‘Mum-shaming,’ ‘fat-shaming’, ‘slut-shaming’ and ‘engagement ring shaming’ (yes it’s ‘a thing’): with all this shame being tossed around, it always seems surprising that people don’t have any. But listen to me, casually ‘shaming’ the shameless. If it weren’t for the word being elasticised to such a ludicrous degree and used to muffle anything once known as ‘criticism’, I might be able to work myself up into the state of perma-outrage we’re all now required to be in.
Jameela Jamilis the latest to add her name to this list, speaking in an interview over the weekend about how, after recovering from anorexia, she was “nationally fat-shamed for months” when prescription steroids she was taking for asthma made her gain weight. Her eating issues stemmed from growing up in an "incredibly fat-phobic" family, where "jutting hip bones were seen as a sign of peak brilliance both at home and at school."
Some forms of shaming really do bring on the red mist, though. And whilst it’s hard to get too exercised about ‘degree-shaming’ – Underwater Basket Weaving is a valid MA, I know – ‘sunset-shaming’ (victims of which have posted too many sunset pictures on social media) or indeed ‘debit card shaming’, when cretins who deserve a worse fate than mass sneering upload pictures of their debit cards online, I do find ‘mum-shaming’ – publicly judging and criticising a woman’s mothering skills – a particularly repulsive pastime. Why? Because it’s both a form of shaming that has always existed IRL, and one that can now be supercharged on social media.
The Duchess of Sussex would doubtless agree. Since she welcomed her first child, Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor, in May, Meghan Markle has been consistently mum-shamed. So much so that, according to the top PR manager, Tom Bourlet, Buckingham Palace should be doing more to protect her “motherly image”. “There certainly seems to be an agenda against her within a group on social media especially on Twitter,” he said at the weekend, “with her every action ridiculed, almost pointing towards a break from tradition.”
Citing examples including scrutiny over the way the 38-year-old held her son at the Polo in July – when trolls piled in on both Twitter and Instagram with comments like: “Meghan looks like she’s about to drop him”; “She’s gonna drop that baby”; “Meghan doesn’t know how to carry her own baby! Such a shame” – Bourlet suggests various ways in which the Palace could counter these attacks. “While there might be a nanny in place, it might be worth her looking after her child when in public, so as to show a motherly image,” he says, before conceding that: “In modern times it seems ridiculous and incredibly sexist that this is required for the public to be happy, but looking from a PR angle, it will paint her in a good light with the masses.”
It’s no good flinging back a defiant “why should Meghan care how the masses see her?” Of course she cares. Every woman cares about being branded a bad mother. After the teen period in which girls are at their most insecure over their appearance, those first few years of motherhood are likely to be the second most vulnerable time in a woman’s life. And it’s no coincidence that the trolls have zoomed in on both – they’re predators capable of smelling an open wound a mile off. But although Bourlet is right to call the emphasis on mothering skills “incredibly sexist”, this particular brand of sexism is clearly women on women and fuelled by the witches brew of social media, where every perceived infraction can be pored over, shared and aggrandised a million times over within minutes. After all, how many men obsess over how to hold a baby?
Had a technology specifically been constructed to cause maximum damage to the female psyche, insists American social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, it couldn’t have been more efficient than social media, and I’m inclined to agree. “Girls don’t bully each other by punching each other in the face,” he points out. “They bully each other by damaging the other girl’s social relationships: spreading rumours, spreading lies, spreading doctored photographs, saying bad things and excluding each other.”
Which pretty much sums up the adverse sides of everything from girls’ schools and mum forums to social media. And explains why I hated my experiences at the former, and will continue to stay clear of the latter. Motherhood is challenge enough without waiting for the cauldron-stirring masses on social media to pass their judgment.