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Words Do Hurt
March 30, 2011 1:10 PM   Subscribe

Eighth grader silently expresses her anguish over being bullied for two years. [SLYT].
posted by morganannie (263 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite

 
Hey, she's got 3 or 4 friends. That's at least 3 more than I have.
posted by Mental Wimp at 1:19 PM on March 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


That tight pained little spasm of a smile at the end. -tears-
posted by ottereroticist at 1:20 PM on March 30, 2011 [9 favorites]


:(
posted by zeoslap at 1:23 PM on March 30, 2011


It feels a bit odd to be proud of a total stranger, but I definitely am.
posted by mightygodking at 1:25 PM on March 30, 2011 [6 favorites]


Yeah, I don't know a single person who enjoyed middle school, even the bullies. I was made fun of every single day at school from probably 4th until the end of 11th grade. I was teased all the time: teased for being smart, teased for not having boobs, teased for being "gay", teased for not shaving my legs until I was in 8th grade (thanks, mom), etc, but I never let it bother me.

I've never understood why some people can't get past it. I don't mean to be insensitive, I just don't get it.

And it's not like my parents were particularly helpful. The only words of advice I got from them on the issue were "kill them with kindness" (yeah, like that ever helps) and "listen to Bruce Springsteen's Glory Days."

It wasn't until my senior year that I found out why everyone thought I was gay (the rest of the stuff was pretty self-explanatory). All that time I had assumed it was because I didn't wear makeup, had shorter-than-average hair, and eschewed girlyness. Nope--it's because I doodled a bunch of animals, one of which happened to be a beaver--and people thought I was drawing a beaver because I loved me some vag.

People are dumb. As long as you remember that, you can ignore everything mean they say.
posted by phunniemee at 1:28 PM on March 30, 2011 [36 favorites]


Now that my daughter's six and generally capable of understanding basic keep-out-of-traffic instructions, all my worst fears and anxieties are focussed on the social grinder of her teen years to come. Already we're seeing systemic, gender-based bullying being dismissed as harmless boys-will-be-boys stuff - and she's at a school with small class sizes and very, very good teachers and admin. It's mild no-gurls-allowd stuff right now, but it starts to create the social space for the tolerance of routine cruelty.

(Don't get me started on my worries for her developmentally delayed little brother. We're moving to a monastery in rural Ladakh for his teen years.)

Anyone know how you innoculate against this bullshit? Is there a codeword you say to educators to get you to realize you're not just trying to protect your special snowflake from the real world so much as make them aware the groundwork's being laid for real hurt?
posted by gompa at 1:29 PM on March 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


There's a moment in Tom Brown's schooldays, the 1940s film adapatation, where the headmaster, Thomas Arnold, catches two young men bullying a third. He expels them on the spot.

In fact, the book version had such an extraordinarily vicious bully as its main antagonist, Flashman, that George MacDonald Fraser created an extraordinary series of Flashman novels, telling of the bully's general destructiveness throughout the British military's various campaigns in the Victorian era. This also inspired the Ripping Yarns episode, "Thompkinson's Schooldays," in which a really first-rate bully is something schools vie for, and has almost total control over the school.

Me, I'm with Thomas Arnold. Kick them out.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:31 PM on March 30, 2011 [9 favorites]


Thirteen year old daughter at home- this one might get shared tonight.

I know it's a meme, but I tend to say "it gets better."
posted by billcicletta at 1:32 PM on March 30, 2011


I've never understood why some people can't get past it. I don't mean to be insensitive, I just don't get it.

Probably because a lot of other kinds of pain elsewhere in their lives have made them more vulnerable to all of it and more tender than others.
posted by liketitanic at 1:35 PM on March 30, 2011 [33 favorites]


[W]orse than just about anything else is the agonizing issue of how on earth anyone can bring a child into this world knowing full well that he or she is eventually going to have to go through the seventh and eighth grades.

The seventh and eighth grades were for me, and for every single good and interesting person I've ever known, what the writers of the Bible meant when they used the words hell and the pit. Seventh and eighth grades were a place into which one descended. One descended from the relative safety and wildness and bigness one felt in sixth grade, eleven years old. Then the worm turned, and it was all over for any small feeling that one was essentially all right. One wasn't. One was no longer just some kid. One was suddenly a Diane Arbus character. It was springtime, for Hitler, and Germany.

I experienced it as being a two-year game of "The Farmer in the Dell." I hung out with the popular crowd, as jester, but boy, when those parties and dances rolled round, this cheese stood alone, watching my friends go steady and kiss, and then, like all you other cheeses, I went home and cried. There we were, all of us cheeses alone, emotionally broken by unrequited love and at the same time amped out of our minds on hormones and shame.

Seventh and eighth grades were about waiting to get picked for teams, waiting to get asked to dance, waiting to grow taller, waiting to grow breasts. They were about praying for God to grow dark hairs on my legs so I could shave them. They were about having pipe-cleaner legs. They were about violence, meanness, chaos. They were about The Lord of the Flies. They were about feeling completely other. But more than anything else, they were about hurt and aloneness. There is a beautiful poem by a man named Roy Fuller, which ends, "Hurt beyond hurting, never to forget," and whenever I remember those lines, which is often, I think of my father's death ten years ago this month, and I think about seventh and eighth grades.
-Anne Lamott, Operating Instructions
posted by NoraReed at 1:35 PM on March 30, 2011 [50 favorites]


I've never understood why some people can't get past it. I don't mean to be insensitive, I just don't get it.

Indeed.

You don't get it.
posted by Tarumba at 1:36 PM on March 30, 2011 [69 favorites]


The fact that it gets better doesn't excuse it from happening. Unfortunately, bullying, or "the use of aggressive psychology against the unpopular", is not a phase kids go through, it's American culture.

Ask Rebecca Black if it gets better once people grow up.
posted by Legomancer at 1:37 PM on March 30, 2011 [10 favorites]


People are dumb. As long as you remember that, you can ignore everything mean they say.

People may be dumb, but bullies aren't. They know exactly what to do, how to do it, and how to do it without leaving any fingerprints. And they have far more sophisticated tools to do it with now than they ever did.
posted by blucevalo at 1:38 PM on March 30, 2011 [12 favorites]


Seventh grade was the worst year of my life I feel for this girl, big time. Her HELP sign was more courageous than anything I could have come up with. i was so lost as a 13 year old, and it has profoundly affected my entire life.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:38 PM on March 30, 2011


I think I'm incredibly lucky in that my bullying died away by the time I hit middle school. All the pain, tears and fear are mostly locked away behind the fog lost memories of a little kid. Although I will lose my shit whenever anyone starts one of those "I want to be six again" memes. I'm glad I haven't seen one in years.

Lord of the Flies was a documentary.

Things like this make me think of a book I read, where the alien mother (aliens and humans are living together in Northern Ireland of all places in the novel) sets the children who were bullying her child on fire when she receives no help from either the parents of said children or the school her children attend. Things like this make me think, just for a second, that perhaps that wasn't the worst idea in the world. (cf the bully getting hit by the bullied kid video from a week or two ago)

I really hope that this video helps and doesn't hurt her.

It does get better, eventually. And in the real world, there are harassment lawsuits and anti-stalking laws.
posted by Hactar at 1:39 PM on March 30, 2011


The fact that it gets better doesn't excuse it from happening. Unfortunately, bullying, or "the use of aggressive psychology against the unpopular", is not a phase kids go through, it's American culture.

Yes, yes. I recently read a post on a fashion-related livejournal written by a 30-something woman who is being bullied by a fellow student in grad school. Talk about vivid flashbacks.
posted by muddgirl at 1:39 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've always hated hated hated the "sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me" mentality. It's simply not true, unless have some superhuman ability to compartmentalize.

(Of course bullies often couple physical and verbal abuse, but the words play a big part.)
posted by kmz at 1:41 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Prediction: School, in CYA mode, will call that video suicidal ideation and expell her for it. A school assembly on bullying will be held, but no bully will be punished.
posted by orthogonality at 1:45 PM on March 30, 2011 [7 favorites]


I've never understood why some people can't get past it. I don't mean to be insensitive, I just don't get it.

Here are some suggestions:

1. Their bullying was worse than what you experienced.

2. Their bullying was physical as well, and frightening.

3. They had less support at home--not just clueless parents.

4. Adults participated so that there was no refuge at school.

5. They inherited depression or some other mental health issue.

6. They really did have something "wrong" with them - ie, they were fat, or had a learning disability, or were poor, or had a birthmark...so they had to deal with the condition on top of the bullying, and so that they were never in a context where they were "normal"

7. They were also abused at home.

8. They really were queer and had legitimate fears about what that was going to mean for their lives

Hope this helps!
posted by Frowner at 1:46 PM on March 30, 2011 [155 favorites]


And yeah, the painful grimace smile at the end is heart-breaking.
posted by orthogonality at 1:47 PM on March 30, 2011


I've never understood why some people can't get past it. I don't mean to be insensitive, I just don't get it

PTSD. The brain is chemically and physically changed by bullying.

It's like saying "I've never understood why some people can't get past traumatic brain injury."
posted by orthogonality at 1:49 PM on March 30, 2011 [29 favorites]



The seventh and eighth grades were for me, and for every single good and interesting person I've ever known, what the writers of the Bible meant when they used the words hell and the pit

Yes.

For that matter, fifth grade thru 8th were like hell on earth for me.

I have never ever understood why behavior that would get an adult thrown behind bars was tolerated just because it happened on a school campus.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:52 PM on March 30, 2011 [21 favorites]


It wasn't until my senior year that I found out why everyone thought I was gay ... it's because I doodled a bunch of animals, one of which happened to be a beaver--and people thought I was drawing a beaver because I loved me some vag.

My God, if high school could be summed up in a single anecdote this is it.

(The other thing about high school/middle school that's all lies: you know the kid who is a total asshole and got a BMW for his 16th birthday and fucks hot girls and has cool parties in his parent's huge and nicely furnished basement? Yeah he won't get his after 6 years of college, he'll be working for his dad and making more than you, but will probably be sort of nicer, or at least business nice and you'll sort of go like, "Hey he's okay!" and then going through his Facebook and be like, "Still a douche!")
posted by geoff. at 1:53 PM on March 30, 2011 [14 favorites]


This aired on CBC radio this morning. Hearing this woman talk about the events leading up to her 15 year-old daughter's suicide had me bawling in the car on the way to work.

"It gets better" is a great message, but it's probably cold comfort to the kid whose stomach is in knots because they don't want to go to school tomorrow. Or the adult who doesn't want to go to work tomorrow because their boss is a bully. And so on.
posted by futureisunwritten at 1:55 PM on March 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Oh, I hope it really does get better for her.

It was the HELP sign that broke my heart.
posted by bearwife at 1:55 PM on March 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


I have never ever understood why behavior that would get an adult thrown behind bars was tolerated just because it happened on a school campus.

I would imagine that, for however much expertise they profess in a situation, most adults feel powerless against the hive mind of a bunch of adolescents. Maybe even more so since we think that's how middle school is in essence, which makes it even more clear that we're powerless to change it. I've had to work with middle school kids, and I definitely wasn't trained or prepared for it, and despite my best intentions it was just my goal to make it through the day with a minimal amount of bullshit. I've been working on getting better at this, since it's probably in my immediate future as a Librarian.
posted by codacorolla at 1:56 PM on March 30, 2011


Is there a codeword you say to educators to get you to realize you're not just trying to protect your special snowflake from the real world so much as make them aware the groundwork's being laid for real hurt?

"lawsuit"
posted by EatTheWeak at 1:56 PM on March 30, 2011 [21 favorites]


As someone who was bullied relentlessly throughout my ENTIRE childhood. Who used self blame, physical aggression, and belief in my essential badness, as survival tools. Who entered into adulthood quite damaged and inflicted my pain on others, until I got through it. Who still occasionally believes the bullying made me tougher and the pain is gone. You touched me in that dark protected place, Alye, and I'm a better person for having been touched by you. Thanks.
posted by Xurando at 1:58 PM on March 30, 2011 [10 favorites]


Maybe even more so since we think that's how middle school is in essence, which makes it even more clear that we're powerless to change it

Let me be more clear, "which makes the false assumption that we're powerless to change it more clear." We can, but we often assume that we can't.
posted by codacorolla at 1:58 PM on March 30, 2011


Seventh and eighth grades were heaven on earth - that's how bad sixth grade was. We moved at the end of my sixth grade year, and despite the fact that I was the new kid in a class full of kids who'd been together since kindergarten (it was a K-8 school), I wasn't bullied or picked on. I spent much of my seventh grade year waiting for things to get bad, and they kept not getting bad. It was a weird and remarkable experience.
posted by rtha at 1:58 PM on March 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


PTSD. The brain is chemically and physically changed by bullying.

Discovering that there was actual science supporting statements like this really explained something for me. Sometimes I have these chance sparked-by-something-tangential moments of remembering a bullying episode from age 14 and I flush hot, and feel sick to my stomach, and ashamed all over again. It was 16 years ago and yet my brain and my body can still remember exactly how it felt. There are so many things from my teenage years that I can't remember. Names, faces. There were happy moments, and I remember those mostly as anecdotes I've told myself through the years. I don't remember how I felt in the happy moments. The shameful moments, though, I remember in excruciating, physical detail.

I sure as hell wish my brain didn't do that, but at least knowing there's a scientific reason why it does gives me a bit of hope.
posted by marginaliana at 2:00 PM on March 30, 2011 [23 favorites]


I've never understood why some people can't get past it. I don't mean to be insensitive, I just don't get it.

Trauma is a normal response to an abnormal situation, where something you couldn't control overpowers you and causes a huge amount of fear, leaving parts of you frozen in time. If you develop PTSD from it, you can end up with a brain injury. Some people can be in a war zone or an earthquake or an assault and not end up with PTSD. Others do. And some people are more sensitive people and there's nothing wrong with being sensitive to it. In fact, people should be sensitive to it. It's psychological torture.

I think what that girl has gone through is horrible. And I think all the kids should be expelled. But because I doubt the school is on board and because the school has such limited resources for doing it, I think the girl's parents should move her to a new school. I wish I had changed schools -- it was horrific. When this came up for me as a parent, I changed schools for my child right away. At his new school, that same child is popular, never at a loss for playdates, and happy and safe.
posted by acoutu at 2:01 PM on March 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


Our kid is about the enter elementary school; we worry constantly about stuff like this. But then, we would not hesitate to homeschool him, at least as a middle schooler, if that were our only option; we both had a crappy enough time in middle school that we're already making sure he knows *he must tell us* if somebody is hitting him/scaring him/stealing or destroying his stuff/etc. etc. Because nothing would be worse than finding out years later that he had been beat up or threatened and never told us and we never figured it out.

He's really tall for his age and in preschool. He tells us every now and then about the other kid the same height in his class, who is "not his friend" and doesn't like him. It's hard enough to explain to my kid that not everybody likes everybody and even being nice to some people won't make them your friend if they don't want to be your friend. Because at 5, you still are likely to think that niceness will make everyone like you.
posted by emjaybee at 2:01 PM on March 30, 2011


Anyone know how you innoculate against this bullshit? Is there a codeword you say to educators to get you to realize you're not just trying to protect your special snowflake from the real world so much as make them aware the groundwork's being laid for real hurt?

Being a lawyer helps. If that is not an option for you, being an engaged parent who is visible and even helpful around the school -- ie, proving that you are part of the solution to the problems facing teachers -- is important too. Also, not being a pain in the ass to overworked and underpaid teachers and administrators over petty stuff, so that they understand you are serious when you lodge a complaint might also be effective. None of this (even the lawyer part) is necessarily a silver bullet, but there's no 100% cure for assholes.
posted by Slap Factory at 2:01 PM on March 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


Man, you know what was the worst for me? What really broke my spirit and turned me into a weak creature who would be friends with anyone, no matter how mean they were to me on a daily basis?

My 6th grade core teacher (meaning I had 3 hours of classes with her), who would bully me because I wore a back brace and was going through puberty and didn't know wtf to do with my body at all. She would bully other students too.

Middle school was pretty OK, until I realized that I have no allies. There was no one to turn to. Even my parents were powerless in the face of a bureaucracy unwilling to change anything without evidence of physical abuse. After that, what was the point of fighting back against bullies? Better to suffer in silence (and bully others, when I got the chance - I am such a Liz Lemon).
posted by muddgirl at 2:05 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


When it came up for my child, I reported the school's response all the way up the chain, all the way to the Board of School Trustees and the Ministry of Education. Whoosh! All of a sudden, I had a district principal assigned to my case, the school had to bring in programs to deal with it, they had to do something about the violent children....and I still changed my child's school to a wonderful, lovely environment. But I made darn sure they still took those initiatives at the old school.
posted by acoutu at 2:05 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Anti-bullying efforts in schools run up against the (disgustingly) popular "snitches get stitches" meme. You also run into some kids who literally don't realize that they're bullying.

I caught a kid (I'm a substitute teacher) doing the more unambiguous stuff -- he had grabbed a classmate by the lapels, shoved him into a wall, and was clearly very heated. This was a 7th grade classroom. He tried to claim that it was nothing, that they were just playing, and the other clearly terrified kid backed him up on that. No surprise why -- he didn't want to get bullied worse for having "snitched."

When I hauled him out into the hallway and jumped on him over it, he immediately buckled. Tears. Luckily, there was an intern teacher in the classroom with me, so I could drag the bully down to the vice principal, who thankfully was also unimpressed by his waterworks and his pleas. Yet I'm positive that a number of teachers I know would've fallen for it.

We need to remind our teachers that not every kid is an innocent snowflake. Some of them are pretty wretched. They could become nice people, and most will eventually grow up into something more decent -- but they need to be shown, unequivocally, that there will be harsh consequences for their own harsh behavior toward one another.

And the "stop snitchin'" crap needs to be combatted, too. It knows no boundaries. I have to tell kids all the time that there's a huge difference between not "snitchin'" on a friend for skipping a class or copying homework versus someone who's straight up hurting people. It's amazing how many kids think there's no difference at all. Vile stuff.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 2:05 PM on March 30, 2011 [15 favorites]


Nope--it's because I doodled a bunch of animals, one of which happened to be a beaver--and people thought I was drawing a beaver because I loved me some vag.

Just stopping in to marvel at this. I'm really not sure whether to call it stupid or brilliant. Wow.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 2:06 PM on March 30, 2011


>I've never understood why some people can't get past it. I don't mean to be insensitive, I just don't get it.

Indeed.

You don't get it.


I was wondering how long it would take to see an irritated, flip response to that. Not bad. See, the thing I don't get (and perhaps phunniemee shares this) is that bullying in school is part of life and happens to nearly everyone, including people who themselves are bullies, so why is there so much discussion of it suddenly? Eddie Izzard phrased it wonderfully-- "fascism still exists in the schoolyard."

I didn't particularly love high school, and my ruralish junior high was full of professional grade mean, ignorant, repulsive kids that you can only find in a rural school (sorry initapplette, not you and lots of other people). But I am astounded at the number of full-grown adults with real lives and responsibilities who are still bitter about how their peers treated them in school. I don't really remember the shitty treatment I received, though I assure you as the child of flaming hippies in a conservative, insular town I received plenty of it. Taunting, wedgies, and plenty of other stuff though I can't always recall exactly who my assailants were. But I do feel confident that they're probably now picking dead animals off the road for a living, have DUI convictions are are being accosted by creditors. So who cares? I know it made me assertive and ready to defend myself and my convictions.

Kids are mean and stupid and don't have compassion. This is their natural state. This present focus in the media and in conversation about bullying turns everyone into Cuchulainns fighting the tide (until the discourse shifts to the next cause). Greater awareness will not make more kids nicer, in the same way that warnings about huffing paint are not going to dissuade someone dumb enough to do it. School policies about bullying will move it to new venues and techniques and the policies will ultimately be misapplied for the sorts of institutional authoritarianism that school administrators use to stifle free expression in the interest of making their jobs easier. Bullying by humans has probably existed since a big Cro-Magnon took a little Cro-Magnon's berries and called him ugly.

If it can't be eradicated, encouraging people to dwell on it only makes more people more damaged. If my daughter is bullied, I will remind her that high school is a temporary condition that doesn't matter one shit the moment you leave it, and the Living Well is the Best Revenge.

(Please note that I am not talking about instances where bullying includes physical assault. That to me is not bullying and is instead "assault.")
posted by Mayor Curley at 2:08 PM on March 30, 2011 [16 favorites]


Unfortunately, bullying, or "the use of aggressive psychology against the unpopular", is not a phase kids go through, it's American culture.

