Monday, October 8, 2012

The Shame of It

Early yesterday morning - ok, it was 9 something, that's early for a weekend - the phone rang. It was a co-worker of my hubby's calling to tell us about someone they know who's mug shot was one of the featured photos on our local newspapers website. We looked it up and there it was. It was one of 254 mug shots on the front page. You could scroll through the pictures of the many arrests made in the last 7 days. My stomach turned a little.

Later in the day I went to visit my son and I mentioned the phone call to him. He had the same feeling I did. We were both uneasy about it. He said that he didn't like the idea of mugshots being featured in the newspaper. He felt it really wasn't an advancement in human evolution. Honestly, I hadn't thought much about it until this conversation. At first glance, I thought, well having your mugshot out there for the world to see might work as a deterrent to people. No one wants to have a photo of themselves on one of their worst days shown to everyone online. So, people screw up, break the law, do something stupid - hey, they get what they deserve. I understand that line of thinking and I do think people should pay for the crimes they commit. There should be consequences for our behavior. After thinking about the mugshots for a while and trying to figure out why they bothered me so much I finally realized it was because of the public shaming. Do I think public shaming should be part of the punishment? No.

It seems to me that putting mugshots in the local newspapers is just a modern day version of putting people in the stocks or forcing them to wear a scarlet A. I'm seeing other forms of public shaming now. I occasionally see photos of teens or even younger children being made to hold signs that their parents made telling the world about their behavior. Judges in some areas are using public shaming as part of the sentence they hand down. The person convicted of the crime must stand outside holding a sign stating the crime they committed. Even in cases of past due child support one judge is giving people the choice of jail or holding a sign that says "I do not pay child support". The judge claims that it's not to humiliate or embarrass people but what else would you call that?

So, if public shaming would act as a deterrent, why does it bother me so much aside from the fact that it is a form of humiliation? It's too much of a reminder of the shaming mothers experienced when we became pregnant without a husband. Shame is what sent pregnant women to live with strangers in other cities or states. Families hid their own daughters because of the shame a pregnant girl would bring to them. Reputations would be ruined and people would gossip. Shaming was supposedly used to protect a girl from ruining her life but it just resulted in a different type of ruin. Even now, when we talk about adoption and it's consequences, people try to publicly shame us by replying to things we write with comments telling us we should have kept our legs closed and calling us names like slut and whore. We hear that we need therapy and we're bitter, angry people.

When we were shamed into hiding we not only lost our children but for many of us, our self worth was ravaged. For some it took decades before being able to come out of the adoption closet. Wouldn't a similar type of damage be done to the people who are publicly shamed for the offense they committed? Is this kind of treatment ethical? What does it do to the psyche of a 12 year old who has to hold up a sign in front of her peers? What does it do to not only the man who is forced to stand on a street corner and hold a sign that says he doesn't pay child support, but what does it do to his children when they find out? This kind of treatment of people does more than affect the offender, it affects the families of the offenders. People love to talk. They gleefully share the latest juicy gossip. Why should the entire family be subjected to this for one person's offense? How will the shaming affect the person's work life? Will they have trouble finding or keeping a job? Could shaming actually cause more problems in the long run by creating anger and rage in the person being shamed? Could more criminal behavior be the result?

Maybe judges and others in authority are being short sighted with this form of punishment. Although it does get attention it may be the wrong kind of attention. We're a culture of voyeurism. We love to know what's going on in other people's lives - watching reality TV, rubber-necking at accidents, gossiping about others, looking at the mistakes that others make so we can feel superior and other people's pain becomes entertainment as in the Oxygen show I'm Having Their Baby. Publicly shaming people is just fodder for our egos. I guess we really haven't evolved all that much.

The shaming we dealt with was the kind that kept us hidden. This kind of shaming throws people out there  to be mocked. I can't see how that would end well. Shaming didn't save us, I doubt shaming is going to save anyone else.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Write or paint?

There have been many times recently that I've wanted to sit down and write a post. An article would pop up that struck a chord or I saw something that gave me an idea for a post, then I thought - ok, I'll do that later but right now I want to work on this painting. Well guess where all those ideas went - poof, disappeared into the recesses of the grey matter somewhere! I have got to keep a notebook with me at all times!

The last few weeks all my energy has gone into the visual end of production. Like you saw in my last post, the book of art and poetry is up on Amazon. Outside the studio and classes, that took the rest of my time. Now I'm working on the next group of paintings plus working on an exhibition proposal and a grant application. Someday I'd love to have this series of work in a traveling exhibition that brings awareness to the topic of adoption. I have many more ideas than hours in a day. Along with this series of canvases, another part of the exhibition that I started working on is a group of paintings on watercolor paper. They will be painted on both sides and hung freely, unframed, in the middle of the room so visitors can walk around them. Included in the collages will be handwritten stories from mothers and adoptees.  At the end of the room I'd like to have a blank sheet where visitors to the exhibition can write their own adoption stories and add it to the collection. As the exhibition travels, more people participate and the story of adoption grows.

If you or someone you know would be interested in having your story included in the collages that I'm working on now, please let me know. I'd love to include you. All you would have to do is hand write a part of your story that you would like to share and mail it to me. Your paper will actually be glued into the design.  The reason for this part of the series is to show some of the many hands and hearts of natural mothers and adoptees and how they've been affected by adoption.

The hand print above is a little piece of the next canvas. It's almost done so I'll be posting it soon.