Re­claim the walk of shame

The morn­ing af­ter the night be­fore is in ur­gent need of a re­brand, says Flora Carr

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IT’S NO NOT SHAME you feel first. It’s the sense of walk­ing on a tightrope; a bal­anc­ing act; a silent prayer that the au­di­ence won’t no­tice. Please, you think, please don’t let them see the heels, the smudged make-up, the cat cos­tume un­der the bor­rowed jumper. For a mo­ment, you dare to imag­ine they won’t. Then some­one’s eyes slide over your mussed hair. A car horn blares as you cross the street. You duck your head, won­der­ing how vis­i­ble your flak­ing eye­liner is in the morn­ing light. You hurry on. Nearly there, al­most home, it’s vir­tu­ally over.

Most women in their twen­ties and thir­ties will have ex­pe­ri­enced some kind of ‘walk of shame’. It’s a walk al­most 

ex­clu­sively as­so­ci­ated with women. The Ur­ban Dic­tionary de­fines it as ‘the course walked home af­ter a night of booz­ing and f**king’, be­fore con­tin­u­ing: ‘One usu­ally wears ei­ther the clothes they went out in (eg, short skirt and heels) or the cloth­ing of the per­son they slept with (eg, large white T-shirt).’ It’s the short skirt and heels, in­con­gru­ous the morn­ing af­ter, which typ­ify the ‘walk of shame’ stereo­type. Ill-ad­vised fancy dress, too – my own black ly­cra cat cos­tume, for ex­am­ple, worn for a univer­sity Hal­loween party and then for a brief, ex­cru­ci­at­ing dash home the next day.

Nat­u­rally, the ‘walk of shame’ crops up reg­u­larly on our screens – most of­ten to sig­nify a low point in the char­ac­ter’s story arc. In the open­ing scenes of Brides­maids, Kristen Wiig’s char­ac­ter, wear­ing red stilet­tos, climbs and then strad­dles an elec­tronic gate af­ter leav­ing John Hamm’s bed. The 2014 film Walk Of Shame, star­ring El­iz­a­beth Banks, bases much of the ac­tion on the premise that a wo­man do­ing the walk of shame could eas­ily be mis­taken for a pros­ti­tute. The tight cloth­ing, the gar­ish smears of red lip­stick down a wo­man’s chin… On screen, the same vis­ual in­di­ca­tors used for pros­ti­tutes are also used in walk of shame scenes.

It’s an un­set­tling com­par­i­son, and one that lies at the heart of my is­sue with the ‘walk of shame’. When women walk home af­ter a night out – whether they’ve had sex or they haven’t – we are judged less for our smudged make-up and bed hair and more for the sex­u­al­ity it con­notes. The very idea of a ‘walk of shame’ re­veals the ten­sion be­tween our knowl­edge that women should be able to have no-stringsat­tached con­sen­sual sex, and our fear of be­ing branded a ‘slut’ or ‘slag’.

‘From my ex­pe­ri­ences, the thing that stays with me af­ter a walk of shame is the ap­pear­ance of hav­ing been up to some­thing “naughty”, and peo­ple think­ing about it,’ says El­lie, 28. ‘Ca­sual sex is still viewed as some­what taboo. You can have a one-night stand and your friends still jok­ingly re­fer to you as a slut.’

Emily, 34, agrees: ‘Among my friends, talk­ing about some­one’s “walk of shame” is es­sen­tially short­hand for slutty be­hav­iour. Nobody is gen­uinely ashamed but it an­noys me that men can roll into work in the same clothes and nobody bats an eye­lid. If a wo­man on our team does it – and it hap­pens more over Christ­mas – then she’s guar­an­teed to be a hot topic of dis­cus­sion for the rest of the week. It’s such a dou­ble stan­dard, it feels pre­his­toric.’

There’s been a re­cent slew of slut­sham­ing ar­ti­cles cen­tred around the walk of shame, for ex­am­ple, ‘41 Walk of Shame Pho­tos That’ll Make You Give Up Drink­ing’. Covertly taken pictures, ar­ranged into photo gal­leries for peo­ple to scroll through and ru­mi­nate on the ‘fail­ures’ of young women. If some­one tak­ing the trou­ble to pho­to­graph a teenage girl clutch­ing her heels and hid­ing her face isn’t dis­turb­ing, I don’t know what is.

‘I had to do a “train of shame” re­cently,’ says Marie, 35. ‘Leg­ging it back to your halls of res­i­dence is one thing, but rid­ing the over­ground train eight stops is a bit more sober­ing. I felt re­ally awk­ward when some lads sit­ting op­po­site me started ask­ing if I’d had a “good night”. Luck­ily they were pretty friendly, but I have a col­league who was cir­cled by a group of guys one Sun­day at around noon. She was on the train wear­ing a dress and ridicu­lous heels from the night be­fore. They started talk­ing to her and one was film­ing her on his phone – she has no idea whether that footage ended up be­ing shared on­line. She felt hu­mil­i­ated.’

‘Walk­ing home from a friend’s af­ter club­bing one week­end, guys were jeer­ing and mak­ing com­ments,’ adds Bethany, 25. ‘It was hu­mil­i­at­ing. No one should be made to feel like that.’

Back in 2011, Har­vey Ni­chols faced ac­cu­sa­tions of misog­yny and elitism for its wom­enswear Christ­mas ad­vert. The ad de­picted women, look­ing worse-for-wear and fid­dling with their tight dresses, mak­ing their way home. The strapline ran ‘Avoid the walk of shame this sea­son’, be­fore show­ing a wo­man in a lux­u­ri­ous gold dress con­fi­dently greet­ing her post­man as she un­locks her front door. Her qual­ity cloth­ing has al­lowed her to turn her walk of shame into a stride of pride.

Am­ber Rose’s satir­i­cal ‘Walk of No Shame’ video, via Fun­ny­ordie, also pro­motes this re­brand. In the video, Rose walks home bare­foot with a grin on her face, greeted by passers-by who con­grat­u­late her on hav­ing sex and be­ing com­fort­able with her sex­u­al­ity.

Of course, true head­way would mean that walk­ing home in last night’s dress should not in­vite any kind of comment, whether it’s a cat­call or a well-mean­ing thumbs-up.

I can’t for­get that sense of walk­ing on a tightrope, the feel­ing of dread, brought about by a walk of shame. But by writ­ing this, by point­ing out the du­bi­ous scenes on our screens, and by not star­ing at young women wear­ing hood­ies over se­quins, hope­fully I’m tak­ing small steps to­wards re­mov­ing its stigma, for my­self and per­haps you too.

n What do you think? Let us know at feed­[email protected]­magazine.co.uk

Walk­ing HOME in last night’s dress should not IN­VITE any kind of comment

Flora’s on a mis­sion to erad­i­cate this ‘pre­his­toric’ stigma

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