Deborah Hill Cone
Deborah Hill Cone is a Herald columnist

Deborah Hill Cone: Shame is a cause - not a remedy

After the Stanford University rape case, like many of you, I've been thinking about what we can do to eradicate what has been called "rape culture". In the outrage that followed Brock Turner's six-month sentence, there have been calls for men to take responsibility for these crimes.

This is true and correct. But I think there are some other uncomfortable truths. Brock Turner was once a tiny, innocent baby. He was once a little boy.

Brene Brown studies vulnerability. Once, at a book signing, a man asked her why she doesn't mention men in her work. She replied: "I don't study men." The man said (drily): "That's convenient." He challenged her: "You say to reach out, tell our story, be vulnerable". But he said his wife and three daughters would "rather me die on top of my white horse than watch me fall down. When we reach out and be vulnerable, we get the shit beaten out of us.

And don't tell me it's from the guys and the coaches and the dads. Because the women in my life are harder on me than anyone else."

Yes, sisters, isn't that uncomfortable to hear? Are we making men sit up there on their white chargers? Do we shame men when they show weakness; when they fall down? There is no doubt we tend to desire men who are competitive and fearless, more than those who Marian Keyes disparagingly called feathery strokers.

Brown started interviewing men and what she learned was that men say very few women are able to "sit with" a man who shows real vulnerability and fear. Yes, sisters, us.

What are we doing to our sons, to our boys and our men? Looking at the very worst cases offers up even more uncomfortable truths.

Psychiatrist James Gilligan works with male psychopaths. Before he began his work, he pictured psychopaths as if they were another species; born that way, without shame. But after he had spent a lot of time working in a prison for society's most incorrigibly violent characters, he noticed that the psychopaths would all say they themselves had died before they started killing other people.

What they meant was that their personalities had died. They felt dead inside. They had no capacity for feelings. No emotional feelings. Or even physical feelings. Some would cut themselves or they would mutilate themselves in the most horrible ways. Their inner numbness was even more tormenting than the physical pain would be.

Are we making men sit up there on their white chargers? Do we shame men when they show weakness; when they fall down?

They said they felt like robots, or zombies; their bodies were empty or filled with straw, not flesh and blood, that instead of having veins and nerves they had ropes or cords.

Gilligan: "These men's souls did not just die. They had dead souls because their souls were murdered. How did it happen? How were they murdered?" Answering this question was Gilligan's life's work. One day he realised. Universal among the violent criminals was that they were "keeping a secret". The secret was these men were deeply, chronically, acutely ashamed.

He said he had yet to see a serious act of violence that was not prompted by the experience of being shamed. "As children these men were shot, axed, scalded, beaten, strangled, tortured, drugged, starved, suffocated, set on fire, thrown out of the window, raped or prostituted by mothers."

For each of them the shaming occurred on a scale so extreme, so bizarre and so frequent that Gilligan said "one cannot fail to see that the men who occupy the extreme end of the continuum of violent behaviour in adulthood occupied an equally extreme end of the continuum of violent child abuse earlier in life".

With this in mind, it is not so easy to say "they", those bad men, must just get better. Women have to change too. Miriam Greenspan in her book Healing through the Dark Emotions: The Wisdom of Grief, Fear and Despair says in our male-dominated society men are systematically trained to become "bystanders", split off from their emotions and the emotions of others, while women are socialised to be "carriers", to feel and express not only their own but others' emotions.

"To generalise, it's men's lot to have their capacity for emotion damaged or broken and it's women's lot to carry the accumulated sorrows of the systems in which they live, whilst being devalued for it," Greenspan writes.

I'm coming to the end of my 800-word limit for this column and I know I'm not exactly coming up with anything very uplifting and helpful. Change is painful. There is no simple way to move from being sick to being compassionate and soulful. But of one thing I am deeply certain, we are not going to fix rape culture by shaming men even more.

• The passage about Jim Gilligan's research is sourced from Jon Ronson's book So You've Been Publicly Shamed.

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW

© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf05 at 29 Sep 2016 22:00:36 Processing Time: 848ms