So, outside the USA bullies don't exist ? Bullshit.
posted by Pendragon at 2:09 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sixth through eighth grades for me were...fairly unpleasant. High school was an opportunity to start over and for me it worked. I wasn't homecoming king, but I got along with members of just about every clique.

As someone said upthread, bullies have ever more sophisticated tools. I worry, especially now that I have a sixth grade daughter, that social media removes this reboot button.
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 2:10 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, why should we worry about kids committing suicide? It's just a natural part of being human, amirite?
posted by muddgirl at 2:10 PM on March 30, 2011 [9 favorites]


There's one thing I don't get in this video - the card that says "I'm in therapy...". I understand someone forced to endure this kind of abuse will need help and support, but isn't stopping the abuse a better solution (as well as a higher priority)? Why is this kid in therapy and not the ones that think it's OK to torture her?
posted by Dr Dracator at 2:15 PM on March 30, 2011 [6 favorites]


Please note that I am not talking about instances where bullying includes physical assault. That to me is not bullying and is instead "assault."

What about if they just repeatedly threaten assault? What if they wait for me on the only path to my house and threaten me every day? Gosh, I should just accept that it's completely natural for a 17 year old to threaten a 12 year old with a beating because "she thinks she's better than me." Absolutely a natural part of human behavior.
posted by muddgirl at 2:16 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you folks want to protect your kids from being bullied, you might want to start with standing in solidarity against those that want to gut the education system (not to mention the mental health system, which we pretty much did away with years ago). As the number of teachers decreases, as they do away with un-mandated staff (social workers, counselors, nurses, almost anyone not involved in increasing the test scores), things will just get worse....

Those in charge of your states and your country don't really give a shit about your kids, unless, in some way, they become tasty fodder for corporate america.... speak up...
posted by tomswift at 2:17 PM on March 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


Why is this kid in therapy and not the ones that think it's OK to torture her?

Because she can't control what other children do. She can only control herself.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:17 PM on March 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


If it can't be eradicated, encouraging people to dwell on it only makes more people more damaged. If my daughter is bullied, I will remind her that high school is a temporary condition that doesn't matter one shit the moment you leave it, and the Living Well is the Best Revenge.

Or perhaps you could tell her that she's not really experiencing bullying! Or that it's not really too bad and that people elsewhere have it much much worse! If she starts cutting herself, or hides in the basement all the time, or develops an eating disorder (gee, not like I'd know about that stuff) because the pressure of school is so awful, tell her that in ten years or so it will get better.

Or you could tell her that people like your family are always bullied because smart, special people make others jealous. That's good for total cognitive dissonance and convincing your child that you know nothing about the world.

Good luck!
posted by Frowner at 2:18 PM on March 30, 2011 [26 favorites]


I teach middle school, and I like the kids very much--and yes, they do tease and even bully, because kids can be mean. Because they're kids. With brains that don't, as far as I can see, have any frontal lobes, no matter how bright they are. Of course, it's only boys at my school, and so therefore it's often easier to catch them at it. The words "We were just playing around" are a dead giveaway, for the parents out there. The hard thing is that boys do like to punch one another as a friendly gesture, so I often have to bore good friends to death explaining why they can do that when they're at each other's house but not at school.

And it's better to get to your kid's teacher early and often rather than get to an administrator too late and thoroughly outraged. Too many parents are afraid of complaining. I always tell my advisees' parents that middle school students need to feel surrounded by the adults in their lives. They need to feel that their community communicates, and that we all stand for the same things and are on the same side.

Sometimes the parents are afraid to tell the teachers because they're afraid of retaliation--they want to tell but they don't want it to "come from me." What they don't realize is that almost every kid in the school at one time or another has had to be straightened out (sometimes at great length, sometimes in the hallway, sometimes in her office) by our dean of students. Almost every kid ends up getting a detention at one time or another for one thing or another. And even their boy is capable of being a jerk from time to time. That's the hardest thing to take, as a parent.
posted by Peach at 2:19 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


If it can't be eradicated, encouraging people to dwell on it only makes more people more damaged. If my daughter is bullied, I will remind her that high school is a temporary condition that doesn't matter one shit the moment you leave it, and the Living Well is the Best Revenge.

Applies equally well to rape, torture, your wife's murder, etc. It happened, it's over, now it's time to move on with your life.
posted by benito.strauss at 2:22 PM on March 30, 2011 [6 favorites]


Challenge Day is one program that truly affects the youth and adults who spend a day confronting some of these issues viscerally. Countless students say it changed them, including bullies and the bullied. Everyone who works with adolescents faces a myriad of difficulties in helping their kids have a positive experience in this emotionally fraught time. This is just one way to be proactive in helping kids be aware of the effects of their words and actions. (Yes, jaded adults like myself can't help but be aware of the slightly cheesy aspects of this program, but 13-14 year-olds are not, by virtue of their age, as jaded. Something has to be done.)
posted by kozad at 2:24 PM on March 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yeah, why should we worry about kids committing suicide? It's just a natural part of being human, amirite?

My argument is that trying to suppress something that's part of the natural order is fruitless, so if I'm correct, your flippant emotional rebuke has no merit inasmuch as this current focus on school bullying will have no affect on its incidence.

Also, outside of terminal illness, suggesting that suicide is due to a single issue is naive.

Also, suicide rates are higher for an age group that is out of school, so there's a lot more to teen suicide than bullying. Perhaps melancholy kids are both more likely to kill themselves AND more likely to be bullied.
posted by Mayor Curley at 2:24 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Kids are mean and stupid and don't have compassion. This is their natural state.

This is flat-out false, one of those nuggets of compressed bullshit sprayed with eau de common sense and used to apologize for abysmal behaviour in far too many circumstances.

Until kids are about two or three, they have a poor grasp of morality and not much in the way of capacity to understand the repercussions of their actions. But kids are sponges of extraordinary skill with unbelievable once-in-a-lifetime powers to absorb information. They have been figuring out the "natural state" of their world since they were still in the womb, reacting to their mothers' stress levels and the tone of the voices they can hear in utero, and they spend their early years learning with a speed and acuity they'll never again possess what they need to know to survive. They will become what they see modelled for them.

Ever watched a five-year-old learn a new language or an eighteen-month-old with a brain injury learn to read? I'm participating actively in both processes. Staggering capacity for learning. Show them compassion as a norm, it'll become their norm. Excuse violence, they'll learn to use violence as a means. I mean violence, by the way - action intended to hurt, whether verbal or physical - not rough housing or hard play or anything like that. And bullshit that five-year-olds don't know the difference between the two - they spend much of their final preschool years testing boundaries exactly like that one multiple times a day.
posted by gompa at 2:26 PM on March 30, 2011 [18 favorites]


The damage is already done. Watching this almost made me cry, where are her parents in this? Can't somebody do something about it?
posted by PipnEstella at 2:26 PM on March 30, 2011


Also, outside of terminal illness, suggesting that suicide is due to a single issue is naive.

I would never argue that suicide has a single cause, but I do think that bullying can absolutely be one part of it. Young brains are still growing, and social interactions can and do affect brain chemistry.

You are saying that bullying is a natural condition that can not in any way be prevented or whose affects can not be alleviated once it occurs. Prove it.

where are her parents in this

Did you read the video notes? Her parents are involved in the making of the video.
posted by muddgirl at 2:28 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


If it can't be eradicated, encouraging people to dwell on it only makes more people more damaged. If my daughter is bullied, I will remind her that high school is a temporary condition that doesn't matter one shit the moment you leave it, and the Living Well is the Best Revenge.

You know, the more I think about it the more I'm puzzled by what I'll call Bullying Deniers--people who say "it's not really that bad" and "you should tell kids that it's temporary". I'm puzzled because there are thousands upon thousands of accounts, both documented and anecdotal, readily accessible, greatly detailed, by people who experienced horrible, destructive bullying which marked them for life. Are all of those people drama queens, or lying, or guilty of a simple cognitive error? Ie, if they just let go, they'd realize that what happened to them was trivial--and none of them have figured this out? And even though many of them report being told to get over it, none of them were able to? So all these bullied people are flawed or delusional or emotionally lazy or something?

That's just such a weird thought process to me--seriously believing that thousands and thousands and hundreds of thousands of detailed, plausible accounts of people's feelings and lived experiences should just be dismissed out of hand.
posted by Frowner at 2:28 PM on March 30, 2011 [27 favorites]


People don't want bad things to happen, so denial is often the first response to accounts of any kind of abuse.
posted by Peach at 2:30 PM on March 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


Or perhaps you could tell her that she's not really experiencing bullying! Or that it's not really too bad and that people elsewhere have it much much worse! If she starts cutting herself, or hides in the basement all the time, or develops an eating disorder (gee, not like I'd know about that stuff) because the pressure of school is so awful, tell her that in ten years or so it will get better.

If she's mentally ill, I will get her treatment. If she blames her school and peers for that situation, I will remove her from the situation whether I think that's the root cause or not provided that the professionals treating her believe it to be a good idea. I'm not a monster.
posted by Mayor Curley at 2:30 PM on March 30, 2011


If she blames her school and peers for that situation, I will remove her from the situation

A lot of people can't afford to pick up and move school districts, or send their child to a private school.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:31 PM on March 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


As a kid growing up on some level I had a killer instinct. I knew I was vulnerable and I was picked on more than average but I was also an opportunist. There were people who were socially lower than I was and I could be pretty ruthless in mocking them. I didn’t really want them to suffer, I was just entirely unconcerned with their experience, I saw an opportunity to assert my relative status and I took it. Not in any calculated way but in an almost animal level it was rewarding. There's this tacit understanding that you either take your lumps and pretend like it doesn't bother you or you fireback (which only really works if your higher status already) but for me what really got to me was when I could really see that the individual on the the otherside of the equation was hurt by it or intensely frustrated by it. In the moment I laughed it off but I would lay off that person from then on.
posted by I Foody at 2:32 PM on March 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


Applies equally well to rape, torture, your wife's murder, etc. It happened, it's over, now it's time to move on with your life.

Yeah, because bulling is the exact same thing as rape and murder.
posted by SweetJesus at 2:32 PM on March 30, 2011


I think bullying can be worse than rape, in a lot of circumstances.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:34 PM on March 30, 2011


I think bullying can be worse than rape, in a lot of circumstances.

Wow, I wouldn't agree with you on that one.
posted by SweetJesus at 2:35 PM on March 30, 2011


rtha: Seventh and eighth grades were heaven on earth - that's how bad sixth grade was. We moved at the end of my sixth grade year, and despite the fact that I was the new kid in a class full of kids who'd been together since kindergarten (it was a K-8 school), I wasn't bullied or picked on. I spent much of my seventh grade year waiting for things to get bad, and they kept not getting bad. It was a weird and remarkable experience.

I went to about ten different schools growing up, because my family moved a lot. At almost every school I was in the middle of the pack -- not popular, but not picked on either. I had different reputations at each school, mostly based on whatever the popular kids thought of me. (In my last school, one of the most popular girls decided I was cool, and my stock went way up for junior and senior years. It was pretty nice.)

At one school someone decided I was ugly though, and I was bullied every day. Anyone who dared to be my friend got bullied.

As much as it royally sucked, I knew that it would be different at the next school, because it always was. I begged my parents to move and we finally did. It took a few years to get over the bullying, but I had been correct -- the new school came with a new chance and I was back in the middle of the pack.

If my kids get seriously picked on, like to the level that this girl is, we're moving to a new school district. I don't care if it's an inefficient solution. I see it as cutting their losses.

Frowner: Or you could tell her that people like your family are always bullied because smart, special people make others jealous. That's good for total cognitive dissonance and convincing your child that you know nothing about the world.

Oh my gosh, exactly. I'm always skeptical when I hear people say they were bullied for being smart. I've never, ever seen anyone get picked on for being smart. I saw some kids who were disliked because they clearly thought they were smarter than everyone else, though.
posted by Toothless Willy at 2:35 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, because bulling is the exact same thing as rape and murder.

Yeah, I kinda regretted it the instant I hit "Post". Thought I should come back and do some sort of apology for needlessly amping up the emotion level. I apologize.
posted by benito.strauss at 2:36 PM on March 30, 2011 [6 favorites]


Yeah, because bulling is the exact same thing as rape and murder.

No-one suggested that they were, and the point stands. Horrible violent and violating experiences tend not to respond terribly well to the "get over it" school of "thought".
posted by howfar at 2:37 PM on March 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


God - her face reminds me of my time between 6th grade and 10th grade. Four years of hell, social isolation, inner turmoil, and raging hormones - and I had it easier than most. My only consolation was that, as my dad kept reminding me, people who did well socially in high school generally never left it (mentally).
posted by jason says at 2:38 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's even worse when the teachers join in the bullying.

I went to a public elementary school in a large middle class community. My sixth grade teacher, Mr. Jantzen, was a bitter, arrogant middle-aged homunculus of a man. I was shy, chubby and very, very sensitive. Rarely did a day go by in which Mr. Jantzen wouldn't find some way to publicly ridicule me—usually with a comment about how much of a fat tub of lard I was. Because such cruelty was sanctioned, other kids would feel free to join in.

Worse, for years afterward, I took that pain and humiliation and directed it outward towards kids who were even more vulnerable than me.

That was 30 years ago and I still feel slightly sick just thinking about that man.
posted by Ratio at 2:40 PM on March 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


The other thing about high school/middle school that's all lies: you know the kid who is a total asshole and got a BMW for his 16th birthday and fucks hot girls and has cool parties in his parent's huge and nicely furnished basement? Yeah he won't get his after 6 years of college, he'll be working for his dad and making more than you...

My greatest moment of feeling an utterly crushing post-high-school moment of comeuppance was about 2-3 years after graduating, when I was out shopping and ran across one of the football team dickbags who had spent their entire high school career tormenting me whenever he wasn't on the field. "Hey man, what's up?" he said, totally innocuously, and a bit sheepishly now that we were in the wild and the entire school system wasn't backing him up. "Not much," I replied. Then I pointed at the item I was shopping for that day, and said "Could you get that off the top shelf and ring it up? Thanks buddy." Then I never saw him again. Still brings a smile to my face...
posted by FatherDagon at 2:41 PM on March 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


I saw some kids who were disliked because they clearly thought they were smarter than everyone else, though.

Of course, they may have thought everyone else was stupid because everyone kept picking on them. Not being totally flippant here, one of the tragic things about bullying is that the anger it causes can increase the chance of making someone a target.
posted by howfar at 2:42 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


The "kids are jerks" thing is so wrong. Man.

I'm kind of flailing at my desk reading the responses to this, some of them are so wrong-headed.

When I was little, I went to wacky hippie school - think a less-organized Sudbury Valley democratic outfit. Hippie school has lots of downsides, but one of the upsides is the constant talk about FEELINGS and COMMUNICATION, and also, crucially, groups are very small and often not segregated by age into little Lord of the Flies cauldrons of despair.

When I aged out of hippie school and went to regular schools, it was a complete mindfuck. It wasn't just the first time anyone tried to bully me, it was the first time I had ever witnessed bullying at all. It was horrifying. I didn't know how to tell my parents about this - it felt like the same as saying "Hey, did you know that the world is full of actual vampires?" or something. Obviously if nobody was talking about this shit constantly and trying to fix it, it was a known thing. This isn't even a particularly bad story, but I remember that there was a girl in my class who was totally excluded, made to eat lunch by herself at a separate table. And the teachers would walk by as though they didn't notice this. What did this mean? Was I supposed to do something? Was I supposed to just cower and go along and hope they didn't turn on me? Acting as though what happened to that girl, or kids like her, isn't violent and impactful is really strange to me. A denial of reality, not just in the moment of the experience itself, but in the ways it changes how people think and feel and behave in the world when they become adults.

Bullying is violent, whether or not it actually devolves into hitting. Bullying is an act of violence for the person on the receiving end, for the bully, for people standing by and watching it. It's a terrible thing and it does bad things to all of us. How can you raise children in a culture that says "Hey, it's okay for people to commit acts of low-grade violence against you, or for you to commit acts of violence against others, or even just for you to watch this stuff go on all day. Get over it. It's normal!" and then expect them to not grow up with complicated issues that affect not only their own lives, but our shared culture at large?

Signed,

Yr hippie pal
posted by thehmsbeagle at 2:43 PM on March 30, 2011 [71 favorites]


Bullying does not happen to everyone. I was never bullied throughout the entire time I went to grade school and I was not a popular kid and I was poor. Never had the cool clothes, shoes or toys yet I still managed to sneak under the radar. Of course I was teased a few times, which I consider a far cry away from bullying. Bullying did happen at my school though and I witnessed it happen to others. I was usually friends with the outcasts so I always heard what people said to them.

I did struggle with a lot of depression and anxiety issues growing up which was really, really tough. And then throw puberty on top of that and I could barely cope with life. I cannot possibly imagine having to add bullying on top of all that. I really think that it was have sent me over the edge. Bullying should never be tolerated because it "happens to everyone." No it doesn't happen to everyone.

I'm always skeptical when I hear people say they were bullied for being smart. I've never, ever seen anyone get picked on for being smart. I saw some kids who were disliked because they clearly thought they were smarter than everyone else, though.


I think being smart and my willingness to help others with projects and homework was what helped me not get bullied. I was also really shy but nice which somehow endeared people to me. Who knows, maybe I was just lucky. I still didn't have many friends throughout school but everyone seemed to like me okay.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 2:47 PM on March 30, 2011


here was a girl in my class who was totally excluded, made to eat lunch by herself at a separate table. And the teachers would walk by as though they didn't notice this

Hi, that was me in 5th grade - it was enforced by the school principal in order to keep the peace between me and the alpha girl who had her whole posse bullying me. I wonder if that's actually, like, something they teach in principal school.

On the face of it, it probably looked like a fair fight because I was too smart for my own good and overly verbal. But when you have a group of 6-7 kids on one hand, and me who had no friends or allies, who hung out with the school librarian once she realized that the library was open at lunch... how could we be treated as equal instigators?
posted by muddgirl at 2:47 PM on March 30, 2011


I've never understood why some people can't get past it. I don't mean to be insensitive, I just don't get it.

Frowner and liketitanic cover it pretty well.

For most/all of my public school years (K/1st grade through high school) I was being severely abused, verbally, emotionally and physically. And then I'd go to school and get physically/emotionally abused there, as well. And the adults at school weren't any help. I had periods where the adults were not only turning a blind eye to bullying but facilitating and enabling it.

I still distinctly remember a day in the 4th grade where I was walking home from school after getting jumped by two bullies and getting pummeled pretty good (and having to fight back, too, which always seemed to be more upsetting) and suddenly realizing and having objective, removed, self-observational thoughts that I didn't feel safe at all, that I had no safe place to be - and how serious that all was. That I felt safer just walking alone on the street than I did either at home or school.

And that I really didn't want to go home, or back to school, and feeling utterly powerless to do anything about it.

That's a hell of a thing for a 10 or 11 year old to be thinking and feeling, that they'd rather just not go home. Or back to school. That I'd rather be homeless - and I think this is one of the fundamental reasons I've "chosen" homelessness a number of times in my life, because independent and self-contained means "safe", because I learned that "home" wasn't safe. (In retrospect I probably should have run away - or I should have thrown myself at the courts or something, but that's a huge step for a 10 year old. And I more or less did "run away" eventually, when I was 17.)

And as these things go - not to apologize for them or their actions - but in retrospect I realize some of the bullies in my life were probably being abused at home, too. It seems like some people turn mean under abuse and dish it out themselves to cope. Others wither and withdraw, not wanting to participate and become victims instead of aggressors.

It's been 27 years since I was that 10 year old. I'm still dealing with it. I still have major issues with hypervigilance and "self-security". I still have issues with dealing with the anger of others, or confrontation. Not just physical confrontation, but also the everyday confrontations that are necessary to compete and strive in life.

Sure, I know objectively that thanks to my size, strength and experiences I'm not really likely to get beat up, and I'm confident in my self defense skills through my experiences defending myself as an adult.

But that fear is always there. It stains my life and social interactions and relationships to this day. I don't trust people. It's hard for me to accept touch and affection. Someone I don't know very well getting too physically close to me is extremely uncomfortable.

I'd love to just get over it, but I don't know if I ever will. PTSD and extreme stress/trauma cause changes in brain chemistry and structure. Therapy and living a good life help a lot. Sure, there's psychiatric drugs that help deal with the symptoms - but the side effects of most of these drugs are pretty brutal, and often don't really seem to solve the root problem, they just mask and alleviate symptoms.

