Thursday, March 27, 2008

Oh, bullying...

Over at Pandagon, they're talking about bullying. It's well over 200 comments at this point, so it's probably futile to try to wade in and see what everyone is saying, but I did glance through. One of the questions that seems to have come up is what to do about it. In particular, how does one respond to a bully?

Because, despite the possibly well intentioned adult advice of my youth, "ignore it and it'll stop" is bullshit. Ignoring bullies doesn't make it stop. I'm sure that some bullies will stop if they don't get a rise out of you, but most? I doubt it. Because even if they don't get a rise out of you, they get a rise out of other people. When a bully knocks your books out of your hands, it doesn't matter how you react, because the act is done, and you've got to pick your books up.

I'm not really sure what the best way to deal with a bully is. I spent a lot of my youth getting bullied. When I was in first grade, a bully who was at least three or four years older than me used to pick on me every day on the bus. He'd knock my books out of my hands. He'd flick my ears constantly. He'd trip me while I was walking. He'd push me down when we get off the bus. He wouldn't stop, and the bus driver wouldn't do anything about it. One day I'd finally had enough. He flicked my ears and I turned and told him that he better stop. We stood up to get off the bus and he flicked my ear again. I turned and smacked him in the head with my snoopy lunchbox. It was a metal lunchbox, and I smacked him with it as hard as I could. He fell over and started screaming, and I got kicked off the bus for a month. But, he never picked on me again.

Now, obviously, I'm not suggesting that we arm kids with metal lunchboxes and tell them to go to town on bullies. I got lucky that this kid decided one smack was enough. You can't always count on that, though. And you shouldn't have to. Some of the other kids who picked on me would have only taken that as a sign to escalate the abuse- they'd have become more violent and have beat me up if I tried to fight back.

One of the things that I noticed about the bullying I received is how much it affected me later in life. I was picked on and abused for so long that, when I got to highschool and the other kids apparently forgot or moved on and decided that I was okay, and even kind of cool, I couldn't see it. It made me paranoid that people were always looking for a new angle to abuse me through. And that still happens to this day- I find that I have a difficult time in many social situations. I find myself expecting people to think the worst of me, or thinking that people must have alternative reasons for being nice to me.

I attribute a lot of that to the bullying that happened at such an important and formative time of my life. When you're learning who you are and what kind of person you're going to be, and the people around you- your peers- are constantly picking on you and denigrating you, I can only assume that has an important impact on the type of person you'll begin to see yourself as.


FeministGal said...

"Now, obviously, I'm not suggesting that we arm kids with metal lunchboxes and tell them to go to town on bullies."

Really? Because sometimes (and not only when I was a kid) I'd love to have a metal lunch box...

Bullying is terrible on boys - for all the reasons you mentioned. Because it does effect everyone in their adult lives, not just while the bullying is happening. For girls though, it's a different sort of bullying (the emotional abuse) which is equally as damaging. I haven't gone over to the post you linked but will now to check out the comments...

B said...

I was bullied horrendously in middle school (though strangely not in elementary or high school) and it really affected me too. My bullying was more calling, taunts, referencing my weight and physical appearance, etc. My ammo would have been a clever retort or two, which would not only effectively put my abuser in place but also repair a little of my dignity. However, I wasn't equipped with that talent and probably never will be. Hopefully by the time I'm a mom I'll have some clever tricks up my sleeves to help out my kids deal with bullies.

butterflywings said...

I can relate to a lot of that.
Hmmm. Yeah, boys at least have the metal lunchbox option, most of the time. Thinking of cutting retorts is much harder.

EvilDollie said...

I can identify with a lot of this. I got teased pretty badly through out school and never really fit in. I think I probably have awful self-esteem because of it!

I'm SO scared that people secretly don't like me. Even people I've been friends with for a long time who would have stopped talking to me and inviting me to their homes long ago if they truly disliked me.

I'm also really paranoid that people are making fun of me or have an ulterior motives for being nice. I know it's ridiculous, but I really had to be on the look out back in school (one instance that really sticks out to me is from middle school where four kids conspired to cut my hair).

Anyway, I think I'm going to start reading your blog, I like it (and I'm a big fan of your postings on Feministing!!!)

Virago said...

I was bullied for all of secondary school (ages 12-16). It varied from random individuals who'd taunt me in class and around the school to bitchy friendship groups breaking up and reforming without me, using their knowledge of me to taunt and emotionally abuse me.

It's taken me a long time to get over it, and I still have some issues about my likeability. For a long time I feared I had some aspect of my personality that I was unaware of that was so repugnant to others that it made them turn against me. I suffered from depression, I comfort ate and hated myself and most waking days.

I'm tougher now, a stable loving relationship has helped as had going to uni and working at jobs where it wasn't such a cut-throat environment. My confidence has grown and I feel more capable of thinking "fuck 'em" if people mess me around.

How you deal with bullying I do not know. You feel so so helpless at the time, its truly miserable.

Nique said...

