The Game of Shame and its Rules: an Analysis of the “Infamy Toll” in the Narratives and Schemes Governing Women’s Sexuality and Appearance

Annalisa Verza


This paper focuses on the elements common to the three crucial practices where women’s sexuality becomes public, namely, prostitution, pornography, and daily female grooming. These are conceptualized as three sides of a “tricky triangle” in what I call the “game of shame.” The article will thus explore and examine various cultural and social phenomena tied to that game — ranging from ancient prostitution to digital-age “revenge porn”— showing how the social and moral evaluation of those three practices can be ambivalent, even contradictory, and how it constantly fluctuates between two opposite readings or narratives. It is precisely the pervasive coexistence of such starkly opposite social evaluations of the behaviours associated with those three phenomena that defines the “game of shame,” a recurrent pattern (more like a “trap,” really) that women are subjected to, being routinely encouraged to display their sexuality in public, and sometimes even coerced into that behaviour, only to be punished by being shamed and disgraced for that very display.


Keywords: social rules, prostitution, pornography, female grooming, shame culture.

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