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June 18, 2015
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October 30, 2014
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Sonya JF Barnett on why it's time to stop judging

Shame. We’ve all felt it to some degree. Unfortunately, many of us use it as a tool to make ourselves feel better. Whatever it is that we don’t like about someone else’s behaviour, we shame someone else for our own satisfaction, especially when it comes to sexuality. The majority of society sees sexual independence and empowerment as something evil, something not worth championing, let alone protecting.

In the last few years, I’ve had the immense good fortune of working with women (and some men) who have what many would consider more chutzpah about their bodies than the average person. People comfortable with who they are and what their bodies mean to them, enough so that they want to share, all for the sake of art. The community of artists built around these amazing people is nothing short of wonderful.

But this community is a small one, often sneered at or relegated to the typical category of smut, and smut = bad. I’ve had to deal with critics who calls us “nothing but drawn porn” (what’s wrong with porn?) or those who try to shame us for what we do. Between The Keyhole Sessions and SlutWalk, I’ve seen more than my fair share of slung hate. People have tried to “out” me for my participation in both, as if I’ve been trying to hide one from the other. I’m proud of these two communities, so this tactic doesn’t affect me much, other than it being exhausting. My favourite critique, by far, was by a Phelps – they of Westboro Baptist Fame – that decried SlutWalkers to have “whore panties aflame”. I want that on a T-shirt.

Recently, a colleague and friend was on the receiving end of yet another shaming campaign when coworkers at her ‘vanilla’ job were mass-emailed photos taken during her days as an erotic model. My friend had never mentioned this aspect of her work history as it’s not anyone’s business, nor does it relate to or affect the quality of her work. The shamer in question (who is, of course, working anonymously) is expecting some kind of ramifications to this apparently horrible lapse in judgment on the part of her victim. Luckily for my friend, both HR and her boss see this as nothing but harassment and are looking for the perpetrator.

I’ve also been reading about the ‘Zumba prostitution case,’ where a dance studio owner was offering extra services to what amounted to a fairly large list of customers in and around Kennebunk, Maine. What I found distracting was the vigour in which some news outlets printed the client names. The local police would publicly post five names every week as part of their service to alert the community of crimes. One person’s indiscretion (I use this word because in the state of Maine, prostitution is illegal) is up for public persecution, most likely destroying quite a few lives and reputations in the process. This act of public shaming is part and parcel of society’s need to damn anyone involved in the act of consensual sex outside traditional marriage. That publishers, including those not even from the state of Maine, were hungry to provide names proves gossip trumps the whys of each client exchange.

Our education systems, already broken when it comes to sexuality, aren’t able to withstand social media’s role in teaching the difference between right and wrong, or lack thereof. Earlier this year, a Japanese popstar shaved her head and filmed a tearful apology video in shame after spending the night at her boyfriend’s house. She’s 20. Without enough self-confidence or expectation of support, she relied on what she’s learned as a female pop star: pretend like you’re sexy, but behave like you’re not. Her ‘shameful’ act later had her demoted in the band’s ranks for “causing nuisance to the fans.” 

We live in a society where we’re not taught to love our own bodies and experiences, but instead be ashamed of them. A society that teaches us our bodies are superficially worth more than our minds, hearts and personalities, but because of this, we shouldn’t share them. Where we can show off a certain amount of skin, but one more centimeter is blasphemous; and when any these infractions take place, all the world show know.

We’ve all got our own sense of wanting to be winners, but when that is borne out of being a sore loser, it’s time to take a closer evaluation of ourselves, not others.


Got a question about sex in art, relationships, parenting? Send Sonya a note at dearmadame@torontostandard.com. Anonymity assured.

Sonya JF Barnett, also known as “The Madame,” is the founder of an erotic arts community called The Keyhole Sessions and the co-founder of SlutWalk Toronto. Follow her on Twitter @KeyholeSessions

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