And yet I still feel lucky. Lucky enough to have had a lot of good if not great moments in my life. Lucky enough to have close, real friends and relationships. Lucky enough to have known real intimacy and love. Lucky that I'm self aware enough to understand these things objectively even from a young age. I'm lucky enough to know that I can break that cycle and not become a bully or abuser myself - though I've certainly emotionally mistreated people in my life, or that I've lashed out while in pain and driven people away, or I've let them down by not being able to be there for them and give as much as myself as I could and should, which feed back in a destructive cycle of self esteem issues.


Bullying, abuse (and violence in general, as a whole) is a huge issue for humanity and it's something we need to address as a serious health/safety issue. It's not just kids being kids, it's the fundamental, primal issue of violence in humanity, the vestiges of our primate past. Chimpanzee politics. We'll never have "peace on earth" and solve the larger problems of war and large scale strife nor the many inequalities of humanity without first addressing the violence in our homes and families.

I also strongly feel that this fundamental primate fear is also the root of why people feel threatened by people who are different, why "othering" happens when someone is gay, or gender-atypical, or too smart or too weird, or handicapped, or any of the millions of other ways that someone can be different - and why people will react with violence to it. Somewhere, deep down it triggers primal, tribal fears of predator and prey, that the entity is not of the tribe, therefore threatening and to be cast out. The "green monkey" theory - capture a monkey, paint it green and release it back to the tribe and the tribe will tear it to pieces.

But that doesn't excuse anything. We're human, we're capable of abstract and objective thought. We think, we empathize and feel and we're not entirely slaves to our instincts.

Violence is a disease, and it's contagious.
posted by loquacious at 2:48 PM on March 30, 2011 [72 favorites]


Kids are not jerks by nature. Kids become jerks when they learn that jerk behavior is rewarded. It's not like "being a complete unreasoning fuckwad" is some developmental stage like crawling or putting everything you encounter into your mouth.
posted by KathrynT at 2:48 PM on March 30, 2011 [8 favorites]


Mental Wimp, I'll be your friend!
posted by lagreen at 2:49 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Mayor Curley,

I'm actually pretty good at learning new languages, but I don't expect other people to be so. When the refugees in my office have a terrible time trying to learn basic English, I don't say "It's isn't such a big deal, learn it already!" I actually consider myself lucky that I have this strengh.

On that token, I really wasn't trying to be a smart ass or flippant about what phunniemee said. I think she's lucky enough to have what it takes to deal with it, but that doesn't make it a duty for everybody else to be similarly equipped.

My refugees may be dealing with adapting to a new way of life, living out of a refugee camp for the first time, health issues, illiteracy, learning disabilities, and a million things I could not fathom. Perhaps the students who cannot deal with bullying are dealing with more problems or aren't as emotionally strong?
posted by Tarumba at 2:49 PM on March 30, 2011 [6 favorites]


Bullying is violent, whether or not it actually devolves into hitting.

Only if by "violence" you mean "mean stuff that we disapprove of" or are using "violence" metaphorically. Social exclusion is hurtful, and it's often wrong, but it's hurtful and wrong for entirely different reasons that physical attacks are hurtful and wrong.
posted by Marty Marx at 2:49 PM on March 30, 2011


*reasons than
posted by Marty Marx at 2:50 PM on March 30, 2011


Oh my gosh, exactly. I'm always skeptical when I hear people say they were bullied for being smart.

I mean, in a sense I was bullied for being smart, but that's not how I'd describe it. You could break it out this way:

1. I come from a family where everyone really can do above-average academic work, most of us well above average. We read a lot, we write a lot, we tend to be librarians, artists, etc etc. As a result, I had a big, eccentric vocabulary and wide range of concepts that most of my peers lacked. I imagine that at some foundational moment there might have been some jealousy because I got good grades easily and got (initially) positive adult attention for being smart.

2. I didn't realize how easily things came to me, so I was always very "of course blah blah book thing", assuming that everyone had read something or could do it easily. This was probably painful for kids who were struggling. In college, I was absolutely gobsmacked to be told that when I cited books in class my classmates thought I was boasting--I had honestly thought that no one would believe my arguments unless I cited things.

3. My family has a lot of aspie-ish, spectrumish weirdness going on (seemingly intensified in my generation...two parents who were probably not the best genetic match!) so not only did I seem weird and incomprehensible, I really didn't have the cognitive tools to make friends easily. Also, I didn't understand how important clothes were (although all I had was hand-me-downs, I could certainly have worn them in better/less weird combinations, and gotten my hair cut normally. It's like that part of the physical world was literally invisible to me until I was about 15.)

4. By 7th or 8th grade, I did think (partly) that I was better than others. I swear this was learned, though, not foundational. I thought I was better than others because I felt that my classmates were cruel, lazy (because they didn't seem to like studying--I didn't understand that what was easy and fun for me was hard and boring for them), liked dumb pop culture stuff, etc etc. Partly, this was from the "classical education is the ONLY education!" stuff that I picked up at home, partly it was from feeling that at least I wasn't cruel. (and it's true; I stood up for the few kids below me on the totem pole even when it cost me.) Partly, I didn't understand that when some of my peers were cruel and the others were silent, it didn't mean that the others approved. Partly, my town was racist and provincial, and people said a lot of bad stuff.

4.5. I also thought that I was horribly inferior--much uglier, physically worse, less fun, less pleasant, less interesting than quite literally all my peers. I thought that there was no point in trying to make friends because I would always be bullied, because the cause of the bullying was in me, something I had no control over. I remember listing all the ways I was a failure--fat, ugly, weird, funny voice, glasses and the two things I did well, which were to be smart and not to bully others.

5. I was also fat and weird-looking and poor and queer and had coke bottle glasses. These things kept me apart from my peers and prevented me from developing at least some rudimentary social skills that would have helped me blend in. Being smart was an element in being bullied, but it wouldn't have mattered without the other stuff.
posted by Frowner at 2:51 PM on March 30, 2011 [11 favorites]


I've seen so many threads here about bullying that I'm starting to re-evaluate my school experiences. What I don't see mentioned - ever as far as I've seen - are the "anti-bullies"... is this just unknown? Because I was an anti-bully. I have always despised - deeply - bullies. It's visceral with me, I simply cannot stand still and it fills me with rage to witness torture in any form, which really bullying is. I moved a lot as a kid, because of my father's job, where he'd be at some place for a few years and then work would move him again. So I went to quite a few schools. And yes, I've seen bullies, but never enough. Let me explain. I loved - absolutely loved, taking on bullies. So I wanted to see more of them. But I also had a code - to never initiate violence. But nothing gave me as much satisfaction, as seeing a bully who is tormenting his victim, suddenly be surprised by a violent response, and the shoe on the other foot.

The difficulty I had was trying to get a bully to attack me. For some reason bullies didn't take to me - and I was never particularly huge. So I'd take measures to encourage an "encounter". I'd do things like hang with the bully's favorite target during break. I would purposefully act unassuming to encourage the bully. Sometimes I'd get lucky, and the bully would try to test me, by shoving me aside or something. That's what I'd wait for - now I was justified in responding to violence. And suddenly I'd turn and unleash a vicious counterattack. I loved the shocked expression on the bully - the adrenalin draining blood from lips and ears, enlarged pupils. And I'd press my attack relentlessly. While smiling. Freaked them the hell out. Hmm, maybe I was a bully - just a different kind.

One sad thing is that I could only do this in the beginning when I just moved to a new school or class. Soon enough, the bullies would get the picture, and any further bullying would happen outside of my view - and levels would drop down in general pretty dramatically. That made me sad, because I had no more excuse to get me some bully meat. Schools were generally fine with self-defence you see - and when witnesses affirmed that I was hit first, I got off scot-free, no matter how badly I gave it to the bully. But alas, bullies would simmer down quickly enough, so I could only do this once I moved and was again an unknown quantity. I wanted to be attacked, but rarely got it - too bad, so sad.

Now, I assume I'm not a psychological freak, so why aren't we hearing about the anti-bullies? Did nobody defend you? Did nobody say, as I used to do, mention casually "uh, he's with me, so buzz off, OK?"
posted by VikingSword at 2:51 PM on March 30, 2011 [7 favorites]


You know, the more I think about it the more I'm puzzled by what I'll call Bullying Deniers--people who say "it's not really that bad" and "you should tell kids that it's temporary".

It's not denial. Mayor Curley admitted he was a victim of bullying, as many of us have been. I'm not sure anyone's saying it's not that bad, because at the time it certainly is. I would absolutely tell my own kids it's temporary because it was for me, that was my experience and it's similar for a lot of others. I stopped getting it around the 10th or 11th grade as people started to grow up. There were people that continued with it, but I didn't pay it much mind anymore for whatever reason. It may not be the same for everyone, but why would you not give a child the hope that it can be overcome and some day things will be better?
posted by Hoopo at 2:51 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


On the face of it, it probably looked like a fair fight because I was too smart for my own good and overly verbal.

And following up on my own comment - what I learned in 5th grade is that if I fight back against bullies, I get punished. In 6th and 7th grade I didn't even consider that fighting back was an option.
posted by muddgirl at 2:52 PM on March 30, 2011


When I was little, I went to wacky hippie school - think a less-organized Sudbury Valley democratic outfit. Hippie school has lots of downsides, but one of the upsides is the constant talk about FEELINGS and COMMUNICATION, and also, crucially, groups are very small and often not segregated by age into little Lord of the Flies cauldrons of despair.


I had a similar experience for my entire K-12 education - I went to a very small laboratory school that didn't really have cliques or jerks or really any bullying that i ever really remember. The most popular guys in school were a bit aloof, but perfectly lovely to me as a more nerdy outsider. I don't remember anyone being mean to me. The system didn't encourage those kinds of stereotypes or separation, so we simply didn't do it. I don't think kids are naturally awful, I think they're taught to be awful.
posted by ukdanae at 2:54 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Like nearly everyone else here, I experienced a frustrating amount of bullying in Middle School (who knew that being in the Girl Scouts could be so hellish?), and endured some Mean Girls style antics in High School. I now prefer to think of it as encounters with assholes, rather than bullying, mostly because it makes me feel like less of a victim and more like someone who survived a difficult experience. Still, I can't even watch the link because it just might trigger something unbearable in me.

But, man, I now realize how lucky I was to be born at such a fortunate time in the universe. I get to have indoor plumbing and enjoy state-of-the-art snack food technologies, but I never had to deal with nasty Facebook messages, being the subject of rumors propagated instantly via text message, camera phones snapping photos of me at my most vulnerable, or having embarrassing videos posted to Youtube. Or for that matter, I never had to worry about saying something stupid and having it be part of my internet permanent record; my frontal lobe was fully developed before I had the chance. It's scary how this stuff stays around forever, so something bad that happened to you when you were a teenager has the potential to stick to your name forever.
posted by Alison at 2:55 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Did nobody defend you?

Not until high school. Hell, in 7th grade, one of the teachers walked in on 4 or 5 boys holding me halfway out a second story window, threatening to drop me unless I blew them, and didn't say a damn thing except "Everyone back in your seats. You too, Kathryn."
posted by KathrynT at 2:55 PM on March 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'll wade in, although I just know in about 10 minutes I'll have the regrets about it...

I got bullied both at home and at school, until I was about 15 or so, and thus it was a low-grade psychological battleground all the time. I learned, but not fast enough, that anything said or done becomes ammunition for bullies. I wasn't told "kill them with kindness"; the words of advice I got were: "ignore them."

Yeah. You first.

So I learned really fast that one important key to "make it stop": become invisible. If they can't see you, they can't hurt you. Hide what you love, including your soul.
posted by datawrangler at 2:56 PM on March 30, 2011 [21 favorites]


I'm always skeptical when I hear people say they were bullied for being smart. I've never, ever seen anyone get picked on for being smart.

Hi, yeah, this was me, and I'm going to address this since I said it in the first line of my first comment.

I always--always--got better grades than everyone else in my class my entire non-college life. I've written before on MeFi about how my school failed me in many ways and I think the fact that I always did so well is complete bullshit, so I'm not going to go into that here.

I never--never--bragged, gloated, showed off, or in any way other than actually receiving the good grades let on to any of my classmates that I got good grades. The teachers weren't a lot of help, though, by doing things like saying "I don't know why the class did so poorly on this quiz, phunniemee got a 98%!" And I received a lot of academic awards. So everyone knew, but it wasn't for me telling them.

There was a girl in my class with me K-8 who was very academically competitive. Every time a paper was passed back, she'd start at me with the "whadjagets" that I'd emphatically try to ignore. People would snatch papers from my desk, out of my hands, out of my folders to see what grades I got, and then when they saw that mine was higher, they'd get all pissed at me for being a know-it-all. A few times I even came back from the bathroom to find my bookbag dumped out, papers and tampons strewn everywhere, because people had been snooping to see my grades. (Where were the teachers when all this was happening? I have no freaking clue.)

The kids formulated this idea about me that I'd sit at home, feverishly studying all the time just to break the curve for everyone else, and that I got good grades only to fuck the rest of them over.

Because of this, I never participated in class discussions. I sat in the back all the time, doodling my goddamned beavers, hoping the teachers wouldn't call on me so I could get through another day without another onslaught of "oh you think you're sooooo smart." And it's not like I could intentionally tank my grades--I knew that the only way out of the mess of petty teenage bullydom was to get out, and getting out meant graduating and going to a good school, far away. My aversion to participating in class stuck with me through college and put me, I think, at a severe disadvantage.

So yes, people do get picked on for being smart, and not just for being smart-asses. It really doesn't help the whole spirit of a discussion about how to combat bullying to take a position like that of, "oh, well this kind of bullying just doesn't happen."
posted by phunniemee at 2:56 PM on March 30, 2011 [9 favorites]


Now, I assume I'm not a psychological freak, so why aren't we hearing about the anti-bullies? Did nobody defend you?

Nope. Never heard of such a thing. And not only that, but in my experience, kids who fought back in self-defense got punished just as much, if not more, as the instigators.
posted by infinitywaltz at 2:56 PM on March 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


Now, I assume I'm not a psychological freak, so why aren't we hearing about the anti-bullies? Did nobody defend you? Did nobody say, as I used to do, mention casually "uh, he's with me, so buzz off, OK?"

Yeah, that 17-year-old guy who'd bully me on my way home from school? Whose sister was in my grade and who would also bully me? She had a crush on my neighbor and one day he caught them threatening to beat me up, so the next day he walked me part-way home and told them to lay off.

Thanks, kid whose name I don't remember! You were exemplary.

kids who fought back in self-defense got punished just as much, if not more, as the instigators.

Yep.
posted by muddgirl at 2:57 PM on March 30, 2011


This is the place where I feel so happy I didn't go to middle or elementary school. I was homeschooled and spent my days with a passal of elders and kids of various ages, just like our ancestors did. I wonder how much age segregation contributes to this? Also, the general boredom and lack of physical activity in many schools.

I was never bullied and never knew anyone who was bullied. Unfortunately my mom had to stop homeschooling was I was 15, but my sister was 10 and she went to public school, where of course she got to experience bullying. My kids? Definitely going to be homeschooled until high school.
posted by melissam at 2:57 PM on March 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


Oh, hi Frowner. I wish you had been at my Jr. High. There would have been two of us. We could have formed a club.

Except I think we both internalized self-loathing so deeply that neither of us would have dared approach the other. Oh well. It does get better. Wish it had done so faster.
posted by benito.strauss at 2:58 PM on March 30, 2011


And yes, I've seen bullies, but never enough. Let me explain. I loved - absolutely loved, taking on bullies. So I wanted to see more of them.

Yeah, there's a reason for that. Bullies actively seek out people who won't respond back in kind, who appear to lack the strength (physical or emotional) to retaliate. There's a good chance you didn't give off that air, and so they tended to give you wide berth. My school's bullies stopped bothering me when I changed from 'shy weird kid who shrank from provocation' to 'total freak who will try to choke you if you fuck with him'.
posted by FatherDagon at 2:58 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's been 27 years since I was that 10 year old. I'm still dealing with it. I still have major issues with hypervigilance and "self-security". I still have issues with dealing with the anger of others, or confrontation. Not just physical confrontation, but also the everyday confrontations that are necessary to compete and strive in life.

Oh, this.

Mayor Curley, when you talk about getting over it, I can kind of see the whole "not dwelling" point. I have spent quite a lot of time turning off the angry, frightened and sad conversations in my head about what happened to me; I have spent a lot of time learning not to process today's interactions with adults as if they were childhood's interactions with my bullies. This has been a substantial effort and one that is not always 100% successful, but I have learned some "not dwelling" skills.

But what about the fact that elevators freak me out because I am on an unconscious level so afraid of being trapped with strangers? What about the ingrained tendency to sit in the back corner of the room? What about how I have trouble talking in quiet restaurants because I am unconsciously afraid to attract negative attention? I have a whole series of ingrained physical/social responses that I can only partially control, left over from those days. The physical fear has never left me, and it's been almost twenty years. I didn't even realize how many of these workarounds I had until someone pointed it out to me--I didn't choose them, I didn't even think about them, because they were the daily pattern of my life.
posted by Frowner at 3:01 PM on March 30, 2011 [9 favorites]


So, outside the USA bullies don't exist ? Bullshit.

From what I heard only japan can compare to the US in that respect.

I can't speak for the whole world, but I went to several international schools when growing up -my parents moved around a lot- and while there always were some more or less popular kids at every school, the bullying that I saw in american series or movies was always something so completely exaggerated that I could not believe it to be true.

there was a case of bullying that was widely known in one school, one poor girl that was a grade above me, and everybody I knew talked in horror about her treatment by her classmates.

Seriously, the kind of stuff I am reading about here on metafilter is really alien to me, it sounds like horror tales. I can not remember one friend or acquaintance telling anything remotely similar to the experiences that somehow seem wide-spread in the US.
But perhaps I was just lucky in the schools my parents chose for me.
posted by ts;dr at 3:01 PM on March 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Oh, and re: I've never understood why some people can't get past it. I don't mean to be insensitive, I just don't get it.

Reminiscence bump--our predisposition to remembering best those events that occurred between ages 10 and 25--has something to do with this too. We can't get past it because it's the part of life we recall most vividly.

posted by liketitanic at 3:02 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hm. I was not bullied in middle school. I was too freaking weird to be bullied. That didn't mean I liked school or that I was happy in school. It was a girls' prep school and most of my classmates bored me to tears, made me feel awkward, or made me feel poor in comparison. I went back to a reunion, at which I was honored as the Alumna of the Year, and I left realizing that they were exactly the same way they were in high school, they were just as boring, and I still felt like an outsider. Because I was.
posted by Peach at 3:03 PM on March 30, 2011


become invisible. If they can't see you, they can't hurt you. Hide what you love, including your soul.

Yup. And boy does it take a long time to re-find that soul.

Sharing it with someone else? Even longer.
posted by benito.strauss at 3:05 PM on March 30, 2011 [12 favorites]


Alison: Girl Scouts was a special level of hell for me.

Frowner hits a lot of my experience, although I was stick-thin instead of fat. (I ended up with a minuscule clique of smart girls in junior high & high school...then got ostracized by them when I started dating a weirdo.)

I was always afraid of getting into more trouble if I said something, too. There was one set of girls in junior high that would tease me and crowd around me on my way home from school; they even once through my viola (in its case, thankfully!) into the street, but I never said anything. What was anybody going to do?

Until one day they kept going after I picked up my younger sister at the elementary school, and she shouted back at them to leave me alone. One of them attacked her to the point of leaving bruises on her throat, and of course Mom asked what the hell was going on when we got home.

The dean and the sheriff got involved the next day. I was terrified it was going to get worse -- and mortified by my loud pushy mom -- but they did indeed leave me alone. I heard in high school that one of those girls was still afraid to even talk to me for fear that mom would come after her.

Alas, it didn't do a damn thing about verbal abuse, shunning, etc from any other group of kids.
posted by epersonae at 3:06 PM on March 30, 2011


I've never understood why some people can't get past it. I don't mean to be insensitive, I just don't get it.

Indeed.

You don't get it.
posted by Tarumba at 1:36 PM on March 30 [17 favorites +] [!]

Or maybe shes over it, and doesnt use the experience of being bullied by 7 year olds to excuse a pathetic adult experience.

Its not a fucking club, tarumba. Its not about getting it or not getting it. Its about getting over it.


I was bullied in 6th grade by someone who peed their pants in 7th grade. That person carried a urine title with him till the senior year of high school. Who is the victim there? Everyone is. If everyone is a victim, then nobody is a victim.

