Shame and Call-out Culture

FIRST: I freely admit to being over 60 and that I became a feminist in the 70s. There are many reasons for people to be unhappy about those facts, but there they are. I did not grow up in a culture where it was considered a good idea to make sure that everyone in your social circle was very aware of any faux pas, poor word choice, or “moral” screw-up any other member of the group was unfortunate enough to commit. We called that gossiping, spite, just plain not being a good friend.

Oh no. She’s in a mood.

SECOND: Navigating society in a way that respects other people’s beliefs, cultures, preferences, and sore spots has never been easy. When I was a kid, it was polite to call darker-skinned Americans “negroes.” When “black” became preferred, some took longer than others to transition, but we did it, out of respect. Those of us who are not black, do our best to say “African-American” when relevant (knowing full well that not all dark-skinned neighbors identify that way).

When I was a kid I knew exactly TWO gay people, which I’d guess to be two more than most 60s kids. I’ve watched with awe and pleasure as stigmas have fallen away and people can express their gender and sexuality however makes them happy. What would my life have been like if I’d known “gender fluid” was an option? The point to this is that if you are still learning all these wonderful possibilities, you might mess up. Older people are human.

This guy is species fluid.

THIRD: I grew up wanting to be human and to enjoy peace, love, and all the things we humans have in common. I now know that makes me…I’m not sure what, something bad…too full of white privilege, or an evil capitalist…no clue, really. It’s taking me a while to get used to how attached people have become to their labels. And it’s not new. Disabled > differently abled > living with a disability. It’s all good. We need to think about this stuff.

Let’s take a break and enjoy this sweet poem inside a butter package.

While I’m trying to figure out if I’m cis-gendered (I think that’s bad), cis-gender (that’s the right one, I think), a straight woman who is fine being called “she,” or an asexual hermit, I’d like to say I’ll do my best to call you by your favorite label if you forgive me for guessing wrong.

What’s This All About?

I’ll tell you. I don’t grasp what the intentions of the “call-out culture” are. Here are some of my best guesses as to what someone who calls another person out publicly intends to do (some positive, some negative):

  • Promote a cause
  • Change someone’s thinking or actions to be more in line with their own
  • Start a conversation
  • Educate the singled-out person and everyone else they know
  • Demonstrate how culturally suave and au courant they are
  • Point out how old-fashioned and irrelevant the singled-out person is

Here’s what some consequences may be:

  • Learn something new
  • Feel shame and humiliation
  • Lose trust in the accuser
  • Distance themselves from a cause they thought they cared about
  • Silence – no chance of dialog

Notice that while the called-out person might learn something new, they also might experience a lot of unpleasant stuff.

Isn’t this what we go to therapy to get rid of? Is this how we want to treat each other now?

Is that worth it? Is it worth fracturing beloved community just to prove how evolved you are? Is it respectful? Aren’t we all entitled to respect and dignity, even when we are wrong or misinformed? My church used to tell us that.

What makes me really sad is when proponents of calling out get indignant when they are told they hurt or offend someone. They blame the hurt person for not liking being treated that way. “You deserved it!” When offered an alternative to calling out, there’s comeback after comeback like that. Wait, does it hurt to be called out for poorly calling out? [humor]

This is a wasp with no wings! Thanks to my friend Mike for the photo. This shows I love my friends. Somehow.

We old second-wave feminists and ancient gay rights activists are just supposed to sit there, holding our heads down in shame, while the new wave takes over and does it better than we did. Sigh. I guess I will, then.

This Old Fart Gives Up (or is it “flatulently aged?”)

We get told being nice and kind is old-fashioned. Respect your elders? No way! We are told that having good intentions and genuinely caring for others is some sort of cop-out. If we do acts that are courageous for us, we don’t do them the right way. If we offer a word of criticism, or call people out for being rude or bullying, we’re waving our white privilege again. So I’ll keep my damned good thoughts and helpful impulses to myself.

I would much prefer learning new ideas from my younger friends, sharing of the things my generation learned when they struggled, then working together to make the world a better place.

Mandi’s very moist strawberry cake also makes the world a better place.

I’d love it if, when we mess up, a friend would take us aside, explain the issue, and then allow us to apologize, share what we’ve learned with others, and move forward together, not fractured into dozens of sub-groups.

I just don’t see how public shaming is helpful. Call me old-fashioned. I’m sure you will, all over Facebook.


FOURTH: I mainly wrote this for me, to help me let go of being upset about how people I know have been treated lately (more than one thing; more than one group). It might help someone else, or maybe someone will explain to me how the calling out is supposed to work. I am probably wrong, because I’m old and cis-gender.

Author: Sue Ann (Suna) Kendall

The person behind The Hermits' Rest blog and many others. I'm a certified Texas Master Naturalist and love the nature of Milam County. I manage technical writers in Austin, help with Hearts Homes and Hands, a personal assistance service, in Cameron, and serve on three nonprofit boards. You may know me from La Leche League, knitting, iNaturalist, or Facebook. I'm interested in ALL of you!

11 thoughts on “Shame and Call-out Culture”

  1. Thank you for this heartfelt and thoughtful post. I think I may be more of a hermit than you are, even! I’m a woman of a certain age, (ahem). I love young people and I want to learn correct ways to address people to help everyone feel welcome, but things were different when I was growing up, so I’m still learning and making mistakes. I personally think there is a time and a place for “call outs” and that is when someone is being knowingly and deliberately very hurtful to someone else. I’m sure you can think of examples of that. There is a time and place for brief matter-of-fact corrections in the moment, when you know a person is trying to get it right, but hasn’t quite got it. And there is a time and a place for taking someone aside for longer explanations. Yes, this puts a certain onus on the person doing the explaining. But what if we remember WHY we’re doing all of this talking, naming, and explaining? It’s to communicate with other people, to connect with other people. If you want to foster communication and relationships, meet the other person part way. If you want to send the message “I’m so done with you!” A blunt, blaming kind of call out is a pretty good way to accomplish that most of the time. People might do well to remember that you can only control your own thoughts and actions. You cannot control the thoughts and actions of other people. You might wish for them to sit still for a lambasting, take it, learn from it, and be a better person, but they are not obligated to react that way. At the end of the day, each person has to live with their own behavior and those consequences. Is it about venting your spleen? Fine. Or do you want to accomplish change? Well, ok then. Again, all just my opinions here, for what it’s worth.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Call me grumpy. All this calling out results in me being less sympathetic to someone’s cause. I know the logistics for the newly emerging public lifestyles are challenging for people, but I’m trying to figure them out, too. Or maybe I won’t bother, because if I’m going to be dissed forgetting it wrong, it’s not worth it to me.

    I had to look up the cis-gender thing when I first read you using it a few months ago. I learned something, but I’m not sure I care. I sometimes think in this day and age I might be on some of the journey’s some people are on, but you know what? I did just fine working within the parameters society laid out and did pretty much everything I wanted to do if I were “bucking the system” today, so maybe it was no big deal that I played society’s game. Other people, of course, are certainly free to choose their own path. Isn’t that wonderful? (And this is not critiquing anything you said, — it’s my musings on my journey. I think you get that, but I have no desire for you to wonder.)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you. This expresses exactly what I’ve been feeling and thinking. I don’t think I have anything of value to contribute to these types of conversations. I give up too. Maybe someday if and when I feel stronger I may try leaning in. But being an old, white, cis woman, I can’t add anything of value.

    Liked by 1 person

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