What about when the bullying is coming from one's own family? I have a friend who has been emotionally abused by her parents and siblings her entire life. They taunt her about everything but mostly her weight (she is NOT fat but they say she is).
She tells me stories about her childhood as though they are amusing anecdotes but I interpret them as horrying instances of abuse. The things her own parents have done to her are truly shocking in terms of teasing and neglect. Nothing that could be termed as child-abuse, nothing you could take to child services as evidence of abuse, but just horrible bullying. It's no coincidence that this woman now has insanely low self-esteem and is incapable of sustaining a relationship because she mistrusts everyone and always seeks out abusive types. I try to tell her she's not worthless, because she clearly thinks she is and I've tried to get her to stop associating with her family, but she just can't do it. At this point it's as though she feeds off the abuse, like she doesn't know how to live without it.

My point is that a lot of the time there is no answer to bullying because kids and teens feel like they have no allies, no one to turn to for validation, or acceptance. I was never bullied persay but I also never viewed my family as allies. I never thought of them as people I could go to for help and sadly that's probably a reality for many young people.

Blanche Debris said...

Ha, what a timely post. I was just writing on one of my online profiles yesterday how I don't like bullies (specifically overtly bitchy women).

I was bullied pretty badly from 8th through 11th grade, mostly by other girls. These experiences, for many years, made me uncomfortable identifying as a feminist because I honestly didn't like women too much. To this day, I feel more comfortable in the company of men, but I think I have made a lot of progress in recent years.

My dad told me to just ignore the harassment, and let it just "roll off my back," but that just made it worse, b/c they could tell that I would run off and cry. Finally, in 11th grade, when one of the girls (and these were the artsy/punk girls, which made it even MORE painful, b/c I thought we should have been friends) wrote in my yearbook "You're such an annoying dork" at a pep rally, I just flew off the handle and ran up to her with my yearbook raised, screaming at her, "How fucking dare you, this is my yearbook, something that's supposed to be permanent memories," and I was absolutely ready to whack her over the head with the yearbook and stomp her ass into the ground, even *if* her combat boots were bigger than mine. And she *ran away.*

The next day, one of her friends came up to me and said, "Oh, *** really respects you now for standing up to her." They left me alone after that, and my fear of them also vanished. Though I still hated them, of course, and wouldn't speak to them. When I have children, I will tell them to always fight back, even if they get suspended from school. Letting yourself get pushed around, trying to "ignore" it, will just eat away at you like a cancer.

Roy said...

Thanks for the great comments everyone.

b: I didn't really mention it, I guess, but it sounds like most of my own experience with bullying was closer to yours than to the incident on the bus. I was sometimes physically assaulted, and I definitely had my books knocked out or my backpack stolen, that kind of thing. But, really, those things were on top of the torment that was already happening. In my experience, the physical bullying came after the phsychological torment. I was teased for my clothes, my lack of athleticism, for enjoying reading, for doing well in some classes, for having weird hair, etc, etc. And, yeah, my clever retorts almost always came way too late to do any good, too.

evildollie and Virago: That's exactly what I think too! Like you said, even people whom I've known for years sometimes. Which I recognize on a rational level is totally silly... and most of the time it doesn't get to me, but there are still those moments when I feel like I'm 10 again, and I worry that people are secretly thinking or saying awful things. And, yeah, I totally searched myself trying to figure out what the thing was that was making people hate me.

Nique: That's a great point. I was really lucky in that my family are extremely supportive, and when I got kicked off the bus, my mother wasn't the least bit upset with me, but, rather, with the driver who wouldn't handle it before it escalated to that level. But, you raise a great point that, even with that, I still felt helpless to stop it. I never felt like I could just go to my mother to get the bullying to stop, because, honestly, what was she going to do? There's always that fear that getting your parent involved will make the situation worse. And if it's your parents who are actually doing the bullying? I can't even imagine how helpless that would feel.

baby221 said...

Great. Add bullying to my list of things to worry about when the wee one gets old enough to experience it :p

I hope to be able to deal with it simply by talking to the other child's parents, but if they're learning it at home that route isn't going to work. I've heard that most schools, even when informed of the situation, tend not to take the situation seriously and will not take action.

Obviously going and beating the shit out of the bully myself is out of the question.

Hmm. Homeschooling?

Degero said...

I never really was bullied so I can't say I know what it is like. However, I had friends who were and I felt a bit hopeless helping them. When I was younger (up until the 6-7 grade) I never really noticed bullying as my friends and I didn't do it nor were we bullied. We mostly just stayed to ourselves.

However, when I went to High School I had to make new friends and they were more of the "geekier" kind. The kind that play video games all the time, played D&D (personally don't like it but they did), and other "geeky" things. I even was vice president of the Technology club and Speculative Fiction club. Can't be geekier than that.

I mean I would stand up for them when I was there but that was only a temporary solution. And I wouldn't recommend trying what you did. Because one of my friends hit a bully when he did something or other and got the shit knocked out of him. And they both were suspended so it looked bad when he was trying to get into college. I don't think it was worth it.

I don't have any solution. It seems like a case by case ordeal.