Childhood sucks for most kids. You're not special if you were bullied once, twice, or even for years. Stop embracing it as a part of your identity.

And just so there's no confusion...there is a huge difference between being "bullied" and ending up in the hospital.
posted by hal_c_on at 3:06 PM on March 30, 2011 [7 favorites]


I don't know...when I was a little kid I was bullied a little for being smart, by the other girls, not the boys. A little clique of them got irritated because getting good grades and school came so easily to me. Not severely, but a little - made to fall in the mud or sit by myself at lunch, that sort of thing. It's almost like other kids were testing the waters to see how much it would bug me. I never saw boys bullied just for being smart, though.

By about fourth or fifth grade I'd learned the "I just do not give a fuck what you think" mantra well enough that I honestly believed it and junior high wasn't that bad. I remember being constantly watchful and careful of what I did or didn't do so that bullies wouldn't hone in on me (for some reason the school bus was my Kryptonite), but honestly not caring helped a ton. (And I was little, awkward, and pimply, with frizzy hair, so I didn't naturally fall into the "cool kids" group without realizing it.)

My folks were kind of a neutral quantity. They weren't abusive, but they weren't around a lot and had kind of strict and conservative ideas about clothes and whatnot. My mother also thought the meanest kids were "such nice kids." I never got that. In fact, up to *today* she'll mention someone she has seen back in my hometown and will be positively SHOCKED when I say "Wow. Yeah. She was a bitch. She tried to get people to call me dirty names during English all freshman year." Even now my mother will not trust my opinion on some of these people I went to school with. She says I'm exaggerating.

So even though school wasn't all that bad for me, after remembering how hard it was to balance all of the interpersonal interactions and then watching my brother go through junior high and come out totally changed, I have put serious thought into how to go about homeschooling my own future kids through those years without giving them the social stigma of "homeschooler." There's just a window there where kids in American junior highs are plain evil. Maybe my kid will go to some weird hippie commune. In France. And I will always listen to them about the other kids, no matter how "nice" the kid may seem to me.

Weirdly, the one girl that I remember as being the worst in elementary school sent me a friend request on Facebook the other day. She moved away after second grade and spent the previous two years picking on me, so I have no idea what she was thinking.

On preview: Anti-bullies - nope. Never saw one. I'm not sure how that would even work in girl-society. Any acknowledgement of the fact that people are doing something mean just makes it worse. The closest I've seen is pulling someone up from loserdom by inviting them to sit with you at lunch, and very, very few people ever did that. (You had to be so popular for that to work without dragging you down that only about fifteen kids in the school had that power, anyway.)
posted by wending my way at 3:08 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Everyone is. If everyone is a victim, then nobody is a victim.

Bullshit.
posted by muddgirl at 3:08 PM on March 30, 2011 [11 favorites]


I mean, "Bullshit. If everyone is a victim, then everyone is a victim. Let's fix this problem so that no one has to be a victim."
posted by muddgirl at 3:09 PM on March 30, 2011 [11 favorites]


And just so there's no confusion...there is a huge difference between being "bullied" and ending up in the hospital.

Yes, this is the thing I just don't get, as an attitude, the "it isn't violent until it's physical" issue.

Maybe I'm just ridiculously sensitive or something. But watching (let alone experiencing) someone scream at someone or belittle them, it doesn't feel that different from watching or experiencing the threat of physical violence.

I am not convinced that there's this big huge difference in how the human brain processes social violence (if you disagree that bullying is violence, insert some other word there, I guess) from physical violence.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 3:11 PM on March 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


become invisible. If they can't see you, they can't hurt you.

Note: if you go to a small enough school (say, a Catholic school in each grade, kindergarten through eighth, just to conjure a completely hypothetical example from thin air), the "becoming invisible" strategy won't work. In later life, this may lead to fits of internal laughter when well-meaning pundits fret about children "falling through the cracks," as well as a sort of reflective jealousy that some kids got to go to schools with metaphorical cracks large enough to hide in.
posted by infinitywaltz at 3:12 PM on March 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


Stop embracing it as a part of your identity.

Whew! It's not part of my identity! Thanks for telling me that. I was afraid that it had affected the way I interact with the world.
posted by benito.strauss at 3:12 PM on March 30, 2011 [8 favorites]


PS - I understand that there's a difference between, say, shouting "You suck, jerkface!" at a little kid and pummeling that little kid.

But I think those are two points on a continuum of violence to another human, not two radically different and unrelated issues, where one is something you should suck up and get over, and another is worthy of intervention and concern.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 3:13 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


I was bullied in 6th grade by someone who peed their pants in 7th grade. That person carried a urine title with him till the senior year of high school. Who is the victim there? Everyone is. If everyone is a victim, then nobody is a victim.

Look, you know there's degrees to this kind of thing.

I was bullied from third through fifth grade by a clique of five older boys on my block and bullied at school by a group of girls. I remember their names and where they lived.

Good lord, the people who bullied and threatened me in junior high and high school? I have specific memories of at least twenty-five people who were seriously, really after me, so that any interaction with them in the halls would be awful and sitting in front of them was humiliating torture. Plus their hangers-on. No, make that thirty.

If I'd had a bully, or even a couple of bullies, it would have been different. The problem was that every class had people in it who were gunning for me, and secondary people who'd participate to make the bullies laugh.
posted by Frowner at 3:14 PM on March 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


Or maybe shes over it, and doesnt use the experience of being bullied by 7 year olds to excuse a pathetic adult experience.

Who exactly, in this discussion, is doing that?
posted by Ratio at 3:15 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ah, middle school. Three friends would have been an embarrassment of riches. You know the "lower rung" that the bullied kids pick on to assert some kind of social power? That was me. Not for any particular reason, other than being a bookish nerd with a bit mouth. You can basically read Frowner's story, though without family support other than my mother (and also I'm not actually gay that I know of, which didn't matter to the people calling me that but which probably helped me to feel less isolated internally).

I went into teaching initially in an attempt to ameliorate somehow that experience; I'd had such a miserable time of it in school that I wanted to improve things for others. I discovered in short order that A) I wasn't nearly organized enough to be a 'good' teacher and B) You can't fight the system. I never knew how to tackle the problems and, being socially maladroit, never managed to connect with parents or my peers to try and address things another way. The one success I did have was in starting a club for "board games," to which I brought some of my extensive collection of really, really nerdy games. (These days, after paring, it fills most of a walk-in closet.) Mr. Lee's Board Games Club quickly became the weekly haven for every nerd, dweeb, and spectrum-y kid in the school (including both of our full-blown cases of autism, though one of them couldn't hack it even in the much more benign social environment there and eventually stopped coming). Most of my attendees told me that it was the only thing they liked at school, and for some of them the only reason to even get up in the mornings. I got an award for it one year, which more or less amounted to, "Thank goodness you're here! We had no idea how to deal with any of these geeks ourselves!"

Basically, teachers and school officials have no idea how to take care of any of this, either. It's a giant clusterfuck of everyone deciding that it would be easier to pretend it doesn't exist because addressing it would take a lot of time and effort and would never be perfect so why even start?
posted by Scattercat at 3:15 PM on March 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


I mean, "Bullshit. If everyone is a victim, then everyone is a victim. Let's fix this problem so that no one has to be a victim."

YEAH!!!!

So were you a cheerleader in school?
posted by hal_c_on at 3:15 PM on March 30, 2011


Stop embracing it as a part of your identity.

This is a bullshit thing to say to and about people who suffer the mental and physical effects from years of abuse.
posted by rtha at 3:16 PM on March 30, 2011 [30 favorites]


That's what I'd wait for - now I was justified in responding to violence. And suddenly I'd turn and unleash a vicious counterattack.


I was clueless in steering my three children through US public school, being non-american. After my son experienced bullying in the third grade, I polled several other parents. A couple said to talk to the principal, but most of the others said that the best way to deal with that situation was for my son to hit back. I tried the principal and teachers first, but what worked was the hitting back.

To this day I still hate that I felt forced to tell my son to hit back, me pacifist and against violence, and yet the pragmatic me would do it again.
posted by francesca too at 3:16 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


So were you a cheerleader in school?

Umm, what? I was dirt poor, wore a visible back brace through middle school, and got the hell out of dodge ASAP. The best part of my year was the three weeks I spent at nerd summer camp.

Nerd. Camp.
posted by muddgirl at 3:16 PM on March 30, 2011


Not quite sure what to make of the whole "it gets better" strategy. The adults in my life told me this an awful lot, and they were right. The trouble is, I didn't believe them for a second, or trust them at all. Aside from the fact that I was just by nature a cynical adolescent, these adults didn't know a thing about my world. They belittled the music I liked, were annoyed by the fact that I didn't love what they loved (geometry, gym class, what have you), they didn't walk in my shoes. They seemed to think that other things in life were getting worse (like when Reagan came to office), too, so why would bullying be any different. I wish there was a way that they could have convinced me that it really would get better.
posted by Melismata at 3:18 PM on March 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


muddgirl, that was a joke. relax.
posted by hal_c_on at 3:19 PM on March 30, 2011


muddgirl, that was a joke. relax.

I'm pretty relaxed, actually. Still don't get the joke, though.
posted by muddgirl at 3:21 PM on March 30, 2011 [20 favorites]


OK, maybe some things are confusing here. I don't mean bullying as in verbal abuse, shunning etc., but physical violence. And not as it relates to girls, but to boys. And I wasn't exactly saintly in my motives - I wasn't intent so much on befriending the victim as simply on stopping the physical abuse. Sometimes this would lead to misunderstandings. The guy would think I want to be "friends", whereas I only hung out with him to provoke the bully into attacking me, and stopping attacks on him. My motivation was one part - stop disgusting torture; it's the same thing as not being able to watch someone abuse a helpless animal - I'd beat the sadist to a pulp. And part, the absolute intoxicating thrill of seeing the "shock syndrome" on the bully - the exact moment when he realizes that he made a horrific mistake, that look in the eyes as I would simply not stop, the panic, and the subsequent silence, and how he'd never again look into my eyes for the rest of my stay at school.
posted by VikingSword at 3:22 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


It was kind of a crap joke, hal_c_on, given that you're basically positing that those of us who had to build our identities around and through this kind of shitstorm are just whinerbabies who obsess over the past and don't have anything to complain about. I "got over it" myself, but not without a lot of luck (both in my genetic tendencies and the environments I ended up in) and a lot of pain, and I still have PTSD-style "flashbacks" sometimes, particularly in social situations.
posted by Scattercat at 3:22 PM on March 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


If this thread isn't a direct pointer to home/unschooling, I don't know what could be.

Maybe this? One goes through all the trials and tribulations of pregnancy, childbirth, toddlerhood, only to allow other unknowns (peers and adults like) free rein?

Not me, honey. Hands off my babies.
posted by emhutchinson at 3:23 PM on March 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


The guy would think I want to be "friends", whereas I only hung out with him to provoke the bully into attacking me, and stopping attacks on him.

That's kind of dickish, you know that?
posted by muddgirl at 3:23 PM on March 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


I really don't understand this "get over it" attitude. Strikes me as the empty tuff guy statements they used to print on Big Dog t-shirts back when I was in high school. The same memetic phylum that contains silly shit like "LEAD, FOLLOW OR GET OUT OF THE WAY" - not everyone is ready to COWBOY UP or QUIT THEIR WHINING the minute someone who doesn't comprehend their experience decides they ought to just GET OVER IT.

It's really easy to say what someone else ought to do about their pain. You can't feel it. What the hell would you know about it? You also don't really get to declare what ought and ought not to comprise another person's identity.

And just so there's no confusion...there is a huge difference between being "bullied" and ending up in the hospital.

*Sigh*

Okay, if someone who had their entire childhood defined by bullying grows up with crippling depression and attempts suicide, landing themselves in the hospital, can the bullying that started them on that path then be considered a violent act? Or should they be prescribed a course of GET OVER IT and sent on their way?
posted by EatTheWeak at 3:23 PM on March 30, 2011 [15 favorites]


alike, sorry.
posted by emhutchinson at 3:24 PM on March 30, 2011


No, VikingSword, I understood you perfectly, and no, I never ran into anyone like that.
posted by infinitywaltz at 3:24 PM on March 30, 2011


All the bullying going on this thread is making my brain leak.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 3:24 PM on March 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


that was a joke. relax.

Classic. Also, classy.
posted by EatTheWeak at 3:26 PM on March 30, 2011


I was ruthlessly picked on in grade school and it's taken a ridiculous amount of counseling and medications to achieve a sense of self.

Although violence is ugly and wrong, this scene from A History of Violence certainly strikes a chord.
posted by porn in the woods at 3:26 PM on March 30, 2011


Here's the thing: people are different. Due to genetics, brain chemistry, upbringing, etc., some people have an easier time laughing stuff off than others; similarly, some people are more susceptible to long-term psychological trauma than others.
posted by infinitywaltz at 3:27 PM on March 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


That's kind of dickish, you know that?

Well, I wasn't a saint. I was not sophisticated enough at that time to analyze things at a deeper level. It was more visceral - I saw a bully in action and I hated it, so I wanted to stop it; the only way to administer a vicious beat down without sanction for me, was for the bully to throw the first punch. I didn't think much beyond that, like how does the bullying victim feel etc. Eventually, thankfully, I matured.
posted by VikingSword at 3:28 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Not quite sure what to make of the whole "it gets better" strategy.

Yeah, it makes the people who are saying it feel better, but for somebody in middle school, facing years and years of hell before they can escape, I wonder how much good it does.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 3:29 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm always skeptical when I hear people say they were bullied for being smart. I've never, ever seen anyone get picked on for being smart.

All of my worst bullies were in my honors classes.
posted by elsietheeel at 3:31 PM on March 30, 2011


I've never understood why some people can't get past it.

Well, for one thing, it's really fucking hard to "get past it" while it's still going on. Yeah, "it gets better" and "living well is the best revenge" and all that, but when you're still in the middle of getting shit on every goddamn day of the year, it's pretty unlikely that you can look ahead to these might-as-well-be-mythical Better Days To Come.
posted by shiny blue object at 3:32 PM on March 30, 2011 [6 favorites]


kids can be mean. Because they're kids.

All kids have remarkable learning skills. They have to figure out the incredibly complex intricacies of human language without any instruction, by imitation and practice and correction.

So now: how do they learn their social skills? Same way.

It's a fair cop: society's to blame.
posted by Twang at 3:35 PM on March 30, 2011


muddgirl, that was a joke. relax.

You are really, really bad at knowing when jokes are appropriate.
posted by liketitanic at 3:38 PM on March 30, 2011 [9 favorites]


The "get over it" people will always say "get over it", whether it's about bullying, depression, physical or mental disability, or whatever affliction they do not currently possess and demonstrate zero interest in understanding. It is pointless to argue with the facilitators of abuse; they want you to hurt, because it means that they're on the power end of the spectrum. They want you to experience pain. They like it when you are in pain, because it will "toughen you up". You are attempting to reason with sadists. I don't recommend it.
posted by Errant at 3:38 PM on March 30, 2011 [7 favorites]


Yeah, it makes the people who are saying it feel better, but for somebody in middle school, facing years and years of hell before they can escape, I wonder how much good it does.

It's also kind of an acknowledgment that what they're going through now pretty much sucks though. I'm not sure what else someone bullied has to look forward to other than eventually "getting over it." Getting over it is essential, or your whole life will be defined by your experience of being bullied. The experiences don't vanish once the bullies face consequences or whatever else can be done.
posted by Hoopo at 3:38 PM on March 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


phunniemee, even your posts in this thread are condescending and superior.

You were one of the kids who got picked on, and when you're that kid, they pick on everything about you. You happened to get good grades, so they found a way to pick on you for that. That really sucks and you didn't deserve it and those kids were assholes.

But this myth that "smart kids get picked on just because they're smart" -- I don't buy it. If it were true, the desperate would hide their intelligence in order to move up socially, and that just doesn't happen. It just makes them the dumb kid who gets picked on.

Bullying isn't motivated by jealousy. Your gifts don't make you a target.
posted by Toothless Willy at 3:38 PM on March 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Ok. Maybe I should explain my position a bit.

My first preference is just what muddgirl says. Lets make sure NOBODY gets bullied. That would be great! I'd also like to eliminate domestic abuse, racism, murder, genocide, rape, ad nauseum...

Thats not going to happen, we all know that. These things will continue on till all humans are dead.

What can happen is how we view and interpret these things, maybe that would help us in dealing with this problem as a whole rather than cute kids on the internet talking about how someone made them feel bad.

I was bullied most of my life. Some days it was nothing, other days I remember PRAYING that the bully would not show up, the school would burn down, the principal would come in declaring I won a prize and could be transferred to another school, or that I'd die so it would end.

Then my middle-eastern looking family moved while I was in 5th grade. YEAH! It was a working-middle class white neighborhood. Ok. And then we declared war on Iraq. Ouch.

So yeah...I don't want anyone accusing me of "well you don't know cuz you were never bullied".

So high school was better...but it wasn't 100%. There was an incident involving me vs. the gym class...and me vs. the baseball team. Not good. Didn't like it.

Later on in life, I started working with kids in a non-academic environment. I would have lots of group interaction with kids, along with lots of one-on-one time. It was kinda humbling for me and education majors to actually interact with kids one-on-one rather than a classroom. Really different. Kids are different outside of a classroom with adults; almost like they just want to tell you everything about their lives.

You KNOW I loved those meek nerdy kids...and was kinda critical with the bullying type. I knew what to look for. I knew ALL about bullies, right?

Wrong.

Bullies are being talked about here as if they're nazis, easy to identify, and just the cause for all the pain in the world (and metafilter childhoods).

Has anyone here tried to figure out what is driving kids to act like bullies? You guys have heard about the cycle of violence, right?

You don't just show up to school and start pummeling other kids. You get pummeled at home. You learn that the way to feel better is to physically or psychologically beat the other person.

The children you refer to as "bullies"(might as well call them "the others"), are the same kids who AT HOME are being subjected to all sorts of violence, abuse...and stuff that makes us queasy.

Bullies are kids too. Yeah, I got bullied by some random kids. It sucked.

You know what sucks more?
Being physically and sexually abused by your mom, dad, aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc.

So yeah...when it comes to the issue of bullying, what I really do think is:

1. I was bullied by random kids at school. Yeah, it sucked.
2. Those same children who bullied me came from a home where abuse was everyday.
3. It sucks more for them than it ever did for me.

Does that mean if someone came to me and said they were being bullied I would say "get over it"? no. Not at all.

But its not a black and white issue like most of you are implying.
posted by hal_c_on at 3:40 PM on March 30, 2011 [6 favorites]


But this myth that "smart kids get picked on just because they're smart" -- I don't buy it. If it were true, the desperate would hide their intelligence in order to move up socially, and that just doesn't happen.

Yes, it does. My African-American friend, when she did well in school, got picked on for "acting white".
posted by Melismata at 3:42 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


I went through it during my freshman year of high school baseball. Seniors would ambush individual freshman and give them swirlies (dunking your head in the shitter and flushing). It was hell.

One of the proudest things I ever did in high school was make sure, when I was a senior on the baseball team, that the underclassmen were treated as members of the team and not hazed.

I also remember being in the high school library in 7th or 8th grade and a upperclassman came to our table and talked to some classmates of mine and he asked who I was and, after being told, he said, "That's so and so? I heard he was gay." I remember thinking how does this guy even know who I am and why does he think I'm gay and what exactly is "gay," anyway?
posted by zzazazz at 3:43 PM on March 30, 2011


Bullying isn't motivated by jealousy. Your gifts don't make you a target.

Well, I'd say that jealousy isn't sufficient motivation for substantial bullying...but I've definitely seen girls get bullied, for example, for being low-status but still attracting male attention for their looks.

And consider what phunniemee said--that it was the teacher saying "oh look how much smarter phunniemee is!" that was causative. I think teachers do that a lot--they did it in my case and I've seen it happen to others--and while pure "oooh, I envy phunniemee because she can think better than me!" bullying seems unlikely, "ooh, I envy phunniemee because she is getting all this praise that is specifically about how she is smart and we others are not" seems pretty plausible.

I mean, unusually smart kids are often bullied unless they have the social intelligence to downplay their smarts and play up their friendships.
posted by Frowner at 3:44 PM on March 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


phunniemee, even your posts in this thread are condescending and superior.
I wholeheartedly DISAGREE.

