Several months ago a Muslim friend of mine came over to visit. As soon as she walked in the door I could tell that something was troubling her, but I made tea and we sat together and chatted for a while about our kids. As I asked her about her extended family she slowly started to share with me what was worrying her. A few days previously she had found out that a niece from her husband’s side of the family had given birth completely out of the blue. No-one, not even her own mother, had known that she was pregnant. The girl was seventeen, and not yet married. My friend told me that the girl’s father was extremely angry while her mother was very upset and crying all the time. The grandmother refused to come out of the house because she was so ashamed. The neighbours were already starting to gossip as they had heard the cries of a newborn baby and seen the baby clothes drying on the rack outside the house. Shame had been brought on the whole family. Even my friend, who lived in a different area of town, felt the shame, and was afraid that her neighbours would hear about what had happened. She was worried that her kids would be teased at school, and that people would stop buying snacks from her husband’s little tea stall. They too would be shamed by their own community… It is through stories such as these that I have learnt a little of what shame means from a specifically Southeast Asian, and maybe more generally, an Asian perspective.
(You can read more on this topic of shame in this webzine: https://whenwomenspeak.net/article/vol-6-no-1-july-2020-a-path-from-shame-to-belonging/ )