Sometimes staying silent is no joke

The Joyes of Life - Yvonne Joye

A joke popped up on my Facebook feed - It read something to the effect of a woman attending her doctor complaining of her husband's anger issues.

The doctor's advice was to tell her that the next time her husband gets angry, drink water, swish it in her mouth and see what happens. Two weeks later she returns happy - she swished the water, her husband calmed down and the anger went away. The doctor explains that it wasn't the water that worked but the fact that she kept her mouth shut.

So it's a joke. That's all it is. A mediocre joke at best but it grated on me. I could have reacted to say it was lame humour at the expense of women on a subject that is no joke at all. But I didn't. I would probably have been told to lighten up, not to take life too seriously and what was it only a meaningless joke on a meaningless day. Lots of others found it funny, so what was wrong with me? So I said nothing.

I guess I am just pondering over the silence of all those women caught up in the Harvey Weinstein furore. Strong successful women keeping quiet; yes for sure they were concerned for their careers and reputation but some cited their reasons as not wanting to hurt his reputation or his family. No matter their reasons, the bottom line was that they did not want to make a scene. Ironic really, stars of the show, opting for the background. And who could 'blame' them - I couldn't even respond to an anonymous Facebook joke.

And now we have the Tom Humphries case. A man for whom it took nine years to be found out, prosecuted and sentenced; almost a decade in adult life but the lifetime of a child.

Even in the sentencing of Humphries, the female judge appeared to give considerable weight to the impact of the crime on the man as well as the child. Some of the subsequent comment suggested that here was another strong woman appearing, albeit unwittingly, to protect the perpetrator.

Two words keep coming at me - guilt and shame. We often say "I couldn't live with the guilt" but we do. We, as a nation, have a special relationship with guilt. We draw our guilt from even the most innocuous scenarios; maybe it's the remnants of Catholicism or just our disposition of being Irish. Whatever our reasons, guilt is essentially a private emotion; it belongs to just us. Shame does not. Shame is everyone else knowing about our guilt and, as such, it is more powerful than the most powerful of individuals. Weinstein's behaviour was halted not due to guilt but shaming, Humphries behaviour was halted not due to guilt but shaming.

Silence might be a lethal weapon but shame is a nuclear bomb. No one wants to make a scene and no one wants to set off a nuclear bomb but in life it sometimes takes a necessary 'evil' to kill a greater one.