But this myth that "smart kids get picked on just because they're smart" -- I don't buy it. If it were true, the desperate would hide their intelligence in order to move up socially, and that just doesn't happen. It just makes them the dumb kid who gets picked on.

This is a silly argument. I can't think of a god damn thing that hasn't motivated someone to bully someone else. Money, lack of money, good grades, lack of good grades, awesome hair, shitty hair, dark skin, light skin, black pants, white pants, bunnies on a shirt, words on a shirt, every sort of belief and non-belief, being in a club, not being in a club.

There is no fucking myth. People get bullied for EVERYTHING. Also...just to use something I just learned: In this argument, it would be a lot harder for you to prove that nobody gets bullied for being smart than it would be for someone to prove that it is possible to get bullied for being smart. The best thing to do is not make statements like that.
posted by hal_c_on at 3:45 PM on March 30, 2011 [9 favorites]


Bullying isn't motivated by jealousy. Your gifts don't make you a target.

That's an awfully broad and definitive statement. Too broad and definitive to be true for everyone.

Has anyone here tried to figure out what is driving kids to act like bullies? You guys have heard about the cycle of violence, right?


Yes. And it gets talked about in every. single. thread about bullying. It's talked about in this thread.

3. It sucks more for them than it ever did for me.


For you. Quit trying to tell everyone that your experience should be theirs.
posted by rtha at 3:46 PM on March 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


it doesn't matter if you "survived" bullying. that doesn't mean it is/was right. and it doesn't mean that we can't try to stop it from happening. this sounds so very much like hazing. i was hazed. i hated it. it felt awful. and even so, i'm going to do the same to you or allow the same thing happen to you because it's "how it is" or "how it should be."
posted by anya32 at 3:47 PM on March 30, 2011


phunniemee, even your posts in this thread are condescending and superior.

That is not a helpful comment in a htread where emotions are running high. You can disagree without being a jerk.

But this myth that "smart kids get picked on just because they're smart" -- I don't buy it.

OK. You are entitled to your opinion. But, if you read the thread, you will see that other people have had different experiences to you.

If it were true, the desperate would hide their intelligence in order to move up socially, and that just doesn't happen

Yes, it does. Anecdotes in this thread (including phunniemee's), and the recent bullying thread, show that you are wrong about this.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 3:47 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


The idea that smart kids never get bullied for being smart - hilarious. If only.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 3:48 PM on March 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


I got along okay in elementary school. I was smart and nerdy, but so were most of my friends. It was only via the intra-district G&T program that I learned that my school was filled with "dorks and babies," which was probably why things were mostly okay, but I think the teachers had something to do with it, too. I remember there was one girl who was teased and she was out of school one day and my fourth grade teacher used that as an opportunity to tell us to cut that shit out, essentially, so we did.

Sixth grade was when they shipped us all to the same school, and that's when I began to hear how there was no end to how weird and how much of a lesbo I was (a term that still gives me shivers). And I mean, sure, I was weird though I was cool, at first--I wore my sister's old retro tees and bell bottoms that had been my dad's, hand embroidered, and was just kind of funky and had fun with it, which was the only way I knew to have any ownership over what was happening to me. I mostly got it from the socially adept, but book-stupid girls. God you're so weird. Why are you such a weirdo. Why are you and your hippie family (see: the pants) so weird and why do you all have such big noses. But the boys, too, and usually the ones I liked. They never hesitated in telling me what a fat (120 lb) lesbian I was. I started to try to dress more normal, I guess, in part because I thought it would make me less of a target and maybe that's what it took to get boys to like me and to stop telling me I was a lesbian.

High school I learned to say fuck it to that. I made friends with the goth and punk kids, the other rebels, and while we got shit collectively, together we were strong. And people generally didn't give me any shit at all. I stood up for some of my friends. When people shouted, "The beautiful people!" I flipped them off and screamed "fuck you" and felt good about it, even if they laughed in response.

So high school was okay. College was okay.

Wouldn't you know that my first year of grad school was almost as bad as middle school? I thought it was all in my head, how I'd walk up to a group of people and they'd all go silent, how the people in workshop would say just really terrible things about my poems and the poems of a few other "weird" people. But then the Mister came to visit and he noticed how the guys would neg the girls and treat them like shit and how the girls would make really backhanded compliments. I'd send out news of publication out to our grad list and net comments back like, "You know it counts where you get published, right?" or people would come over and say things like, "You have really loud taste" or whatever. The ringleader of all of this once told me how she wished she'd been bullied because it would have made her a more interesting person because, LOL, wouldn't you know she was always the one doing the bullying?

Then a bunch of people graduated and it was really all fine. Seriously. But part of me still feels like I'm recovering from that. I don't write poems anymore, and I know that's part of it. Because I was bullied. And I was an adult. It really puts you in this place mentally, this small, terrible place. And for kids to have to deal with that when they're going through puberty is just . . . I don't even know.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 3:49 PM on March 30, 2011 [9 favorites]


As much as it's futile to say "so maybe we can all agree that THING..." on the internet, perhaps we can all agree that there are different experiences of bullying--more and less severe--and in particular different kinds of bullies. Some bullies are themselves victims; some bullies have wealth, looks, brains and a supportive family. (And I did know several of those.) Some bullies have something wrong with them--some sociopathic thing wrong.

Your ability to sympathize with your bullies probably varies with the kind you had and what you know about them.

(On a personal note: I just plain old don't believe that all the people who bullied me were being abused/suffering worse than I was. Sure, I can believe it of some of them--and honestly, those are the ones I found that I no longer hated once I got away from them. Even back then, I knew on some level that they were in pain.)
posted by Frowner at 3:49 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Worst bully I've ever encountered was my big brother. In fact, I guess I should thank him now in retrospect for putting the school stuff into perspective. Because next to him, the tough guys at school were teddy bears.

And yet, brutal as he sometimes was, I also knew that he too was getting bullied and working through extreme issues that his life was throwing at him. So yeah, I got it at an early age, that evil doesn't exist in a vacuum, that the world is bloody complicated and that an utter monster can, on a good day, also turn you on to your favorite bands, recommend cool movies, even stick up for you on certain weird occasions.

We're good friends now by the way. He's a high school teacher and by all accounts, the kids love him.
posted by philip-random at 3:49 PM on March 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Only if by "violence" you mean "mean stuff that we disapprove of" or are using "violence" metaphorically. Social exclusion is hurtful, and it's often wrong, but it's hurtful and wrong for entirely different reasons that physical attacks are hurtful and wrong."

I have no problem using "structural violence" as a term; blame poli-sci.

Bullying is similar enough to be described similarly.
posted by klangklangston at 3:50 PM on March 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Bullying sure can be motivated by jealousy. It can also be motivated by the desire to impress your friends (popular kids bully). It can also be motivated by irritation--I've heard kids plead, with tears, "But he's so annoying!" It can be motivated by the same urge that causes children to torment puppies or crush insects or become future serial killers. It can be caused by repressed anger, or emotional instability, or all kinds of things. It can happen because the bully likes the victim and doesn't know how to get his or her attention any way. People are weird, and middle schoolers are people. Oddly, kids who are bullied or teased often seem to pursue their bullies, to drift into the same space time and time again, to say again the thing that gets retribution.
posted by Peach at 3:51 PM on March 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


If it were true, the desperate would hide their intelligence in order to move up socially, and that just doesn't happen

It absolutely does. I spent most of high school affecting a sort of slow, stoner persona in order to avoid certain kinds of anti-intellectual nastiness. This was particularly true in any situation involving athletics.
posted by philip-random at 3:52 PM on March 30, 2011 [7 favorites]


Kids are mean and stupid and don't have compassion. This is their natural state.

And that is why parents are supposed to instill compassion into their kids. That is their natural job.

And that is why when another parent is falling down on the job, and bullying your kid, it is also your responsibility to make sure your kid knows that you do not like what that other kid is doing to her.

Telling her just to "live with it" doesn't do anything to combat the message that the other kid is saying. It'll be a lot easier for her to "live with it" if she knows that she doesn't deserve to have that happen to her on some level.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:53 PM on March 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Listen, there were a lot of reasons I was singled out to be bullied. Being smart was one of those reasons, and the most consistent one throughout my childhood. To suggest that it just doesn't happen is extremely unfair. And to say that any child, getting picked on for being smart, would hide the fact that they're smart just to move up socially is also unfair.

I got picked on, and because I got picked on I had no interest, ever, in being part of the popular group. Did I want to get picked on? Of course not. But if the only way I wasn't going to get bullied was to be part of the group that did the bullying, I preferred to get bullied. The biggest thing I did that made me a target was that I protected the people who weren't as tough as I was, which resulted in more heartbreak than I can put into words.

Year after year, new kids would come into my (very tiny) school and get picked on, for whatever reason kids get picked on. I would reach out and befriend them, always, no matter what. No matter how much they got teased, they would always have me to be their friend, and I felt like I was at least doing something to combat the horrible social situation in my class.

This meant I generally only had friends for a couple of months, until the "friends" realized that they could move up in the world by picking on me. Or throwing me into the locker. Or going into my binders and shredding all of my class notes. Or stealing my clothes during gym class. Or whatever.

The only point I'm trying to make is that some kids will tease and bully other kids for absolutely any reason they can think of. If one kid's being smart makes that person more of a target than another kid, then that first kid is going to get picked on for being smart. No other reason necessary. All bullying is bad, whether it happens to gay kids or chubby kids or, yeah, even smart kids.
posted by phunniemee at 3:54 PM on March 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


I had the opposite experience from what some of you described. The experimental hippie private school I went to was an unrelenting torrent of contempt and ill-treatment. The giant public high school was like an oasis of calm acceptance. I wish I could go back in time and observe myself as a kid to see if I could figure out why I was the black sheep. I made lots of friends once I got out of that miserable cesspool of a school. I think I would have been OK if the teachers hadn't led the way. They were always shaming me in public or calling me into the lounge to yell at me and tell me there was something wrong with me because I hadn't turned in some homework assignment. Of course, at the time I was like yup, totally, there must be some horrible black sticky character flaw deep in my soul, consequence worthlessness. Luckily, I got over it (mostly). At around 26. I guess my point is, based entirely on my own experience and not on Science!, is that kids need at least one person in their life who likes them and tells them they're good people.
posted by prefpara at 3:55 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


And kids bully to fit in, right? Once a kid is marked, the new kids and the kids who want to preserve their own status know what to do, probably at an unconscious level. Crowd norms are very strong--kids who describe the bullied kid as "annoying" probably really do find him annoying because that is the narrative of that classroom.


There was a book which came out around 2000 which argued that classrooms in the US tended to develop similar social structures and that each had a social hole for a class clown, a weirdo, etc etc...and that the kids who filled those roles weren't necessarily any more clownish or weird than anyone else in the beginning. I cannot for the life of me remember the book title, though.
posted by Frowner at 3:59 PM on March 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Has anyone here tried to figure out what is driving kids to act like bullies? You guys have heard about the cycle of violence, right?

Yes. And it gets talked about in every. single. thread about bullying. It's talked about in this thread.


WHERE in this thread?

3. It sucks more for them than it ever did for me.

For you. Quit trying to tell everyone that your experience should be theirs.
posted by rtha at 3:46 PM on March 30 [+] [!]


Telling people why I changed my mind doesn't mean that I'm telling them their experience should be mine.
posted by hal_c_on at 4:02 PM on March 30, 2011


It may be important to understand that a person can be victimized, and still feel that way years after all the events have ended in real time, and still function. Living is something that happens a little bit at a time. I call it "negotiating the day" or on difficult days, "negotiating the hours." It doesn't happen quite so much in my days any more, but you who have been bullied--whoever you are, wherever you are--know that getting through the day, and sometimes the night, involves a (sometimes constant) series of cheques and balances.

After a while, you don't think about it so much. It's an automatic response, a personalized suit of armor. You can't laugh at the armor because you. cannot. see. it. Or me in it.
posted by datawrangler at 4:10 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


There was a book which came out around 2000 which argued that classrooms in the US tended to develop similar social structures and that each had a social hole for a class clown, a weirdo, etc etc...and that the kids who filled those roles weren't necessarily any more clownish or weird than anyone else in the beginning. I cannot for the life of me remember the book title, though.

Frowner, I either read that same book or one very like it, and it has stayed with me, but I also can never manage to find it again or remember the title or author.

I remember finding it very interesting, this idea that these different roles--including bully--were basically emergent properties of the school environment, and I always think of it when there are bullying threads here.
posted by not that girl at 4:13 PM on March 30, 2011


Yes, yes. I recently read a post on a fashion-related livejournal written by a 30-something woman who is being bullied by a fellow student in grad school. Talk about vivid flashbacks.

I went back to university and got an Education degree at age 27 (a two-year program). It was an unpleasant experience. Everyone was very cliquey. The experience was much different than my History undergrad/
posted by KokuRyu at 4:14 PM on March 30, 2011


getting through the day, and sometimes the night, involves a (sometimes constant) series of cheques and balances.

They're giving out cheques now? Who do I gotta show my scars to to get some of that action?
posted by Hoopo at 4:15 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]



All the bullying going on this thread is making my brain leak.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 3:24 PM


Doesn't anyone else see this? By "this" I mean the bullying, not the leaking brain.
posted by smartypantz at 4:20 PM on March 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


Telling people why I changed my mind doesn't mean that I'm telling them their experience should be mine.

Trying to not make this a "everybody jump on hal_c_on" thread. But I sure got the feeling from your posts that you meant "This was my experience. Why wasn't it yours?" with a flavor of "What's wrong with you?".

I honestly don't know if it came from the way you expressed yourself, or the way I read it. Could be either. I (along, it seems, with a few other people in this thread) can be realllllly sensitive to any whiff of "what's wrong with you?". Being singled out as not-one-of-us is a common prelude to the bullying.
posted by benito.strauss at 4:24 PM on March 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


Thanks benito, I'll be careful of that. I appreciate the comment!
posted by hal_c_on at 4:27 PM on March 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


Doesn't anyone else see this? By "this" I mean the bullying

Kinda, but then not everything angry and/or critical is bullying either.
posted by Hoopo at 4:31 PM on March 30, 2011


I went to the same school K-12, so did my little brother. I hated it, in ohsomany ways, and I feel it failed me on many, many levels. Based on my experiences, homeschooling will always be on the table at our house.

But the thing they got right was not punishing the kids who fought back. Things got a little crazy after Columbine, when they went to an asinine "zero tolerance" policy, but my brother graduated in 2000, so we had very little experience with that.

My mom gave us the same speech all the time: "Never be nasty or rude to anyone. Never hit anyone. But if someone hits you, you hit them back and you hit them twice as hard. If someone is nasty and rude to you, do NOT take it- make sure they won't try it again." I got in fights at school, with boys no less, but it was because they were trying to hurt me. I got sent to the wall for this once, and when I got home, I told my parents, who raised holy hell. I never got in trouble again- but I never, ever hit anyone first, I only ever defended myself.

I witnessed the change in culture that permitted kids to fight back. Up until I was in third grade, the bullying was bad, and, most sadly, the kids who were picked on the very worst were the special ed kids. It was... disgusting. I remember this particular little asshole following around a child who had to wear a helmet every day, talking in a lisping, slurring voice and calling him until he cried. The bully was about 10, the kid with the helmet about 6. And that was just one example.

We had two do-nothing principals in my lower elementary years- one was literally counting the days to retirement, the other was an absolute nincompoop. Then, Mr. Desmaris came. He had been a big ten lineman, he was a huge man with a booming voice. He learned the name of every kid in school by Christmas. He did NOT tolerate the way the special ed kids were treated, that shit STOPPED with him. He took a very aggressive, involved, buckstopshere approach, and it worked. On his watch, the rules of the playground and cafeteria and gym shifted so much that it was palpable and understandable, even for little kids. Suddenly, the aides stopped looking away from the namecalling and nastiness. Bullying didn't cease to exist, but the incidence and severity went way, way down, and bullies were dealt with- the aides immediately sent them to the wall, and if you got sent to the wall twice in a week, you got to spend your lunch and recess hour scraping paint of radiators. I remember lots of kids being suspended at first, too. To Mr. D's extreme credit, he didn't tolerate bullying from teachers, either- I remember him yanking a 5th grade teacher out into the hall and telling her that "if you keep pulling this crap where you act less mature than your students, you'll be back in that alternative building before you know it". I know what he was talking about, because I was one of the kids that was involved in the bullying accusation.

If you get the culture of a school right, it won't solve all problems, but it can go a long way toward solving this one.
posted by Leta at 4:32 PM on March 30, 2011 [35 favorites]


If it were true, the desperate would hide their intelligence in order to move up socially, and that just doesn't happen

It does happen, and it does not need desperation. I know two brilliant kids who, once they hit middle school and saw what was going on, remained silent in class and generally hid their intellect. One ended up valedictorian, to the total surprise of everybody. The other ended up with a B average, and he was and still is one of the happiest persons I know.
posted by francesca too at 4:35 PM on March 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


You are saying that bullying is a natural condition that can not in any way be prevented or whose affects can not be alleviated once it occurs. Prove it.

You're asking me to prove a negative?
posted by Mayor Curley at 4:39 PM on March 30, 2011


I have no problem using "structural violence" as a term; blame poli-sci.

Bullying is similar enough to be described similarly.


Sure, and I don't want to come off as minimizing the significance of structural violence or raising pedantic objections to derail, so I've put the rest in small type.

tl;dr: I agree that violence and structural violence are problems, and that those terms are perfectly good ways to describe phenomena, but think that they give us no insight into what is wrong with both structural and non-structural violence, and may even confuse efforts to give such an account.

I don't have a problem with the term. I simply think that "violence" in that context is figurative, not literal. (after all, we explain structural violence in terms of its similarities and dissimilarities to physical violence, but not the other way around). When you say that bullying is "violent" whether or not it involves hitting, you are invoking two different meanings of "violence." One is figurative, the other literal, and while each are perfectly legitimate uses, they just aren't the same concept--and that point holds even if you disagree with my literal/figurative distinction. This is an issue here because the problems with social exclusion are entirely different from the problems with physical attacks. To be clear, I'm not saying that one is always worse than the other--only that they are different problems. If we want to talk about why these two different methods of bullying are bad, it does no good to say, "Because they are both violent" if they are invoking different concepts of violence: one structural; one not; one figurative, one not.

That said, there may be a good account of violence that would make the use of "violence" in the term "structural violence" literally rather than figuratively. On that account, physical violence and structural violence would just be examples of some broader phenomenon of violence. I'm genuinely interested in such accounts, but skeptical that they degenerate into vacuous definitions like, "Bad things of which we disapprove." I think that's a problem because it makes it harder to explain what is wrong with all of the things we object to under the guise of violence, structural or otherwise, and why we think violence is appropriate at some times and not at others. Maybe that explanation can be cashed out in something like Kantian respect for persons, or maybe something else, but I doubt very much the explanation gets cashed out in any terms that look like the way we colloquial use the term "violence" colloquially.

posted by Marty Marx at 4:43 PM on March 30, 2011


Jesus. So many typos. Sorry folks.
posted by Marty Marx at 4:45 PM on March 30, 2011


Awesome post, Leta. Some bullying survivors fantasize about a kid learning martial arts and physically overcoming his tormentors; I fantasize about an adult like your Mr. Desmaris stepping up and acting like an adult. Of course the culture of the school matters.
posted by Ralston McTodd at 4:53 PM on March 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


Thanks for the nod, hal_c. I'm trying to be a bit more careful that I'm reacting to what's here, not to what happened in Jr High.
posted by benito.strauss at 4:55 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've never understood why some people can't get past it. I don't mean to be insensitive, I just don't get it.
Because we believed.

We believed the things that were said to and about us: stupid, fat, whore, cunt, slut, faggot, piece of shit, moron, fuckup, douche, bad, wrong, weird, queer, fucked up, incompetent, pussy, asshole, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

We believed, because the kids that said these things weren't disciplined for them. We believed, because sometimes the adults that were supposed to protect us egged the bullies on or even joined in. We believed, because when enough people say something often enough, and nobody tells them they're wrong, you start thinking it's not them, it must be me.

We believed that we had earned it; that we deserved it. And in so doing, we turned into our own bullies. Long after the other kids stopped kicking the shit out of us in the hallways, long after the time when we had to worry about being spit on or mocked or humiliated or abused, we believed. The other kids went home, but we had to live with ourselves and The Voice.

The Voice is our constant narrator of failure and of worthlessness. No matter what we achieved, how high we flew or how completely we obliterated our pasts, there was always this from The Voice: We know the real truth. And The Voice never, ever stops. It may fade into the background to a lesser or greater degree, but the only thing that will truly silence it is death.

