I admit it: on some levels, this is really funny. I love hearing my guy friend tell how he had to trek, a penniless freshman, from the depths of the Lower East Side, desperate for a change of clothes and a shower at 9 a.m. Sunday morning. I nearly cried, I was laughing so hard, when my girl friend told me about the time she walked home at 10 a.m. in her Halloween costume. There is a hilarious a cappella song entitled "The Walk of Shame" and set to "The Sounds of Silence" ("And as I throw on my dress and heels, I hope I don't run into him at meals"-please check it out). I smile each time I remember the time, after I thought I'd made it home safe, my best guy friend sent me a text message letting me know otherwise-"don't think I didn't see you!" Damn.
There is one story I always leave out, one that has zero comedic value. One bright, sunny September morning I ventured out of East Campus to meet a fellow member of the Amnesty International board. I profusely apologized for my appearance (heels and a skirt that one friend of mine fondly refers to as an "extend-a-belt"). She kept saying that she didn't understand why I was so ashamed. I didn't think much of it at the time, but she made a really important point: what is there to be ashamed of about having sex?
As funny as it may be, there is something seriously wrong with the phrase "the walk of shame." Yes, you might still be wearing your clothes from the night before and your makeup might be running down the sides of your face-but who said anything about shame? It's easy to say "who cares" and be done with it; the truth is that shame and judgment are prevalent in sexual culture. We are ashamed of, and we judge, everything from a small penis to unshaven legs to the clothes we wear. College students aren't the only culprits; journalists and sexperts alike judge and degrade our ability to think and act clearly when it comes to sex.
In an attempt to better understand exactly what is so disturbing about the phrase "the walk of shame," I sent out a mass e-mail-I am officially a victim of all things electronic-asking for some alternatives. Responses ranged from "The walk of fame" and "The stride of pride" to "Yeah I'm wearing stilettos at 10 a.m., but chances are I got laid last night (and maybe this morning?) and you didn't." Those with boyfriends or girlfriends were especially indignant; just because you're taking the walk of shame doesn't mean you had random sex.
The best response I got, by far, was the "Just because I'm not horny now doesn't give me the right to judge my formerly horny self walk... Just because your priorities may have been readjusted since the previous evening. that does not mean that you shouldn't have had sex with whomever you had sex with." What you did the night before, and where you're going that morning, is nobody's business but your own. I am by no means advocating emotionally unhealthy sex. There is a fine line between taking care of yourself or having your friends help you take care of yourself and someone else passing judgment. It is not up to a random stranger to make you feel ashamed.
It doesn't help that popular culture is constantly telling us-especially women-that we should be ashamed of our sexual decisions. Last week I went to a journalism conference with Dr. Drew of MTV's Loveline fame. Dr. Drew brought up Ariel Levy's new book, Female Chauvinist Pigs; alongside with her, he argued that he believed women, especially those in college, live in a world where they feel obligated to act like a man and have sex frequently and without attachment. According to Dr. Drew and Ariel Levy, women get nothing out of this new world.
Neither of them leave room for the possibility that women might choose to have sex without attachment and may be happy and emotionally healthy doing so. There are undoubtedly those women of whom Dr. Drew and Ariel Levy speak, but that doesn't mean there aren't women who don't fit their specific profile. Levy is especially judgmental in her critique of women who embrace this new culture, criticizing athletes, CEOs, and the "everyday" woman alike for embracing their sexuality in addition to their professional talents. But those women, along with every single one of us, should not be made to feel ashamed.
Levy might disagree. You may disagree the next time you see someone taking the "walk of shame." It doesn't give you the right to judge, nor should it make the person taking the walk feel ashamed. Every single one of us has the right to choose. That right deserves respect.
Shame and judgement-exerted both by others and ourselves-is going to be a part of our sexual lives forever. I'll probably still cringe the next time my heel gets caught in between the bricks of College Walk on an early morning; I'll definitely still turn red the next time I find myself in bed with unshaved legs. Does that make shame and judgment OK? Does that mean we shouldn't work on it?
The next time I walk home on a Sunday morning I'll hold my head up high. Never mind if I trip.