of shoe sizes over 41 (9 ½ USA, 7 UK) in mainstream shoe industry and stores. When something as natural as the shoe size variety is being ignored – and not producing bigger shoe sizes is a capital consumer negligence – then big feet are being Othered or to put it differently, the society (and shoe industry in particular) is being sizeist.
Sizeism is a discrimination against a person on the basis of her/his/their body size (fat, thin, small or tall), but it also includes a less common prejudice against a person’s length and width of feet. This prejudice is far more problematic for women, whose feet size is larger than number 41. They fall out of the category to be ‘beautiful’ because western society’s notions of women’s beauty are intertwined with their feminine physicality. Beautiful = feminine.