It's a friendly Voice, warm and utterly without mercy.

All these people pretend that they like you, but we know the truth: you're a worthless piece of shit.

They say they're your friends, but you know everyone lies. And, besides, you were a vile little turd when you were a kid, you haven't changed at all.

Sure, you have a great marriage and two kids you love. But we know the truth: you're going to fuck it all up sooner or later.

Sure, you're "successful", but we know the truth: you're just another disgusting faggot.

The plasticity of the brain declines with age. The pathways that get worn most often and earliest last longest. And if those pathways are generated by a conviction that you are the problem, that you have brought all of this upon yourself by dint of being provocatively loathsome, they will stay for your entire life.

We cannot get past it, because "it" has formed the basis for our entire concept of self. It has defined us. We got the message, and it went deep and permanent.

So that's what happened to some of us: we built on damaged ground that can never be fully stabilized. And, for us, the best we can hope for is that we've built to last.
posted by scrump at 4:57 PM on March 30, 2011 [66 favorites]


become invisible. If they can't see you, they can't hurt you. Hide what you love, including your soul.

Yup. And boy does it take a long time to re-find that soul.

Sharing it with someone else? Even longer.


Sharing it with someone else? Never.
posted by Scale 0 at 4:59 PM on March 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


I've never understood why some people can't get past it. I don't mean to be insensitive, I just don't get it.

I can't go back to my home town because driving across the county line gives me a panic attack. This is not some sort of tragic emo pose - I see the sign and start having trouble breathing. In the sixteen years since I left, I have gone home only six times, and each time it was because my parents demanded it because someone had died.

It gets worse if I try to go to the mall in my home town. Sixteen years later, I get chest pains and can't breathe and start shaking if I walk in the door of it. But I'm fine everywhere else. I can intrepidly go into any other mall and shop like the dickens!

I had three girls walk behind me in the mall once, screaming BITCH at me in unison at the top of their lungs. It was a Friday night, with dozens of people standing by watching. None of the adults stopped them or said anything. I knew that there was nothing I could do to stop them, so I pretended not to react. The entire length of the mall they chanted BITCH at me in unison while people of all ages - many of whom I knew - laughed and pointed.

That kind of thing sounds absurdly trivial when I recount it in isolation, but when there is nowhere to hide and no one else who understands and you're already a deeply weird person with deeply weird interests*, well, it leaves a scar.

When people talk about how bullies have it so hard and they're probably abused at home, I think of those three girls and the others like them and I am glad.

*it was not until the internet that I realized that I'm not weird, I'm atypical. This is not a distinction without a difference.
posted by winna at 4:59 PM on March 30, 2011 [8 favorites]


There's only one thing that bullies understand.

When I was a junior in high school, we were allowed to eat outside on nice days in the little courtyard. There was one guy in our "unaffilated" group who stuttered. Like, I never heard him say more than two consecutive words of his own thoughts. (But give him some Shakespeare and he was amazing.) The Big Man on Campus liked to throw his grapes at us rather than eat them, and the stutterer got the large share of the derision that accompanied the grapes.

Big Man on Campus was built like Homer Simpson. He had a good six inches on me. But when I finally threw him against a locker and told him that if he ever said a word, even something nice, to the stutterer again I'd send him home to his mom in seven separate suitcases (thanks Elfquest), he took it to heart.
posted by notsnot at 5:13 PM on March 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


I had three girls walk behind me in the mall once, screaming BITCH at me in unison at the top of their lungs.

I can tell you with perfect sincerity that if, today, at the age of 47, I saw this happen I would casually walk up and very loudly inquire, "Exactly what sort of problem do you cunts have with this bitch?"

I manage to have very few memories of my childhood. This anti-talent has occasionally been a nuisance but not so much as one might think. It does seem unfair that the years from age 5 to 17 seemed to crawl by so much more slowly than the ones between 35 and 47. But I remember a lot more of the latter, so while they seemed to pass more quickly today they seem a lot more real.

My wife and I were attracted to one another in large part by our insistence that we did not, ever, under any circumstances, want children, in further large part for reasons that could be summarized by quoting this entire thread.
posted by localroger at 5:16 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


that was a joke. relax.

Hey! That's exactly what assholes say when you object to being called a bitch or told to suck their dicks!

Hey, hal_c_on, when you find yourself sounding like street harassers, maybe you should rethink your stance.

And if that offends you, well, why're you so uptight anyway? Relax!
posted by emjaybee at 5:19 PM on March 30, 2011 [19 favorites]


The Voice is our constant narrator of failure and of worthlessness. No matter what we achieved, how high we flew or how completely we obliterated our pasts, there was always this from The Voice: We know the real truth. And The Voice never, ever stops. It may fade into the background to a lesser or greater degree, but the only thing that will truly silence it is death.

It's a friendly Voice, warm and utterly without mercy.

All these people pretend that they like you, but we know the truth: you're a worthless piece of shit...


The Voice doesn't originate from bullying. The Voice is self-doubt and if you don't have at least a bit of it you're a cocky asshole. I'm not questioning that it might be exacerbated by bullying, but even people who don't feel haunted by past cruelties sometimes worry that they're an incompetent fraud. That's not something that someone did to you.

I mean this observation to be positive, not as a rebuke.
posted by Mayor Curley at 5:24 PM on March 30, 2011


Seriously, the kind of stuff I am reading about here on metafilter is really alien to me, it sounds like horror tales. I can not remember one friend or acquaintance telling anything remotely similar to the experiences that somehow seem wide-spread in the US.

Same here. Going to school in the UK, a lot of this stuff is unrecognisable. There was bullying at my school, particularly by a nasty crew of homophobic and racist kids, but it was always dealt with in short order by teachers or pupils. If you tried to pull some of the insanely cruel shit described in this and other threads, you'd be expelled, plain and simple. Probably after getting your head kicked in by the victims friends.

Possibly relevant: at my school, it was perfectly normal to be in a circle of friends that included druggy weirdos, stars of the sports teams, frighteningly clever kids destined for academia, probably-gay-but-not-out-yet kids, Science Fiction Club members, posh kids, scally kids, whatever. I suspect that makes it hard for a bully to gain a foothold - he can't pick on the eccentric clever kid if his best mate it captain of the rugby team, and he can't pick on the fat kid if his best mate is the go to guy for weed and pills.

Assuming all that popularity contests and distinct cliques stuff isn't just a film and TV cliche, is bullying in US schools made more likely by the wider school culture, which tends to segregate kids into clearly defined groups?
posted by jack_mo at 5:26 PM on March 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Emjaybee...i called someone a cheerleader for their naivete. Wtf is your problem with me?

Please send me a memail if u have a problem with me. I didnt go to your high school...so i dont know where that came from.
posted by hal_c_on at 5:26 PM on March 30, 2011


I'm so glad this was posted so we can all tell each other about being in 8th grade.
posted by Ideefixe at 5:26 PM on March 30, 2011


The Voice doesn't originate from bullying.

There is an enormous chasm between garden-variety self-doubt and insecurity and the kind of self-loathing that can result from many years of being told by everyone around you that you are a worthless piece of garbage.
posted by prefpara at 5:27 PM on March 30, 2011 [19 favorites]


Emjaybee...i called someone a cheerleader for their naivete. Wtf is your problem with me?

And then you hid behind calling it a "joke," which is something it seems to me you do a lot. I wish you would stop it. I don't care if you're a grumpy contrarian or whatever, but the fake blasé/joking tone you take, especially when everyone else is being pretty serious, consistently sounds an off note.
posted by liketitanic at 5:29 PM on March 30, 2011 [17 favorites]


I would never take pleasure in knowing that any of my bullies had it bad at home. I can hate what they did, and also recognize that children generally imitate things they are exposed to themselves. If I was still 13, I might wish them ill, but as an adult, I can see more aspects of the situation. My torment was mainly confined to the in-between times at school, not at home, which was always a safe and loving place for me.

It is horrible to punish the victim instead of the perpetrator. I've seen schools which isolate the victim, to "protect" them, but it seems to be confirmation of the bad behavior, instead of punishment for those actually in the wrong. Also many adults gave well-meaning advice to me (like "just ignore them" and "don't show them any reaction, they're just trying to get a response from you" which didn't stop the bullying but became a normalized behavior—I don't show my feelings even now).

There were definitely adults complicit in the bullying, as one teacher allowed a student to write that I should/would? kill myself in the foreign language class' newspaper. I have no idea why that was allowed. I can only imagine the crap people face with social media.

The direct bullying only got better when I just happened to encounter them on semi-neutral ground, and just happened to be in a mood that led me to snap back at them. I told them I felt sorry for them, because they must feel really low about themselves to have to pick on someone weaker, particularly in the safety of a group versus a single person. I'm not sure that would have ever happened if it weren't for specific timing and location of events. Not all bullies respond to the same things. One of those specific bullies tried to keep it up (the charming author of previous referenced newspaper article), but he no longer had the "pack" with him. [Disturbing side note: this guy's mother later expressed that her son had a crush on me. Really?! "Let me woo you with advice to kill yourself."]

I'm not sure the "It gets better" stuff helps, but I did have my own personal version of it from one of the sweet old ladies in my neighborhood. She told me things would get better. Maybe that's why I finally was able to stand up to them and shame them publicly? I knew that no matter what my position was right then, it didn't mean it would stay that way forever.

Also, for people in countries where schools are for education: in the U.S. most new schools being built are indistinguishable from prisons. It speaks volumes about how our school system is viewed by the people responsible for it.
posted by MightyNez at 5:29 PM on March 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


The Voice doesn't originate from bullying. The Voice is self-doubt and if you don't have at least a bit of it you're a cocky asshole. I'm not questioning that it might be exacerbated by bullying, but even people who don't feel haunted by past cruelties sometimes worry that they're an incompetent fraud. That's not something that someone did to you.
Ah. So you'd know the real truth about my experience, then?

I leave the detection of irony as an exercise for the reader.
posted by scrump at 5:36 PM on March 30, 2011 [10 favorites]


This video made me bawl. BAWL.

I can't bring myself to read all of these comments. I'm sorry. It hits too close to home.

When I was 11, I spent a summer at sleepaway camp that altered my life forever. I was bullied for 8 weeks straight, harassed, teased, outcast, and worse. It was hell. And I'm still dealing with it, 30 years later, and I will be for years to come. Middle school and high school were similar. (Only child? Red hair? Overweight? Poor? Booksmart? All of the above.) My story isn't different from anyone else's who's been in that awful place where you're terrified to leave the house in the morning. Someone above said it's part of American culture, and that's exactly, tragically, right.

Yes, it gets better. But sometimes it takes a REALLY long time for that to happen, and when you're so depressed you can't breathe, "hang in there" doesn't mean shit. At the time, it made me feel like I was stuck forever in that hole of helplessness. Don't get me wrong, I don't use my experience as a crutch, and I'm proud of the strong person I've become. But it took a hell of a lot of work to get here.

Words can be more cutting than the blade she may end up using to help herself feel. I hope she gets the help she so courageously asks for.
posted by flyingsquirrel at 5:47 PM on March 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can break my heart.
posted by squalor at 5:48 PM on March 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


I fantasize about an adult like your Mr. Desmaris stepping up and acting like an adult.

***

Yeah, he was born for his job. I've heard people say that I guy like that should be in the classroom, better to shape young minds. Nah. Hours a day in classroom with that guy would be overwhelming. But as a leader? As someone to establish the culture of a workplace? To be the enforcer so that his employees did step up and act like adults? He was great at that. When I was in high school, he left the elementary for a different district- our district had lots of problems, and they were stifling him- and the kids I watched after school and our neighbor kids got off the bus in tears the day that it was announced that he was leaving. He was their protector, too.
posted by Leta at 5:50 PM on March 30, 2011


Then, Mr. Desmaris came....He took a very aggressive, involved, buckstopshere approach, and it worked...the aides immediately sent them to the wall, and if you got sent to the wall twice in a week, you got to spend your lunch and recess hour scraping paint of radiators. I remember lots of kids being suspended at first, too.

This is what's always given me pause. It seems like that the more effective ways of stopping bullying involve something that looks very much like bullying, just by those in charge, and with better intent. I struggle with this as a parent too. It's like this: the bullies are using force to do what they want. The administrators need to do something, and anything effective is going to be--again--using force to get what *they* want. I really can't see a way around it (I mean, that's how the police work), but it seems that the lesson to some people would be "as long as you figure out how to be the boss, then you can bully people". I mean, haven't you seen people who seem to take that lesson to heart?

Honestly not trying to troll here. It just seems like there should be a better way, but I'm not sure there really is one.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 6:00 PM on March 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


RikiTikiTavi - Nope, they're both using force. I think one is doing it with a good goal (kids treat each other well), the other with a bad goal (make this other kid feel bad). Just like both the surgeon and mugger stick a knife in you.

Unless you think any use of force is bullying. I probably would have agreed with this earlier in my life; now I wouldn't. I leave it up to other to judge if that makes me better or worse.
posted by benito.strauss at 6:12 PM on March 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Because bullying is about power, RikiTikiTavi. Bullies have power and they wield it against those who don't. The only thing a mind like that understands is even more power.

I only ever had an adult come to my defence once. He was a weedy-looking accountant type, walking his little girl home from daycare, and the 13-year-old kid who was kicking my ribs in called him a faggot and told him to fuck off and take his little cunt with him.

He fucked off.
posted by Zozo at 6:16 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm so glad this was posted so we can all tell each other about being in 8th grade.

This is a disingenuous sneer. Please don't.
posted by liketitanic at 6:19 PM on March 30, 2011 [23 favorites]


The only thing a mind like that understands is even more power.

This has come up a few times already, so don't take this as a call out of you in particular, Zozo. I think we should be very leery of endorsing claims that some people can only "understand" force as a justification for using force against them. It's so tempting to take a desire to use force and use this reasoning to explain away any need for less drastic measures by dehumanizing people in this way. It's a satisfying thought when the target deserves some comeuppance, but the justification that they can't understand anything else is completely divorced from whether they deserve comeuppance or not. That disconnect allows lots of nastiness under the guise of the limitations of others' understanding.
posted by Marty Marx at 6:25 PM on March 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Because we believed.

Wow scrump! That's it exactly. Thanks so much. Wish I could favorite this a thousand times.
posted by marsha56 at 6:31 PM on March 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


No, I get what you are saying, RikiTikiTavi. I can say that, IME, no, Mr. D wasn't a bully. People LOVED him, he led by charisma. But I take your point, nonetheless.

I think of it as a "Lessons of Munich" kind of thing. Hawks twist this all the time to justify military intervention, but if you actually know your history, the true lesson of Munich was Don't Appease the Aggressor. The tricky part is correctly identifying who the aggressor is- hence stupid zero tolerance policies. To do that, to correctly identify an aggressor, you need a culture where people are unafraid. It's not something you get from a box. There are some people who can do that thing where you lead with charisma, and then there's everyone else. It's not a great thing to base a policy on, but there is an awful lot in education that falls into that category.

What the ever loving fuck, zozo! Unreal. If some kid was beating up another kid, I'd yank him off. If said kid told me to fuck off, and called my child a cunt, I'd spit in his face and start looking for a stick or a bat. I am That Lady in the neighborhood, though. I've put the fear of God into a few bigger kids when they were harassing the little ones. One time, I happened to be holding my stepsons bb pistol that looks like a .45 (he was shooting targets in the backyard and I brought the little kids out, so I was taking the air pistol back inside when I heard commotion out front and found two little thugs robbing the neighbor kid) and I was kind of gesturing with it, not really putting two and two together as to why the two boys I was yelling at had gone completely gray. Then it hit me, and I took advantage, and said, "Yeah, nobody gets messed with on my block, motherfuckers! I don't want to see your asses over here again!" And I haven't. Glad I didn't get visited by the cops, though.
posted by Leta at 6:31 PM on March 30, 2011 [6 favorites]


If this thread isn't a direct pointer to home/unschooling, I don't know what could be.

Let me provide a counterpoint to that—or at least an outline of how not to do that. The year I was homeschooled was one of the loneliest years of my life, and directly contributed to creating what was probably the second-loneliest.

My parents decided to homeschool me when I was in sixth grade, because they thought I was getting too "distracted" at school by "socializing." We did some of those "neat" things you get to do as a homeschooler, like going on random field trips during the middle of the day and doing two science-fair projects and learning algebra and geometry as an 11-year-old and overall kind of feeling a little like an outlaw. But otherwise, it was hell—I also felt like an outcast.

I never wanted to be homeschooled, first of all; I'd had friends at school, inasmuch as we sometimes got in fights and they sometimes made fun of me, and I didn't want to be completely torn out of the social structure the way I was. (Most of the reason I'd had any problems at all in terms of the social structure, anyway, was because my father controlled the clothes I could wear and gave me awful home haircuts and deliberately forced me to cut ties with my friends when I was "getting too attached.") The bones thrown my way during homeschool, such as getting to take band class and gifted class at my former elementary school and join a homeschool softball league, didn't really help at all—the visits to my old elementary school/gifted center just reminded me of how apart from everything I really was, and almost all of the kids in the softball league already knew each other from church or temple.

It probably also didn't help that my father took homeschool as an opportunity to browbeat (and sometimes literally beat) me into doing all of that algebra and geometry. Sure, I was smart enough to get the concepts and figure it out, but spending more time at home with my verbally (and sometimes physically) abusive father was not something I ever would've voluntarily signed up for. (I don't think this is really a problem most of the kids of MeFites would ever have, but yeah, it didn't help my willingness to be homeschooled.)

But really, one of the worst parts of it may have been going back to public school in seventh grade, the first year of middle school, after I successfully resisted/fought against homeschool. Oh man. Sixth grade was the absolute worst year to have been pulled out of the public-school mix, because that's the year that everyone started wearing more form-fitting clothing and listening to cool music and planning what "team" they would be on in middle school with their friends. I, on the other hand, spent the entire year at home wearing baggy T-shirts and shorts and/or patched jeans or sweatpants. Neither of my parents worked at traditional jobs—hence why they were able to homeschool—I rarely saw my old friends, we didn't have cable TV, and the homeschool softball league wasn't exactly a bastion of high fashion, so I had no idea what to wear at the beginning of middle school. But it definitely wasn't the type of clothing that had worked for me in fifth grade. The few new items of clothing I got for middle school (did I mention my father's also cheap?) were out of style; my eyebrows had begun to grow in pretty thick (not flattering on a 13-year-old girl); my haircut was still awful; and my facial structure at that point was pretty gawky.

So because of homeschool, I knew no one on my middle-school "team"; most of the people who'd joined it were from other elementary schools. And alphabetical order meant that on the first day of middle school, I was seated behind (and had a locker next to) the runtiest, worst-dressed boy in class, who the well-dressed, well-connected kids in class immediately started to tease me about supposedly "having a crush on." I was driven to the point where to prove that I didn't, when he tried to say something to me by the lockers, I kicked the crap out of him and hissed that he should never speak to me. Kicking was a thing; at one point (I've forgotten the details), I seem to recall that I was followed around in the halls between classes by a couple of girls who would kick my legs, or something like that.

While things got better in eighth grade, they were still never great in middle-school. Let it never be said that girls won't dumb themselves down to seem cool. I found a group of girls to hang out with, but even that small group was rife with backstabbing and gossip and other moronic behavior. My father still didn't allow me to hang out with friends very much (let's be honest, he pretty much didn't until I went to college, which was part of why I took on so many after-school activities in high school), so the other girls in my group in middle-school treated me as something of an outsider, even as I was allowed to write "Kewl, how R U, whassup?! Like, ohmigod!" messages in the group's shared notebooks. (Seriously; I can't imagine what happened to my brain those two years. Something to do with the movie Clueless, I think.) The girl I called my best friend was double-dealing the whole time; she was really best friends with a girl who lived down the street from her, with whom she hung out with on a daily basis, and she started calling me Bubble Lips. (And you know, what my mom said at the time was actually right on: People like her are the reason there's a market for collagen injections and "facial fillers." I'll take these lips any day.)

Anyway, shit like this has happened on and off throughout my life. First grade: I was pushed down on the bus by a huge sixth-grader who didn't want me to sit near her, getting dirt in my mouth from my school project. Second grade: A trio of girls confronted me because I wasn't Catholic or Christian or churchgoing like they were. Third grade: I was called ugly because my dad required me to wear my hair tied back (he thought long hair was a "distraction") and bought me gigantic glasses when it was time to upgrade my prescription. Ninth grade: I finally met guys who were attracted to me (I'd sufficiently upgraded my wardrobe/makeup/appearance, I guess), and immediately ran into trouble with other girls for "leading on" one guy and cheating on another, etc.

