Name and Shame

I am baffled by Kenyan calls to deal with abuses of power through “name and shame.”

Are we to imagine that “name and shame” is not an explicitly gendered and gendering strategy? Are we to forget that “name and shame” works most powerfully on those without much social power? On women. On girls. On the vulnerable. On queers. On precarious workers.

Does it work as a strategy against patriarchal men?  (If it does, where’s the evidence?)

I doubt it.


If, as I suspect, “name and shame” does little to affect the phallocratic (Musila 2009) structure of Kenyan politics and quotidian life, what does the constant circulation of “name and shame” do in Kenyan publics? It circulates with such frequency that it’s worth asking what it is doing, how it is working.

As an aside, a brief glance at the Star newspaper’s gossipy “Corridors” section reveals that the only thing that shames Kenya’s politicians is losing power. No shame attaches while they are in office.

But the persistent circulation of “name and shame” shapes social interactions and generates publics: who can be in public, what can be in public, what can be said, what can be acknowledged, who can participate, what can be critiqued. Most often, “name and shame” protects phallocratic actors and actions. It silences girls and boys and trans* and gnc Kenyans subject to sexual abuse and violence. It silences girls and women subject to verbal and physical abuse. It silences congregation members abused by those supposed to care for them.

Far from being an effective strategy to critique Kenya’s phallocratic power structures, “name and shame” makes life harder for those most subject to those power structures. It is wielded as a tool by those invested in patriarchal structures. Invested, here, is used deliberately, to consider those who put in time and money and work to build and maintain patriarchal structures and who, sometimes, profit from those structures (through proximity to them, in tangible material ways, in ways that maintain psychic structures, including, most especially, a sense of self—I am wife to, mother to, mother-in-law to, sister to, friend of, cousin to). “Name and shame” is used to reinforce class and community allegiances: “we do not do that in our class or community.”

In short, “name and shame” works. But to reinforce, rather than challenge, existing phallocratic power structures and practices.

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