Share Your Own Shame in Solidarity by Belle Jones

23 August 2017

How far would you go to show support for a stranger? Perhaps you would sign a petition, donate to a crowdfunding campaign or write supportive comments on a Facebook post. If the person was being shamed by a faceless mob on the internet would you share your own shame in solidarity?

This is the question that Shame poses in the Tidy Carnage production which runs at Studio Five til the end of the Fringe. The story centres around a young woman, Keira, who goes missing after intimate footage of her being drunkenly intimate with a couple of boys goes viral. Predictably she is pilloried on social media, with everyone sharing their opinions. Her mother, Vicky, who is only fifteen years her senior, waits at home for Keira to return with only her daughter’s social media presence to turn to for answers. As Vicky discovers the vile abuse Keira has been subjected to online, she wrestles with the impulse to shout back into the void that is the Internet; to try to silence her daughter’s critics and stand up for her child. All sorts of issues about consent arise out of this situation: Did Keira consent to the sex? Did she consent to it being filmed? Was she too drunk to give consent? However the over riding issue in the moment is that Keira has disappeared and left her phone behind – despite the hyper connected world we live in, Vicky can’t get in contact with her daughter and is trying to piece together events based on hearsay, gossip and secondary information. There is always plenty of this online.

While Vicky’s main concern is the whereabouts and wellbeing of her daughter, she also wrestles with the question of how she can “make everything ok” after such a violating experience, assuming Keira hasn't taken the instruction from those trolling her to “just kill herself”. It's actually Vicky's best friend, Keira’s “Auntie Cheryl” who takes the first steps in trying to offer a solution. She comes up with the #Unshamed Challenge whereby she films herself telling a story about an incident which caused her huge embarrassment and shame in an attempt to highlight that everyone has something they are ashamed of but that it is possible to move on and recover self esteem. Cheryl suggests that by sharing their most embarrassing stories, people can dilute the intensity of the shame this young woman and anyone like her feels as they are being pulled apart on social media because of the sharing of intimate material.

The #Unshamed Challenge, just like the #NoMakeupSelfie and the #IceBucketChallenge, taps into the narcissistic nature of social media and vlogging. There's also a freedom which comes with the ability to be relatively anonymous in our online personae. People will post things online that they would never dream of saying out loud in real life. The quest for more followers and more engagements with the content we post also feeds this tendency to over share or post provocative material. The #Unshamed Challenge is clearly not a complete solution to the problem of non consensual sharing of intimate media – there's a huge difference between having intimate footage shared without consent and choosing to share a humiliating story about oneself – but it is a demonstration of solidarity in an attempt to offer some comfort and support to victims of this new form of abuse.

Thankfully the law has now begun to catch up and the sharing of intimate media without consent is now illegal in many countries with perpetrators in Scotland facing up to five years in jail if convicted. But, like any form of crime, the victim needs to feel confident enough to come forward and press charges and the deep humiliation many victims feel might make this feel like an insurmountable task.

So, in the hope that it might help someone somewhere the creative team behind Shame decided to launch the #Unshamed Challenge in real life. We each made vlogs about the things which had caused us deep shame, highlighting that we had been able to get through it and encouraging anyone struggling with shame to reach out for help. The #Unshamed Project website hosts these videos and links to many sources of support. We also hosted a live #Unshamed session at the Assembly Rooms - Front Room as part of FuturePlay Festival where we invited some terrific comedians to share their #Unshamed Stories. Julia Sutherland, Tiernan Douieb, Zara Janjua, Sarah McCardie and Fiona Sagar each shared some excruciating tales, expertly evidencing that things happen to all of us which cause us shame and regret but by talking about it we can own our shame and remove the ability of anyone else to shame us. Tiernan commented that even during the most cripplingly embarrassing moment of his #Unshamed story he thought to himself “This will make a good few minutes of stand up material.” Julia, who hosted Its Funny and It's True on BBC Radio 4 where she interviewed comedians about turning their most difficult personal issues into comedy, had commented that she found that those who identified most with the tricky issues she covers in her stand up sets are always the ones who laugh the loudest.

So while the subject matter of Shame is tricky and delicate we hope that it might open conversations and inspire people to think about the way in which we talk to other people online, what we choose to share, what we choose to keep private and how much control we have of the way we are perceived by others online.

More information about the #Unshamed Project and links to sources of support can be found at www.unshamedproject.com

Shame joining Assembly Festival from 3 – 28 August at Assembly George Square Studios – Five @ 16:15. See more of Shame here!