And then, jumping ahead a few years, there was even the time, my freakin' junior year of college, when people didn't think I was cool/connected enough to be the editor of the college newspaper. The same sort of moronic, lowest-common-denominator logic applied: I had weird hair, I collected My Little Ponies (deliberately, as a sort of "fuck you" to people who thought that going to college meant you had to put away "childish things" and start binge drinking), and I didn't drink or party. One of the people who'd been in the direct line of succession to be editor (but hadn't bothered to apply) had a problem with my being his boss; I gave him the choice between being nice/not gossiping about others on staff and leaving, and he chose to leave. Come to find out, when that same guy was an intern at my current place of employment, he actually cautioned the staff against taking me on as an intern the next semester, because, he said, I was weird and I collected My Little Ponies.

And this is the thing: This has been an extremely long post, I know, but these are not even things I think about on a regular basis anymore. I've had lots of great experiences in life; these are just some of the bad ones. I have a great job. I have hobbies. I have friends. I'm getting married soon. Life goes on. But whenever people start talking about homeschool as an answer, I have to caution them; and whenever people start blowing smoke about how this, that, or the other thing can't be a reason people are bullied, I have to say a little something about my experiences.
posted by limeonaire at 6:35 PM on March 30, 2011 [8 favorites]


My experience was not really of bullying, more of teasing and social isolation and shunning for being a weird, socially awkward, unfashionable, homely kid.

But because some of this was reflected back at me at home as well at school, I internalized a lot of it, and yes, I also believed and still carry scars today.
posted by marsha56 at 6:35 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Marty Marx, I think force is necessary to deal with bullying. I don't think sunshine and butterflies and ice cream will do it. I understand why people are upset, even by retaliatory force, but it's not a perfect world. Sometimes force is for good, and sometimes not. We need adults in charge who are wise enough to tell the difference.
posted by Leta at 6:36 PM on March 30, 2011


Let it never be said that girls won't dumb themselves down to seem cool.

QFT
posted by Leta at 6:39 PM on March 30, 2011 [2 favorites]



Marty Marx, I think force is necessary to deal with bullying. I don't think sunshine and butterflies and ice cream will do it.


I'm not proposing sunshine and butterflies. I'm objecting to justifying the use of force on the dubious grounds that some people can understand nothing else. We need to think very carefully about justifications of force because it isn't a perfect world. That's the only way to get wise about the difference between using it for good and not.
posted by Marty Marx at 6:40 PM on March 30, 2011


I sent her an e-mail of support. How cool would it be if all MeFites did that?
posted by bwg at 6:44 PM on March 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


A common bit of advice that we teachers receive from our peers is to praise girls individually and quietly rather than in front of the class. For boys, it's usually not such a big deal. Girls who see a female classmate singled out for positive attention in the classroom will often make sure she pays for it later.

I'm not kidding. And it's sad.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 6:47 PM on March 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Wow, this is tough.

So I was bullied -- hard. It would be impossible for me to recount the full litany of abuses, so I'll share with you a few key moments : having a schoolbus full of children cruelly chanting my name; being knocked to the ground and forced to lick a bully's boot; being held down while my assailants cut my hair off; going to dances at other schools so that I could be around people who didn't know how unpopular I was; dropping out at 16. Needless to say, the girls wouldn't look at me, and I didn't have a single friend at that school.

Which is going to make what I have to say next especially difficult.

You can't blame the bullies.

Sure, it would be temping to say that the kids at my school were the most vile, wretched, cruel children this world has ever seen. That's certainly how my parents saw it. But I'm in my 30s now, and an essential part of growing up was realizing that the kids at my school were no different from the kids at any other school. They're all older now, and even the worst bullies have gone on to do extremely normal things with their lives. They were just kids being kids.

The fact is that, growing up, I was missing some very essential social skills. This no doubt had its roots in my incredibly fucked up family. Whatever the reason, I simply did not know how to handle myself in some very common social situations. At times I came off as rude -- other times, merely clueless. I didn't know how to handle the routine "just messin' with ya" teasing that all kids do, that in fact we still do as adults. The kids saw me overreacting to these situations; they saw how few defenses and coping skills I had, and they smelled weakness. And like sharks, they homed in for the kill. Pretty normal childhood behavior.

It's sad to me when a parent's first reaction is intervention. Dear god, when in the world has it ever helped a kid to have his mommy take charge and gets a bully disciplined? This knee-jerk defense makes life harder for the bullied kid (who everyone now knows is a wimp), but at the same time, doesn't give them the tools to deal with future bullies -- and like drug dealers, you get rid of one, and there's always another. For the rest of the kid's life.

No, the answer is to teach the kids social skills -- and yes, self-defense skills. We fill our kids full of hippy-dippy horse shit about self esteem and "why can't we all just play nice?" But the truth is that the world is a tough, often hostile place, and if you are going to survive, you need skills and tools. I see a kid who's being bullied, and I see a kid whose parents, schools, and culture have failed to give them a normal set of social skills.

As for me? Things are turning out okay, actually. Knowing me as an adult, you'd never guess I had such a harrowing adolescence. I'm known among my friends as the guy who can walk into a room and start a conversation with anybody, often striking up a friendship from just a few words of smalltalk. I basically had to start from scratch and learn social skills on my own. But the path to get here was indescribably painful, filled with physical abuse, betrayal, and a special brand of loneliness few will ever understand. I would never wish this road on anybody.
posted by Afroblanco at 6:48 PM on March 30, 2011 [7 favorites]


I am a white and went to an inner city middle school. I experienced no memorable bullying from 6th-8th grade and have nothing but fond memories of the time.

If I am an outlier, ha, well thank fucking God!
posted by dgaicun at 6:51 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wait a second. You can absolutely blame the bullies. That there are other people to blame as well doesn't absolve them of responsibility any more than a child abuser cannot be blamed because he or she was abused as a child. There is plenty of responsibility to go around.

Besides, bullies come in all ages. How old does someone have to be before they can be held responsible in your view? 12? 16? 19? 25?
posted by Justinian at 6:52 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't know, Afroblanco. I was--and am--a bit shy, a bit reserved. But I also know I wasn't a massive social fuck-up. I played well with my relatives and my friends. I knew how to hold a conversation with kids and adults. Like I said, these things seemed totally dependent on environment. Because when I was around children who weren't judgmental assholes--and, likewise, when I've been around adults who aren't--I get along fine with people. In 90% of my life, everything is fine. But in certain environments (middle school was one, that first year of grad school another--and like I said, in the exact same environment two other years I was fine), I get shit. And that inconsistency suggests to me that it's not me walking around with a big stinkin target on my back. And I'm sure that's true for a lot of kids.

Also, the nature of some of the teasing I've experienced--and heard about other kids experiencing--and the fact that it was all based on really vicious conjecture as to whether I was a lesbian or not really makes me reluctant to blame kids. What are you going to tell them? "Quit seeming like such a fag?" Because sometimes that's the reason they're being targeted.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:56 PM on March 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


I had three girls walk behind me in the mall once, screaming BITCH at me in unison at the top of their lungs.

Winna, it's so weird to me that you would post this. Probably once a month I still think about a very similar thing that happened to me. Except they were yelling "Lesbo" instead of bitch (I had gotten a short haircut... OH NOES).
posted by Kloryne at 7:19 PM on March 30, 2011


I'm known among my friends as the guy who can walk into a room and start a conversation with anybody, often striking up a friendship from just a few words of smalltalk. I basically had to start from scratch and learn social skills on my own. But the path to get here was indescribably painful, filled with physical abuse, betrayal, and a special brand of loneliness few will ever understand. I would never wish this road on anybody.

I can do the charm thing, too. I can walk into a room and command just by doing something that I'd compare to turning on a switch, which I imagine you probably can sort of understand. I, too, was a diffident, quiet kid with a considerable lack of the smooth social graces.

But that is really not an excuse for the kinds of things the creatures I went to school with did to me. I didn't in any way deserve to be tarred with the label of stuck-up lesbian bitch because I liked classical music and books.

You know what I really think of when I look back? I think of how, in a chicken coop, if a chicken has a speck of blood on it (maybe it scraped its leg on a wire, or something) the other chickens will kill it. I think of how albino animals (and people!) are turned on by the others of their kind. I think about how black panther cubs are usually rejected by their mothers who are normal spotty panthers.

It is the difference, whatever that difference happens to be, that really kicks bullying into high gear. Sometimes that difference cannot be seen by outside observers. Sometimes it can. But for bullying to really lurch into a juggernaut, it takes just one difference, and a snowball effect can develop.

And that difference is not anything for which the person being castigated for the purposes of creating a cohesive social group should bear blame. Bullying, intense bullying, serves two purposes - it polices the group by illustrating what happens to those who are outside its protection, and it serves to foster identity by those within the group.

There's bullying that is of a lower level, and this kind of bullying is basic status posturing within the group. It is still painful, and still wrong, but even people at lower levels of the hierarchy have someone to bond with, and order can shuffle. But when those people at the bottom of the hierarchy, for whatever reason, are deemed to be outside the group, then nothing done to them is too extreme. They are outside of the group and lose their ability to move within the hierarchy.

You don't see that level as much in adulthood, because adults can usually figure out some way to break or escape the cycle, even if simply by moving on or suing or going to HR. But I'm pretty sure that largely it is the threat of retaliation that grows greater as people age, and not the instinct to expel the other from the social structure.

This may not make sense, but that's how I've always seen it.
posted by winna at 7:27 PM on March 30, 2011 [6 favorites]


We moved in my 6th grade year, my dad was transferred to St. Louis. I didn't fit in - and my folks were quite insistent that I NOT fight when bullied. They didn't want me getting in trouble - so... I tried hard to not get in trouble. I was a bully magnet, having a marvelous time as a human punching bag. Didn't help that my folks were having their own troubles at the time, but them's the breaks, you don't know what your folks are going through.

I put up with the bullying for a long time. I was such a bully magnet that I'd have jerks come into my classes just to hassle me before going to their classes.

Finally I had enough - one day in math I got up, pushed the bully to the floor, and kicked his ass out the door. Literally. I think I broke my big toe doing it.

And I was in fear the rest of that week, certain that I was going to be dragged away and beaten up by a bunch of the assholes that hassled me. After all, I'd broken what I saw as the unspoken compact between the bully and the victim - the victim NEVER stands up for himself, and the bully limits himself.

Yeah, I actually believed that shit about the compact. Stupid, eh? But it was a funny thing, it took me several months to realize that I wasn't being hassled nearly so much any more. In fact, I wasn't hassled at all. It was as if I'd ripped off the 'Hit me - I won't hit back' sign and tossed it away.

Still took close to 20 years to get over it all, and a couple of bouts of therapy. Not a good time, not at all...
posted by JB71 at 7:35 PM on March 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think that to a large extent, the way a person responds to bullying (or any other unpleasant experience) is determined by the way their brain is wired, and about the best you can do if you're not wired similarly is to be as compassionate as possible. The hurting is no less real for my not being able to feel it.

That said, I do believe it is possible for reasonable, sensitive people to part ways with the anger that so often accompanies hurting or the memory of hurting. You do have to want to, though.
posted by Mooski at 7:40 PM on March 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


My great aunt use dot send me Beano and Dandy comics when I was little. It would have been great to see my local Canadian bully's noggin covered in giant goose eggs or hornet stings.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:44 PM on March 30, 2011


And that difference is not anything for which the person being castigated for the purposes of creating a cohesive social group should bear blame.

Please don't misunderstand me : I'm not saying we should blame the victim either. I just think the concept of blame is meaningless in this context, and that the standard disciplinary methods aren't particularly helpful.

Thinking back to my adolescence, I reacted to bullying -- and many social situations -- in the completely wrong way, and if I'd had even a little bit of insight into how the whole thing worked, I could have saved myself a lot of pain. I wish there had been somebody to teach me those skills.
posted by Afroblanco at 7:51 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Afroblanco: the concept of blame is meaningless in this context

You are totally, completely wrong. Nelson will be along shortly to show you how wrong you are.
posted by localroger at 7:58 PM on March 30, 2011


[few comments removed - Mayor Curley, if you are not trolling, please make it seem like you are not trolling, thanks.]
posted by jessamyn at 8:01 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Shit sucked for me as a young MONSTER, it was not good and some people were awful and I remember specific days when I would exert this incredible supreme self-control and hold it back until I had gotten off the bus and walked home and gone upstairs and then, only then would I allow myself to break down and start bawling. Exactly what people did is immaterial. They were trying to hurt me, and they did. That is what matters.

Then I got a little older and I put some distance between myself and those times and that place and I made peace with it. I came to realize that in that instance the kids who were doing it were just as terrified and adrift as I was. I handled it my way and they handled it theirs. So, okay. It sucked and I hated it then but it was past and I could not change it. Honestly I don't think about it anymore. I'm even friends with some of the people who did the worst of it.

You know. I got over it.

But that was my experience, and it is absolutely not for me to say what others should do about theirs; how they should handle their own memories and the way those memories and experiences shaped the person they are today. My experience wasn't theirs. What I got over was not a universal it but the version of it that I had to deal with. And to put it kindly, it's a total dick move to say that people should just get over it. That bullying is natural and it's pointless to try to stop it. Fuck that. Taking a dump wherever and whenever you please is also natural and until a person figures out that they shouldn't be doing that, we don't allow them to go around without wearing a diaper.

Fuck your "natural."

Compassion and empathy are also natural, and a damn sight more constructive besides. The fact that I'm not bothered by the miserable day-to-day of my young life doesn't mean I'm okay with anyone else going through it. It doesn't mean I'm going to try to minimize the impact of the same on others now grown.

It sure as shit doesn't mean I won't allow myself to remember what it was like being an adolescent, when you finally got up the nerve to ask out that someone and they said no and it seemed like it was the most crushing thing that could ever happen, the end of the world. And it was really some trivial shit that wouldn't matter at all before long, but that is how it felt, at that age. You cannot tell a teenager to take shit in stride. You can't tell them that none of this matters and soon high school will be over and all that. "Soon" to you is very different than "soon" to them. The world looks so different to you. All of it.

As adults, especially those of us who are in a position where we deal with these kids, the most useful thing we can say isn't "Get over it." It isn't "Don't let them get to you," or "Kids will be kids," or any of that.

It isn't "It gets better," either.

The most useful thing we can say is to ask the kids who deal with this every day what's going on. What it's like for them. What we can do to help.

The other most useful thing we can say is to the kids doing the ostracizing, and it is: Stop. You're not required to like each other but you're not allowed to dehumanize others this way.

Most of all, though, what we need to do is listen, and prepare to accept that we may not like what we hear.

Maybe then we can say it gets better, not because we just believe it will, but because we're making it better.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 8:04 PM on March 30, 2011 [24 favorites]


Oh man. It wasn't the HELP sign that brought the tears for me, it was the big, emphatic 'WHY?'. I can still feel and deeply empathise with that desperate feeling of just not getting it, why they seem to hate you so much. What is it about you that's so unlikeable?

Alye, i'm 26 and I still don't know.

But i can still remember how much mental strength it would have taken to make that video, remembering what I do of how it feels to be that isolated teenager and knowing what the social consequences might be. Even if it's a last attempt borne of desperation, it's still strong. I hope someone finds the right combination of words that'll point that good quality in herself out to her and let her believe it.
posted by pseudonymph at 8:22 PM on March 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


And as an aside, though other people have pointed out that smart kids dumbing themselves down deliberately don't exist, i'll offer myself as a living anecdote.

I started reading very young, became a voracious bookhound and by the time I got to high school had a consequently pretty well-developed vocabulary. By the time I was about 15 I was getting continually teased for being 'snobby, up myself, too good for the rest of us, thinking you're so smart', etc, but that sort of thing had been happening to a lesser extent since i was 11 or so.

For whatever reason, it ramped up around Year 9 and since I was being bullied (only Meangirling at that point, the physical stuff would come later) about other things, I decided that was one I could do something about.

So I methodically went out of my way to sound less adult. I remember when writing notes in class to my friends i'd mentally plot out what I was going to write, then go through it and substitute smaller, less intimidating words. Only then would I actually write it down. After I got the hang of it, I could do it in conversation too. Eventually it worked and the torrent of nasty digs about my snobbishness slowed to a trickle, only really coming out when good test results or such were read out by my teachers.

So, hooray for girls dumbing themselves down to seem more likable to friends and boys. It works! If only I could kick my 15 year old self in the ass for doing it, and thus setting herself back in quite a few ways.
posted by pseudonymph at 8:36 PM on March 30, 2011 [6 favorites]


I sent her an e-mail of support. How cool would it be if all MeFites did that?

I just logged on Facebook and looked for a girl in my class that was crazy bullied in high school, to the point where her mom had to enroll her in a different school 6 months into the school year.

I sent her a message apologizing for letting it happen, and telling her I really never thought she was wrong in any way, I was just too much of a coward to speak up. I hope this at least gives her some closure.
posted by Tarumba at 8:49 PM on March 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


There are some really sad stories here; I am sorry so many people carry so much pain all their lives.

I was bullied a lot all through school, but somehow was able to completely walk away. It was incredibly traumatizing at the time, but for whatever reason it just didn't stick. And while I kind of wish that more people were able to shrug and move on, I wish even more that there was less bullying to begin with because "ignore it" and "it gets better later" just isn't enough compared with how intense the pain is for so many people.
posted by Forktine at 9:36 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have to understand phunniemee's comments and there's some merit to saying she's wondering why people can't "get over it." Here's a thing: I used to be a shy, curly haired, dark skinned, glasses wearing, funny teeth having, odd little kid in a very shiny blond hair blue eyed world. And I was VERY shy, and I got teased a LOT. Until high school, when I was so busy with activities and classes and whatnot that I just didn't care. Plus I was really good at writing and drama and people respected that.

Now I'm not shy, have shiny straight hair, contacts, and live in NYC in the millenials where it's cool to be dark skinned. People called me frog lips all through school because I had big lips and then Angelina Jolie happened and people are getting lip injections to have big pillowy lips now. The heck?

But here's the thing: now I ( have) work(ed) with ( SOME, not ALL) programmers who see me as a sunshiny cheerleadery type because I'm social, (pretty? sometimes, when I bother), and they are still carrying around all this STUFF against people who bullied them, and THEY BULLY ME. They have a huge chip about extroverts and management types and whatnot -- and one person, after I worked with him and he was horrible to me and then we ended up being friends -- he was like, I always saw you as the popular girl in high school who had her shit together. WHAT. WHAT?

Sure I lost out on some things because of bullying. I've always had trouble with confidence and self esteem. But I really don't deserve to have the tables turned on me because I generally seem cheery and upbeat and social and TEAMWORK about everything, because I worked really really really REALLY hard to get myself that way, because I knew it would be healthier for me in the long run than to sit and stew about how everyone hated me in seventh grade and look at that happy person they can't know what I've been through blah let me hate on them.

That's what I see people doing in these bullying threads and it's just another type of bullying to me.
posted by sweetkid at 10:40 PM on March 30, 2011 [7 favorites]


Jesus, some of the responses here are . . . mind-boggling. Differences between physical and emotional/verbal abuse? Really? Fuck you.

Ever watch a burgeoning domestic violence situation escalate from soft-natured teasing, to extensive verbal and emotional abuse, to outright physical beatings? For 20 years? No? OK. Didn't think so.
posted by IvoShandor at 11:24 PM on March 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


I sent her a message apologizing for letting it happen, and telling her I really never thought she was wrong in any way, I was just too much of a coward to speak up. I hope this at least gives her some closure.
posted by Tarumba at 8:49 PM on March 30 [+] [!]


Ummm...thats actually pretty cool. Good job, dude.
posted by hal_c_on at 11:33 PM on March 30, 2011


sweetkid: That's what I see people doing in these bullying threads and it's just another type of bullying to me.

Where are you seeing this happen?

I'm not either disputing (or agreeing) that it is, i'd just like to understand what you're referring to.
posted by pseudonymph at 1:37 AM on March 31, 2011


oh wow.

I'm so fucking used to being a peacemaker that I came into this thread with the explicit intent of trying to make everyone agree. Come on now you who have survived bullying with barely a scratch, come joine with us (divisive) already sufferers. And I realised, nobody can do this. Nobody can bring us all to the same viewpoint on this matter.

