Art installation gives women a space to share their experiences of being shamed

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    If you’re a woman, it’s highly likely you’ve had shame thrown at you.

    You’ve been told to feel ashamed of your body, your sexuality, your wants and needs.

    It’s like that Game of Thrones scene when Cersei walks through the crowds naked, but instead of people ringing bells, it’s our society and culture shouting ‘shame! shame! shame!’ in our general direction.

    We don’t talk about this a lot, because, well, we’re ashamed. Silence is the currency of shamers. They win when we buy into the shame and hide ourselves away, don’t speak, and keep it zipped.

    And so, sharing stories and speaking out is power. Refusing to be ashamed is power.

    Giving women a space to do that is artist Suzie Blake.

    Art installation gives women a space to share their experiences of being shamed
    (Picture: Suzie Blake)

    ‘I started thinking about the shame that is piled onto teenage girls who get pregnant, and how it’s impossible for guys to experience this same kind of shame,’ Suzie tells Metro.o.uk. ‘The irony is that everyone’s doing it, but it’s the girls who cop all the flak for getting pregnant.

    ‘I also started thinking about my own experiences of being shamed and how traumatizing certain comments people made to me were.

    ‘I suffered with eating disorders throughout my teenage years and twenties and I’m sure it had a lot to do with the shame I felt about my body.’

    To explore shame further, particularly the shame women are made to feel about their bodies, Suzie created the Wall of Shamed. It’s an art installation made up of a wall with a photo of herself as a pregnant teenager, along with space for other women to share their stories of shame, and a satchel full of pens to encourage them to do so.

    wall of shamed art exhibition gives room for women to tell their stories
    (Picture: Suzie Blake)

    The wall is currently on display in Melbourne, Australia at the Victorian College of the Arts Masters Graduate Exhibition, and the project’s being spread on Instagram. It’s slowly being filled with women’s experiences.

    They’re dismal and disappointing. They’re a powerful reminder of the kind of messages women and girls are bombarded with day in, day out.

    ‘I think women are shamed for very different reasons to men, and usually the shaming of women relates to their bodies,’ says Suzie.

    ‘Germaine Greer wrote that “a woman’s body is the battlefield where she fights for liberation.” If we are to liberate ourselves we must understand ourselves, and part of understanding ourselves involves sharing our experiences.

    wall of shamed art exhibition gives room for women to tell their stories
    ‘My mother told me at the age of 12 that I should not wear my bikini around the house because it would distract my father! We had a swimming pool in our backyard.’ (Picture: Suzie Blake)

    ‘What the wall offers is an opportunity to bring up deeply painful experiences in a private and anonymous setting, and yet have it be public too.

    ‘I was able to release some of my deep-seated shame, and it felt good to get it off my chest.

    ‘Reading about other women’s similar experiences has had the effect of making me feel like I’m not alone. And also that it wasn’t “me”, but society’s expectation of what I should be.’

    Suzie says that most of the messages written on the wall relate to the female body, whether it’s through verbal criticism or sexual abuse.

    There are stories of being rated and ranked, being told to lose weight, and sexual objectification.

    wall of shamed art exhibition gives room for women to tell their stories
    ‘Once I was told I was a 7.5 out of 10.’ (Picture: Suzie Blake)

    Suzie hopes that, alongside drawing attention to the reality of the shame weighing down women, the Wall of Shamed will give women and girls a sense of catharsis by providing a space where they can express their stories and their anger.

    ‘We need to stop reducing women and girls to objects and treat women and girls as people,’ says Suzie.

    ‘I hope women and girls will feel a sense of release in the act of sharing.

    ‘I hope women and girls will feel a sense of solidarity and community in knowing other women share similar experiences to them.

    ‘I hope all people will appreciate how shaming others is deeply problematic for our community, and try to always be considerate and mindful. Basically, be nice.’

    Ultimately, however, we need to change how we treat women on a cultural level. Sharing stories can only do so much. We’re tired of being made to feel rubbish.

    wall of shamed art exhibition gives room for women to tell their stories
    ‘The man who raped me when I was fourteen told me I had “charging rhinoceros thighs”.’ (Picture: Suzie Blake)

    ‘Currently, the culture dictates that women imbue a very narrow, very particular way of being,’ Suzie tells us.

    ‘To exist outside the cultural expectation, even inadvertently, often results in a woman or girl being shamed. Whether it is not having the right body type, or preferring to play football to ballet.

    ‘If she’s seen to be having too much (or too little) sex she will be shamed and labeled accordingly.

    ‘Even the way a mother chooses to raise her children or feed her baby. Also, not presenting in a feminine manner can result in shaming.

    ‘We really need to change the culture.’

    If you’d like to contribute to the project, you can share a photo of your written story, a picture, or an illustration on Instagram with the hashtag #WallOfShamed. It’ll then be shared on the Wall of Shamed Instagram and Tumblr.

    ‘So many women have written to me anonymously and shared their experiences, saying how cathartic it was,’ says Suzie.

