Emily S. Cutler
As I prepare for my upcoming surgery, one topic that has been crossing my mind a great deal is the issue of "oversharing." For most of my life, I have been taught that all personal medical or healthcare related topics fall into the category of "too much information" or "oversharing." And for me personally, my tendency to share too many personal details of my life has been pathologized as a symptom of Borderline Personality Disorder.
I've started to wonder whether the notion that medical and healthcare related topics fall under the category of "oversharing" reinforces the existing power dynamics within the healthcare system. Keeping these topics taboo sends patients the message that they need to be ashamed of their conditions, heightening their vulnerability. While doctors are glorified as heroes for doing their jobs, patients are stigmatized for experiencing health conditions. This sense of stigma and shame also prevents patients from speaking out about abuses of power or ways that they might be mistreated by healthcare providers.
I think this reinforcing of shame and stigma applies to other topics that are considered "oversharing" as well. Our sense of shame and stigma around sexuality, for example, makes it very difficult for sexual violence survivors to speak out; they are told that the details of their assault are too "violent" or "uncomfortable." The stigma of sexuality also leads to a lack of communication about sex in general, hindering the development of consent culture.
My thoughts prompted me to share the following Facebook status: "Is it just me or is the sole purpose of the concept of 'oversharing' to reinforce the status quo, maintain existing power imbalances, and silence victims?"
I found it fascinating how many commenters on my post rushed to share some of the practical implications of engaging in what we consider “oversharing” rather than examining what purpose those implications might serve in reinforcing power dynamics and the status quo. As one commenter said, "'Oversharing' can be a legitimate personal concern if the person is sharing things with someone who isn't safe or whom they haven't really checked out for safety." Another commenter said, "I personally think that our culture’s strong emphasis on privacy is very alienating, but I don’t think going around violating our cultural norms about oversharing is a good way to solve it, because it will just make people uncomfortable and upset and alienate you even more."
If I were to critique capitalism, I don’t think many people would immediately rush to tell me how unsafe it is for people to quit their jobs and how high risk it is to go without working. That itself is the point of capitalism. That itself reinforces capitalism. Of course there are consequences for not working - what else would reinforce the status quo?
So it is fascinating to me that in trying to critique the concept of "oversharing," so many people seemed to want to point out how sharing certain kinds of information can leave a person vulnerable or have consequences. That of course is the whole point of the construction of "oversharing." The idea of "oversharing" is that certain topics are off limits, taboo, and stigmatized. What else would reinforce the notion of "oversharing" besides the very real consequences that people face for sharing topics in those categories?
Some commenters seemed that certain topics are inherently discomforting to others. I completely disagree that this applies to the vast majority of topics constructed as "oversharing."
The intention of the post was to say that a lot of the topics we think of as inherently discomforting are socially and culturally constructed as uncomfortable to reinforce stigma and shame. A lot of the topics that our society believes are inherently uncomfortable are the deeply personal issues that leave people powerless and silenced.
It’s interesting to me that topics that are pretty inherently discomforting for some groups of people - like prejudice and bigotry - are often not considered “oversharing.” So the topics we do construct as oversharing seem pretty arbitrary.