Recently, a woman wrote an article complaining that she was “sweat-shamed,” a term she made up to articulate how persecuted she apparently felt when someone noticed she’d been sweating after a run. This is not a new phenomenon: we’ve heard the “shaming” word with increasing frequency over the last couple of years. Fat-shaming, fit-shaming, trans-shaming, selfie-shaming, slut-shaming, body-shaming, period-shaming, passenger-shaming…. You name it, someone’s claiming it.
The question is: why? Why the precipitous rise in victimhood? Why do people so quickly want to take up the mantle of the shamed, of the oppressed?
At first, I thought it had to do with a lack of any real adversity. Those who use social media are, for the most part, uniquely positioned in a time and place in history of relative peace and prosperity. North Americans and Europeans (from which most of these stories come) enjoy safety and security to the point where obesity—not starving—is one of the largest health concerns of the day. Without legitimate challenges, any perceived slight can be elevated in one’s mind to the level of substantive danger, however frivolous it may actually be.
However, while this may explain the perception of persecution, it still doesn’t explain why so many are quick to trumpet said perception.
Then it struck me. It’s not the victimization that people are drawn to; it’s the triumph over the adversity. People want to be heroes, but the inertness of modern life precludes most from ever having that opportunity. Before social media, the only way to be heroic was to actually accomplish something heroic. Rescue a child from a burning building. Fight in a war. March for civil rights. Lay down your life for another. It cost you something to be a hero, and there was typically very little accolade that followed.
Today, it seems you can be a hero simply by overcoming some form of perceived discrimination. Become a victim, then show everyone how brave you are by recovering your dignity. Write a blog about how you felt shamed by a slight (real or imagined), and it may just go viral, and there will be no shortage of people telling you how brave you are for speaking out.
The problem is, in doing so, you’ve diminished the plight of actual victims, and you’ve diminished real heroism. If everyone is a victim, then no one is a victim. If everyone is a hero, then no one is a hero.
Let’s celebrate those who take up the cause of the oppressed at great risk. Let’s support those who were real victims of real crimes, and have dedicated their lives to helping those who continue to be victimized. Malala Yousafzai was shot 3 times for her fight to allow girls to get an education in a Taliban-controlled region of Pakistan. Betty Makon was raped and orphaned as a young girl, and is now leading the charge to save girls from rape and exploitation in Zimbabwe. Doctors Without Borders brings medical care to the poorest and most war-torn regions of the world, where people are victimized by war and natural disasters. The Innocence Project is a group of lawyers who use DNA evidence to free wrongfully convicted people from a life in prison and even from the death penalty. REST is a Seattle-based organization that works to rescue women in the sex-trafficking industry.
There are real victims, and there are real heroes. Being sweaty from a run—then writing a blog about it—neither makes you a victim nor a hero. You’re just a narcissist with stinky armpits and a computer.