On secrets and shame - Women's Agenda

On secrets and shame

I was asked to speak at a Twitter event this week, the topic was #positionofstrength and female empowerment. I spoke about the power of taking shame out of hiding.


I fall over a lot. It’s my particular skill.

I fell over Kylie Minogue on Collins Street once. True story. She’s a tiny little dot of a person and I’m built like a stack of flats. I was at an ATM, turned around too quickly, knocked her to the ground and landed on top of her. Squished the poor girl like a grape. All the crowds on Collins Street were staring and yelling “OMG what’s that gigantic woman doing to Our Kylie?”

She was lovely about it, once she could breathe again, but I was mortified, then and for years afterwards.

I’ve fallen face-first into the crotches of strange men on trams, fallen off fitballs at the gym, out of windows and off buses. I still regularly trip over giant patches of nothing on the sidewalk.

It used to make me anxious about leaving the house, I was, with good reason, scared of making an arse of myself by landing on my arse, yet again, in public.

That was a long time ago. These days I live tweet my pratfalls, because they’re hilarious and because you can’t feel shame about something unless you feel you have to keep it secret.

Shame depends on secrecy to keep it alive.

Shame and secrecy are dangerous things, they keep us hidden and fearful.

In my work I talk about the dangerous secrets women are told they have to keep. I am only one of many, but all of us speak publicly about the things women are told they had to keep hidden.

And these secrets are not like my minor embarrassments, they are secrets of violation: abuse, violence, threats, belittlement, intimidation, sexual attacks. Dangerous things, made so much more dangerous by the shame that stops us talking about them.

When we speak out loud about such things, we tell women their secrets are not shameful – not for the victims anyway. We tell women they do not have to carry secrets if they don’t want to, that this is not their shame, not their fault, not their burden to carry and that they are not alone.

We tell women that shame belongs to the perpetrators, the ones who do have to hide what they’ve done. We shine a light on the excuses that try to shift the shame of enacting violence to the victims and show them for what they are – guilt. We tell women that their abusers hide from guilt by claiming responsibility lies with the victim, and we tell women that this is wrong, that no one can ever be held responsible for the crimes someone else chooses to inflict upon them. We tell perpetrators that the shame is theirs alone. And in doing so, we help victims become survivors.

A voice is the most powerful thing any single person can have, we use it to speak for ourselves and on behalf of others, and when we do that, we change the world. 

Stay Smart! Get Savvy!

Get Women's Agenda in your inbox