by Irène Schäppi May 24, 2023


Hard to believe, but true: Swiss women have only had the right to vote since 1971. To mark the occasion, our co-founder Irène Schäppi published the non-fiction book "50 Years of Women's Suffrage in Switzerland" in November 2020 in collaboration with her friend Dr. Isabel Rohner. In it, she also deals with her role as a woman in a still patriarchal society. The following very personal essay, "Shame on you!" is the result and was published for the first time in the previous anthology.

Shame on you!

As I type these lines into my laptop, I suddenly hear the unpleasant sound of someone trimming their fingernails with nail clippers and immediately want to give that person a disapproving look. But, instead, I feel the blush rise to my face.

Enter: the shame.

A grey-haired gentleman of about 60 - in a former life, I'm sure he was an inquisitor at the witch hunt - sits wide-legged in his houndstooth three-piece suit (hello "Peaky Blinders"!) on my pink daybed in the kitchen and throws me a disparaging grin while he continues - completely unabashedly - with the manicure on his sausage fingers. His message is unmistakable: "Aren't you ashamed of your hands? The nail polish is peeling off, and you've nibbled too hard on your cuticles again. It looks sloppy, like a snotty nose!" My Sunday styling doesn't seem to convince the shame judge either: "Leggings and this no-make-up look are a clear sign that you're letting yourself go as a woman" is my shame judge's verdict.

In general, I have him in my ear all the time. Because shame - no matter where or what I'm doing - always wants the last word. For example, when I choose a body-hugging dress with high heels and put on make-up in the morning before work: "The whole package looks too slutty. Then don't whine when your friends in the newsroom say something. First, you don't understand humor, and second, you've encouraged them with your outfit. But if I go for an athleisure look, i.e., jeans and a hoodie, he grunts snidely in my ear: "Now you're playing coy, right, darling? Heartwarming, this attempt to make your femininity fade into the background".

In general, my appearance seems to be a significant concern for Scham: He has something to say about every topic - including a lady's beard, wrinkles, a possible double chin, cellulite, and body hair ("Ugh, you have a bush down there and you haven't shaved your armpits?!?"), manicures (as everyone knows now) and pedicures, the list could go on and on. And in particular, he points out to me what I've done wrong here or what I must be ashamed of as a woman. Because: That's not proper for a lady!

Apropos lady: A massive taboo for shame is my period. He thinks menstruating is creepy and would prefer to forget that it is an entirely normal process of my female body. That's why he regularly urges me at work to smuggle the tampon into the toilet as inconspicuously as possible. Or, if I don't have one with me, to shyly and quietly ask my colleagues to help me out. Because: Yuck!

Even at lunch or during a business lunch, shame can't leave me alone. If I order a hearty plate of schnitzel and chips, I can hear him laughing from afar: "Hahaha, you can forget about your skinny jeans! But if I decide on something healthy, a salad or vegetables, for example, it's not right either. Because "men don't like women who don't enjoy eating because they're always dieting," my shame tells me.

Thanks to my shame, I could write a whole book about what men like or don't like in women. After all, he's been with me day and night - for years. Right at the top of his list of no-go's: Expressing my opinion loudly and clearly to an authority figure because self-confident women are considered bitches. In the words of my shame, "Don't act difficult!" Or trying to belittle me in such situations by dismissing me as an "offended girl". Yet, I am 44!

Of course, in the past, I've tried to break out of this dialogue every now and then by defying so-called social rules. For example, I once dated several men at the same time. While this behavior should actually be considered cool and desirable among gentlemen like me of shame, there was no good word for me at the time. On the contrary: instead of patting me on the back for this, the shame immediately put me in a boor's robe. By the way, "whore" wasn't even the worst swear word he hissed at me on a hungover morning afterward - not called "Walk of Shame" for nothing. But when I dated women, it wasn't any better. Or, as the shame said knowingly, "You've just never really had it done to you." Because in his eyes, it can't be possible that I occasionally prefer a woman to the male sex. "Ts, ts, ts", the shame shakes its head dismissively.

But I fared even worse when, not so long ago, I dared (unfortunately unsuccessfully) to demand a pay rise (what was that again about equal pay?) for myself. Queen Cersei's bus walk through the streets of King's Landing in the HBO series "Game of Thrones" seems like a walk in the park to me at this point ... Nevertheless, the never-ending "Shame on you!" chorus of my shame at the time did not bring me to my knees. On the contrary. Because after that salary interview, the following happened.


Shame on you!", "Shame on you!", "Shame on You!" became "shame", "shame", "shame". This word then turned into "shame", which finally became "shame". And in the end: power. I couldn't stand the cry of shame any more, and - in self-defence, so to speak - I cut him down. More precisely: Away with the SH! Give me a P! So POWER!

Power. Power. Power. Power. Power. Power. Power. Power. Power. Power. Power. Power.

Five letters, not so far removed from shame - shame backwards in german (Scham) means "do it!" (Machs) after all! - but which contain so much more power and action. POWER is now my new mantra. That's why I've also MACHE'd something with my shame: I've unceremoniously banished the wanna-be inquisitor - with his d*** retracted - to Asshole Island and replaced him with a new roommate.

Exit: the shame.

Enter: the power.

A tall, slim woman with a platinum blonde bob who has no problem standing up for herself and her cause and with whom I can spend hours in front of the Playstation in my free time - always wearing our favorite hoodie with a wolf on it like in "The OA" - when I'm not working for The Goddess Collective GmbH. The best thing about it: unlike shame, power never stabbed me in the back or needed to make me feel small out of some self-deficit. On the contrary: The Force stands by me like it did for Rey Skywalker in the last "Star Wars" trilogy and thus enables me to fight against the darkness. Or that I will soon be paid the same wage as my male colleagues.

Tomorrow and every day after that, for example, I and my new roommate, aka the power, will both put on a pencil skirt, black Louboutins, and red lipstick. Because no one but myself has the right to judge me, I have learned from power. The latter, by the way, is something I now pursue with less and less harshness towards myself but all the more love and self-acceptance. And that is good. So it's up to me how I want to see myself and be seen by others: a powerful woman who loves herself, is proud of her life and fights for equality.

Last but not least: There's still plenty of room on Asshole Island!


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