    ‘How relieved they were just to get off their chest. Sometimes you just want to release that thing that was niggling away at you, and hopefully try to move on.’

    wall of shamed art exhibition gives room for women to tell their stories
    ‘How it didn’t count as rape because I didn’t use our safe word. Never mind that I was half-asleep at the time.’ (Picture: Suzie Blake)
    wall of shamed art exhibition gives room for women to tell their stories
    ‘Your boobs are too small.’ (Picture: Suzie Blake)
    Art installation gives women a space to share their experiences of being shamed
    ‘I’m tired of feeling like someone’s convenience.’ (Picture: Suzie Blake)
    wall of shamed art exhibition gives room for women to tell their stories
    ‘I was 12 and I wouldn’t let a boy finger me, and the boys teased me that I was frigid – I didn’ty even know what that meant.’ (Picture: Suzie Blake)
    wall of shamed art exhibition gives room for women to tell their stories
    ‘Years of seeing shame in society/popular culture/everyday scenarios led me down a path of self-shame – forgetting the kind inquisitive girl I warn born as, becoming a self critical and judgemental person – until I learnt it was society. Not me!’ (Picture: Suzie Blake)
    wall of shamed art exhibition gives room for women to tell their stories
    ‘End of primary school celebrations involved signing each other’s school uniforms. A fellow grade 6 boy wrote across my shirt over my lower back, in capitals “WIDE LOAD” with an arrow pointing down towards my bottom. I had to wear that shirt all day.’ (Picture: Suzie Blake)
    wall of shamed art exhibition gives room for women to tell their stories
    ‘When I war born my father wouldn’t let my mother feed me formula because he thought I would become too fat. Then as I grew up he would shame me every day about my size and general appearance, that if I wasn’t smaller then nobody would love me or find me attractive. Then at age 15 I developed an eating disorder and still trying to shake it at 27.’ (Picture: Suzie Blake)
    wall of shamed art exhibition gives room for women to tell their stories
    ‘My boyfriend said I was fat on Saturday.’ (Picture: Suzie Blake)
    wall of shamed art exhibition gives room for women to tell their stories
    ‘My ballet teacher told me to have a cup of tea instead of lunch.’ (Picture: Suzie Blake)
    wall of shamed art exhibition gives room for women to tell their stories
    ‘Being asked to breastfeed in another room, so as not to offend my grandma.’ (Picture: Suzie Blake)
    wall of shamed art exhibition gives room for women to tell their stories
    ‘I was 18 years old. The first comment from the gym instructor was if you lost some weight you would look good. I am now well into my 60s but have never forgotten how ordinary I felt.’ (Picture: Suzie Blake)
    wall of shamed art exhibition gives room for women to tell their stories
    ‘Can I borrow her for the weekend?’ (Picture: Suzie Blake)
    wall of shamed art exhibition gives room for women to tell their stories
    ‘Boys in my class say that I can’t play soccer or footy but I can.’ (Picture: Suzie Blake)
    wall of shamed art exhibition gives room for women to tell their stories
    ‘I was told that if I lost two kilos I’d stop traffic.’ (Picture: Suzie Blake)
    wall of shamed art exhibition gives room for women to tell their stories
    ‘After breaking up with him once and for all, I was ignoring him and started receiving a string of abusive messages, being called a slut over and over. He said I was a stupid girl (I was 25 years old) and the only thing I had going for me was a skinny waist.’ (Picture: Suzie Blake)
    wall of shamed art exhibition gives room for women to tell their stories
    ‘We were discussing recent rapes in our city and a friend who is a law enforcement officer said to me, “you don’t need to worry. You’re too ugly to be raped.”‘ (Picture: Suzie Blake)
    wall of shamed art exhibition gives room for women to tell their stories
    ‘I was feeling pretty because I’d lost some weight. My husband said to me I’d “never have great legs”.’ (Picture: Suzie Blake)
    wall of shamed art exhibition gives room for women to tell their stories
    ‘The first time I worked on a construction site as a graduate engineer, I sat down in the lunch room during our lunch break and one of my male colleagues sat next to me, opened up a porn magazine and loudly described each page to me whilst everyone else in the lunchroom laughed. I was too young and inexperienced to speak up.’ (Picture: Suzie Blake)
    wall of shamed art exhibition gives room for women to tell their stories
    ‘”You married outside of your league”. I know I shouldn’t give his opinion so much weight, but I can’t shake it from my mind. It plays in my head when I am with my husband and I feel ugly and inadequate.’ (Picture: Suzie Blake)
    Art installation gives women a space to share their experiences of being shamed
    ‘After the birth of my first child, as I was getting into the hot tub with my husband and his two friends. His one friend jumped out of the hot tub. Said “Gross, I can’t share a hot tub with a girl who’s all used up. You used to be hot, but now gross.” My husband laughed.’ (Picture: Suzie Blake)
    wall of shamed art exhibition gives room for women to tell their stories
    ‘”Do you really need another donut” – my ex-husband.’ (Picture: Suzie Blake)
    wall of shamed art exhibition gives room for women to tell their stories
    ‘My first serious boyfriend and the first person I had sex with told me that I couldn’t go on top during sex because I was too big to be on top.’ (Picture: Suzie Blake)
    wall of shamed art exhibition gives room for women to tell their stories
    ‘A boy from primary school said to be after getting our maths results back, “you’re not very smart, are you!”. I didn’t get a good mark. I forever felt dumb and lost confidence in my abilities.’ (Picture: Suzie Blake)
    wall of shamed art exhibition gives room for women to tell their stories
    ‘I got introduced to a prominent figure in the music industry and instead of saying “nice to meet you” he said “wow! You got big tits” – this was during an industry conference.’ (Picture: Suzie Blake)

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