In June of 1964, I graduated from sixth grade and that fall I started junior high school. That same June, Frank Sinatra recorded the song “Wives and Lovers’, which has unfortunately been playing in my head since I woke up this morning. Why, I do not know. Perhaps something from my dreams triggered the association. But I do know that the recording was played a lot during the 1960’s and the lyrics have laid claim to some of my brain cells ever since. Along with other distorting messages of that era.
“Hey, little girl, comb your hair, fix your make-up, soon he will open the door,
Don’t think because there’s a ring on your finger, you needn’t try any more.
For wives should always be lovers too,
Run to his arms the moment that he comes home to you. I’m warning you.
Day after day, there are girls at the office and the men will always be men, Don’t stand him up, with your hair still in curlers, you may not see him again…
Still deconstructing how the shame-loading occurred. The personal experiences in my family of origin, which I have been trying to disarm by exposing them to the light, are only part of the story. They did not, indeed, could not have existed and ‘packed the wallop’ that they did, without the persistent support of the dominant culture of the times.
A dear friend recently sent me a copy of Appetites by Caroline Knapp. It is a rich and painful book to read. Here is one insight that really caught my attention: “… the visual image [began] to supplant text as culture’s primary mode of communication.” She goes on to note that images “are immediate, they hit you at levels way beneath intellect…” So true, I thought. She then highlights some wild stats:
In 1950’s, TV screen images changed every 12-15 seconds; by the 80’s, the speed increased to seven seconds. “Today, [which was 2003 when her book was published] the image on the average TV commercial can change as quickly as once every 1.5 seconds, an assaulting speed, one that’s impossible to thoroughly process or integrate… they get wedged inside… insidious… come to feel like truth.”
She goes on: “This is the subliminal ooze of culture and misogyny, the source of its grip. Images of beauty and directives about the body make women feel inadequate…” Tears sprang to my eyes and chills on my spine when she brought it home to my life today. “Visuals operate like ‘heat-seeking-missiles’… honing in on a prior pang of insecurity or judgment…” The images that bombard me/us daily reawaken hurtful memories of adolescence, the time when I came to understand about the “physical haves and have nots’…”
So, where does this excerpt take me? Are these ideas a part of de-constructing shame? Well, yes, anything that validates the misogyny and appearance-only-valuing of American culture in my lifetime can be liberating. The sources of our shame are many and unmasking them is one of my goals here. The poison has been a slow, intravenous drip for my entire life, for the lifetime of every girl & woman in this country (and elsewhere also.)
I can’t speak for men. I know that there are stultifying, damaging messages about male appearance and behavior that must be damaging. And, as I think most contemporary feminists would agree, the messages about what and how females should look and behave have been subcutaneously injected into boys and men also. These inoculations inevitably limit male understanding of girls and women and undermine the possibility of developing healthy, balanced relationships, intimate or not.
So, yes, these insights are part of understanding and rejecting shame. They give me a clearer understanding of the inadequacy that I felt. There was no time to process or understand, much less critique this propaganda; the images just burrowed into my budding identity. And then there was the audio component, worming its way into my emerging self with catchy tunes and rhyming lyrics. Although, I guess I was doing some questioning of the Bacharach & David tune quoted above… I never could understand why a woman would have her hair in curlers at the end of the day…