At work, in a university that has a mission statement of social justice, that works with indigenous people in terrible circumstances, trying to understand their needs and better ways to communicate them, a university who is proud of its innocents project, a couple of erstwhile academics complained to me that a PhD student was of a different religion than them made the entire corridor around her temporary office stink of her body odour. I said, c'mon, give her a break - that's not nice guys. They said, it's not nice we have to tolerate her smell (not even in the same corridor as their offices), what about deodorant? I pointed out that different cultures/faiths had different rules - some disallowed drinking tea and coffee, so deodorant might not be an option for this woman.

Doubly unfortunate, the reason this student was in the academic corridor and not in the normal students' room was because her computer had a virus. A well meaning fellow student, of a previous generation or three, insisted that because she was a. a mother and b. of a different culture, IT should be forced to jump the queue that she was in because her computer wasn't working. He said, I've been a single parent, so I know how women feel (no, no, you have an understanding of the difficulties of single parents) and her computer should be fixed immediately.
A, I said, to say that single parenthood is the domain of women negates the contribution you've made to the community. This is not an equity issue, this student is entitled to certain levels of technology and I've made this possible, by providing her with an academic office.
But, says A, she's of a particular faith/culture, and therefore she has more responsibilities than another woman.
A, says I again, this student (D) is entitled to a certain level of equipment because she, like you, is a student. Her faith, culture and reproductive status (okay, I didn't say that, but all the rest I did), is of no relevance, and IT works in mysterious ways. It's after 5 pm. They will not be coming today, no matter what I do.

But wait, there's more, and I'm taking a long time to get to the point, because this whole thing is pervasive and hidden in the open.

In the lunch room, with non academics, and academics, and someone claimed that people stole things because they had never worked long enough to earn enough money to buy something worthwhile they could respect. I pointed out that maybe some people stole things because they could never earn enough money to get by, that by accident of birth, parental influence, lack of education, and so on, they would never be successful enough to own a car, let alone a house. This was an eye opener to one woman.

It's over, right? This is all just a fleeting strangeness?

No, the very same week (this week - this has all happened this week) someone talks about her work in the prison, and was involved in censoring the mail, omg, she said, the photographs of the women, the prisoners would have to have been wondering who took the photo! (Their girlfriends, I chirped in, like an idiot - so what's wrong in sending a salacious shot to your incarcerated man?) And the letters, so illiterate, she said. I pointed out that a big factor in low socio-economic societal groups is that education is not valued, and children miss out as a result. She nodded and went on to say, an entire family in X town had these girls who had children to different fathers, and each one of them (pause for horror) had a child to an indigenous person (my words, certainly not hers, and at which point I chirp up again, sure, why not?) so they could get more government support.

These very nice, very comfortable (but not wealthy), happy, normal, everyday people I work with, who donate to Breast Cancer and the floods, and Movember, they have certain standards you know. And I know, if they knew who I truly was (ex bullied kid, ex sexually abused kid, estwhile alcoholic, ex-welfare mum, child of abusive alcoholics) they would just turn around and be horrified - not for my experiences, but that they interacted with someone like me.

Okay maybe they wouldn't, but in looking for a grand unifying theory, I have come to the conclusion that some people don't believe some other people are truly human and deserving of the same level of respect.
1. My father who thought having sex with me was convenient. Hey, if he thought I was a human being, he might have asked the 7 year old me if I thought it was a good idea.
2. the bullies at my school, who physically grabbed my hand & foot and dragged me down the hill to rub me in the dead toad. Why the hell would you do that to another human being?
3. My alcoholic, emotionally absent, self absorbed mother (okay enough there)
4. my vicious brother who thought strangling me to the point of unconsciousness, and electrically shocking me
5. people who tell me, OMG, she had a kid before she got married (um, yep me), or that person drinks too much and staggered down a public street (did that too), or the colleague who told me "all atheists are arsholes because they don't believe in God." Say what?

I have to be careful, not to be who I am, because of the people in my life who might then decide I'm inhuman and that they are justified in attempting to destroy my self-esteem, in continually undermining me or taking action that will make my life more difficult. Bullying, I think, is another way to say, Me person, you not. If you got past that, oh fantastic, and I'd take tips from you, except for the fact that you think I'm bellyaching for no good reason. You, who maybe even think that my incredibly jump reflex is funny, or that depression and anxiety and so on, are just excuses.

I don't think I made my point, and I'm sad that the young woman with grit and courage in the youtube video probably didn't make her point either, not to the ones who are guilty.

ah crap, I've waffled on too long to no purpose. It just shits me the way some people treat other people and think it's fine. It just really shits me.
posted by b33j at 2:11 AM on March 31, 2011 [12 favorites]


I was a fat kid and was definitely bullied in middle school. But I was also really strange and funny and outspoken. I think I realized that I could be, not exactly "the fool," but the sardonic commenter on Things Middle School and it would give me a niche and thus a measure of protection.

One of the meanest things I ever did I did with the best of intentions, and it involves being the anti-bully. I knew what it was like to be odd and singled out, and didn't like it. In the fifth grade there was a boy named Joel. Everyone (except for me, seemingly) hated and teased Joel, every day. One day Joel was absent and I made a big speech to my class. I asked them to think about how awful it must be to be Joel, and to give him a break. I proposed that when Joel came back we have "Joel Day," a day where everyone would go out of their way to be kind to Joel. For some reason everyone agreed, and the next day, when Joel came back, every single person was conspicuously friendly to him. For the first time all year Joel had people to eat lunch with and play at recess with. For the first time all year people asked Joel, "What do you think?" or said, "Hey, Joel, that's funny!" Joel probably had no idea what was going on and was probably terrified, poor boy.

Of course, the next day was not Joel Day, and he went right back to being the pariah of the class, with the people who were talking and laughing with him the previous day ignoring him and pushing him down in the yard, just like always. I had meant to give Joel a break from his torment, but as a fifth-grader didn't think about unintended consequences. "Look, Joel. This is how your life COULD be. BUT IT NEVER WILL BE!!!! HAHHA!"

Years later, a girl in my English class who was eight feet tall and had a club foot was being bullied by Traci (with a smiley face over the "i," of course), a perky blonde who later would grow up to be a big giant invisible fat lady with two kids and sweat stains under her arms ha ha ha Traci, and I said very quietly and sternly to her, so the rest of the class could hear, "What a small, sad person you must be, Traci." She never bullied Mary again, and Mary, to show her thanks, gave me a copy of a book called "Green Mansions," out of which she had forgotten to remove the bookmark she'd made from a naked-man picture from Playgirl.

What can we learn from all this? If I had access to a classroom full of kids, I would pull aside the "x factors"; the kids who are in the middle. Not popular, but not bullied, either. I would encourage them to, whenever they saw bullying, calmly call the bully on it en mass, in the cruelest, most withering way possible. For instance, what would happen if eight kids in geometry class suddenly started saying to the bully "you must extremely insecure about something to treat others so meanly. Could it be you have a tiny penis?"

If everybody did this, all the time, without fail; if everybody exposed the bully to withering scrutiny, perhaps it would help. If I were in middle school now, that's what I'd do. I'd form a club called "The Avengers" and whup some bully ass.
posted by staggering termagant at 3:56 AM on March 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


I need to say something to the "I went through this and I turned out all right" people.

No, you didn't. If you were truly all right, you'd have more empathy for those who, unlike what you claim to have done, still feel the pain of what happened to them. Yeah, I know you think you have a lot of empathy for them, but if it were true, you wouldn't post what you did.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:57 AM on March 31, 2011 [10 favorites]


Toothless Willy: I'm always skeptical when I hear people say they were bullied for being smart. I've never, ever seen anyone get picked on for being smart. I saw some kids who were disliked because they clearly thought they were smarter than everyone else, though.

I was bullied in school for being smarter than other kids. I was in a special in-class accelerated learning program. The other kids didn't like it that I got to be off in the smart kids' corner of the room and do more advanced work than they did. I don't like your insinuation that how someone acts entitles someone else to bully them. Everyone has the right to live without being bullied. Bullies will find any excuse, or none at all, to bully someone. It's a crime of power perpetrated by the bully she or he feels powerless and needs to find a victim to exert control over.

Have you never watched a movie where a smart kid was bullied for being a "brain"? It wouldn't be a media trope if it wasn't a widespread phenomenon.

My husband was a really bright little boy who thought he was smarter than a lot of kids in his class when he got to school. His family had encouraged his curiosity and love of learning. He had a teacher who took an instant dislike to him because he knew he was smart and didn't shy away from it. She basically tried to break him of the notion that he was intelligent - his teacher! He didn't even have to wait for a bully to hurt him, his teacher was willing to bully him.

Then there are his tales of high school bullying. He was bullied almost every single day of his life in high school. Some of his stories have made me break down in tears in the past and some have made me rage for the sensitive, innocent boy and teenager he was. Based on what he's related to me, I can only imagine that it was torture for him, that it was pure hell. It only let up when he started dating a girl in senior year and even then it didn't completely stop. It still haunts him to this day - that's not temporary. He will die knowing the pain and betrayal of the classmates who hurt him for no reason and the school administration who enabled it to continue happening.

Bullying is not nothing, it's not child's play, and it shouldn't be tolerated. Parents and teachers and administrators too often ignore it or pretend it doesn't exist. That's what happened to my husband; even though he was physically attacked and verbally abused, to the administration he was a square peg in a round hole and they wanted nothing so much as to hammer him down and make him to go away so they wouldn't have to deal with the bullying. Given that he had no support and no way out, I don't know how he didn't commit suicide. I don't know that I could have taken that kind of abuse every day. I'm just glad that he made it out alive, and I shudder to think what my life would be like without this intelligent, understanding, kind, talented person in it. I love him and I hate that he was bullied. No one deserves that, no one.
posted by i feel possessed at 5:58 AM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


phunniemee, I'm going to inverse your comment.

I fully understand how someone who has been bullied can get over it.

But it doesn't make me any less compassionate or empathetic to the people who find it difficult to do so.

There is a term in psychology called "resilience." Resilience is the ability to cope with stress and adversity. But resilience is a psychological process. It's not a trait that someone either has or doesn't has. People can develop and lose resiliency, but the key factor in developing resiliency is caring and supportive relationships.

Kids who are bullied to the extreme --- kids who literally have no friends, no peers they can relate to, parents or guardians who are absent/abusive/neglectful or even just plain old unaware --- do not have those relationships. And not having those relationships, and not having a quick process of resiliency or a sense of resiliency, and being bullied on a daily basis can lead to some actual real trauma with a capital T. PTSD and related disorders don't necessarily only occur due to one, severely traumatic event, although they can. It can also form after months or year of the same ritual or form of trauma with a lower case t.

What I'm driving at is multiple traumas with lower case ts over a period of time can equal Trauma with a capital T by the time it plays out.

I'm glad for you that you were able to so effectively overcome whatever bullying happened to you. It sounds like you are, in fact, resilient and can bounce back from such things like a rubber band. But other people and other children have different temperaments, different sets of circumstances, different forms of bullying, and maybe fewer outlets or places of support than you. For some people, the effects of bullying do stick to them, because they're more like glue than rubber bands.
posted by zizzle at 6:17 AM on March 31, 2011 [5 favorites]


For instance, what would happen if eight kids in geometry class suddenly started saying to the bully "you must extremely insecure about something to treat others so meanly. Could it be you have a tiny penis?"

***

So funny! When I was a freshman in high school, I had this weird bussing situation, and I rode the bus home with the middle schoolers. There was this kid who constantly ran his mouth and picked on these two other, smaller boys every day waiting for the bus. I was bigger, older, and had recently both slimmed down and started smoking pot, so I was convinced that I was better looking and cooler, too. I starting saying, not directly to the bully, but around him and over his head, so as to be more condescending, "You what Freud says about when guys do that? Constantly accuse other guys of being fags or queer? That they're pencil dicks. Yeah, like, so tiny that no girl will ever even be able to feel anything. So, ladies, look at this guy right here, notice how he treats people, and everything is fag, fag, fag- make sure you never go out with him, and warn your friends not, too, either. It will end up just being too disappointing." I held this court almost daily for a month or so, and then the middle school finally started tittering, "Pencil dick!" whenever he started his fag-this, fag-that business. He was really quiet on the bus for the rest of the year.
posted by Leta at 6:22 AM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ah, bullying. I don't know if anybody's mentioned it yet, but kids like me were routinely harassed for being non-white in my very white school.

Not fucking fun. I never remember childhood as being "the good old days". It was a time of misery, and I am so very glad to not be in the "wonder years"..
posted by The ____ of Justice at 6:30 AM on March 31, 2011


I can't watch the video.

I have a physical disability, and had several surgeries between the age of 10-13. One specific boy bullied me and I still remember what he called me. I could cope with the run of the mill teasing that everyone else got about their body, bras, whatever. But I figured, if he was pathetic enough to be a bully about my disability, he was just not worth worrying about (though it hurt very badly at the time of course).

No, what was much worse was that I went to a private girls' school for high school, which prided itself on being a supportive caring environment, and for which my parents very nearly went broke to send me to. In year 10 I fell into a more popular crowd for a fortnight, and some of the girls tried to set me up on a blind date with someone 'I already knew' (he went to our brother school) taking pity on things I'd told them including the story above. I worked out who the boy was and confronted them and they just laughed and laughed. The boy? Awful, but too young to really reflect on what he was doing. Those girls? Fucking bitches.

It's only been in the last year or so that I've really started to tick the box on forms for 'disability', though it clearly had a major impact on me growing up. But it had a positive impact too - I was different, knew I was different, if only for the obvious physical reason, and this steered me away from seeking out cliques and set me on an independent path from my peers because I really just didn't care what they thought about what music I liked and didn't like and if I followed the football or not. I didn't need their approval.

I think I came out of the bullying on the right side only because I am a perfectionist and am much harder on myself than anyone else could ever be. The teen years make me seriously consider whether I want to have children because I can't imagine raising someone through it.
posted by wingless_angel at 6:46 AM on March 31, 2011


What I notice about the "bullied for being smart" piece is that most people don't seem to describe being "bullied for being smart alone". There's an awful lot of description here about how the teacher starts it off--reading off grades by name, praising some students by name or shaming some students by name, resenting smart/weird children.


But here's the thing: now I ( have) work(ed) with ( SOME, not ALL) programmers who see me as a sunshiny cheerleadery type because I'm social, (pretty? sometimes, when I bother), and they are still carrying around all this STUFF against people who bullied them, and THEY BULLY ME. They have a huge chip about extroverts and management types and whatnot -- and one person, after I worked with him and he was horrible to me and then we ended up being friends -- he was like, I always saw you as the popular girl in high school who had her shit together. WHAT. WHAT?

While this isn't excusable, adult behavior, fear gets really entrenched if you've been bullied for most of your childhood. It's very difficult to turn off the circuits that say "Pretty, popular person--are they going to turn on me in some way? Better not give them any leverage!"

I personally cultivate a slightly intimidating look and manner--although I would certainly never be rude to anyone--precisely because it's much easier to intimidate the squares than to have to figure out on the fly whether each one is okay or not. Over time, I can tell which people are trustworthy and which aren't, but I'd rather gain a little leverage through dressing and acting as a severe, counterculture weirdo who scares people than be at risk.
posted by Frowner at 6:48 AM on March 31, 2011


I've never, ever seen anyone get picked on for being smart. I saw some kids who were disliked because they clearly thought they were smarter than everyone else, though.
I'm not sure how my parents inculcated me with a general curiosity about the world in my earliest years, but by the time I was five I understood that school was the place where you would go to do that, and I was raring to go. Kindergarten was pretty OK, and I can still very clearly remember how excited I was on the first day of first grade, waiting at the bus stop and ready to Go Learn Big Kid Stuff. So, naturally, I assumed that my job at school was to try and do well and answer the teacher's questions... and because hardly anybody else ever knew the answers (or if they did, they knew better than to raise their hands) guess who earned himself the title of nerd/teacher's pet/etc. for having the temerity to learn stuff at school? I didn't "clearly think I was smarter than everyone else" or act like it, I just thought I was upholding my end of the deal; the teacher's there to teach, I was supposed to be there to learn. This was one of the principal reasons I was singled out by bullies.

This thread has gotten me thinking pretty hard about whether or not I'm "over it." I have grown up to be self-confident, socially functional, and comfortable in my own skin. I've established deep and meaningful friendships with people. I don't dwell resentfully on that time of my life every day, and came through the experience without PTSD (Jesus, I had it easy compared to some of the things I've read here. I'm so sorry you guys.) So in that sense, sure, I'm over it.

Sometimes, though, I wish I wasn't quite so cynical about human beings and their motives, and I still tend to be guarded around people until I really get to know them. I tend to seriously over-think minute aspects of social situations and interactions only to find out later that nobody noticed or cared. The person I am now is a direct result of the experience of having been bullied. So in that sense, even though I don't give it much day-to-day thought 20-30 years later, there's no "just getting over it."
posted by usonian at 6:51 AM on March 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


My sophomore year of high school my locker was two down from a boy we'll call Bubba. He harassed almost every girl in school, but one day he said to me "Someday I'll f**k you until you come blood." I remember being shocked into silence and fear, and stopped using my locker. Hell, I stopped using the second floor hallways.

I've been roped into helping plan my 20th class reunion for next year, and one of our first tasks as a rag-tag bunch of non-official misfits is to try to find the members of our class. One of the people helping out is a constable, and gave us a list of people who won't be joining us as they're away for 5-10 years upstate. Bubba is on that list. I was told I "didn't want to know what he did."

My father is on his reunion planning committee from the same high school and when I went to him for advice on how to plan this, I mentioned with sadness the number of people I graduated with that are either dead or in jail. He asked who, and when I said Bubba's name, he said "well you know, I graduated with Bubba Senior, and he's never made it to any of our reunions, because he's been in jail too. He was in and out of jail his entire life."

It's a cycle. It's sad. And I think now, as a happy adult with good friends and a supportive family, how life would have been different if someone had been supportive or a friend or a role model for Bubba. I'm not defending bullies, but all I can think of, each day and every day, is that none of us know what goes on in private, in each other's brains or souls. When you're the one who carries their entire locker around for a semester out of fear, you don't want to hear "goddamn it be kind" but as an adult, it's our responsibility to step in and help make the world better. So quit being bullies, all of you.
posted by librarianamy at 7:12 AM on March 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


I've never understood why some people can't get past it. I don't mean to be insensitive, I just don't get it.

In third grade, I was the new kid in a small town where everyone knew everyone else. We didn't have money, or a lot of the basic necessities. I was systematically bullied. On good days, I would just get laughed at and called names. On an average day, I would get laughed at and called names and pushed to the ground a few times. On bad days I would get kicked and punched. The teachers and school administration did nothing.

By the end of third grade, I hated school.
By the end of fourth grade, I hated myself.
By the end of fifth grade, I wanted to die. If I hadn't been so scared of death, I would have killed myself.

I managed to survive grade school and even though I was failing every class, the administrators took pity on me and allowed me to leave elementary school. High school was another four years of torture.

I am 42 years old. I'm married to a great woman and I have three beautiful children. I am the lead software developer at a successful company. I make enough money that my wife can stay home with our kids. I own my home, and I have a life that can easily be described as an embarrassment of riches. Yet, if I'm in a room full of people and I hear laughter, I immediately think that they're laughing at me.

"I don't understand why some people just can't get over it" understates the psychological effects of suffering ten years of systematic abuse at the hands of a pack of jackals.

"Get over it", however, is a common attitude. Many of the same kids who made a hobby of torturing me now try to friend me on Facebook.
posted by DWRoelands at 7:24 AM on March 31, 2011 [14 favorites]


you know the worst part? all those good-looking, dumb as a box of rocks, aggressive, athletic, popular assholes from high school? they end up being the salespeople in your company who get all the credit for your work, give you endless shit and tell you what to do in your adult work life.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 7:46 AM on March 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


Okay, so what does "getting over it" look like?

One reason I'm resistant to "getting over it" (and I think that at an unconscious level "I need to defend myself at all times and I can't get really close to anyone" is a core part of my character) is that the rhetoric of "get over it" seems to minimize what happened to me, or to suggest that "getting over it" will lead to being normal.

I do find that allowing myself to accept and internalize the truth of what happened to me is helpful - ie, I was cruelly bullied, mostly for things I couldn't help, with the complicity of adults, for something like twelve years. I had no support from my family. My physical health was forever altered. These things aren't something I need to prove, even if some jackass is all "oh come on, it wasn't that bad".

The people who bullied me were moral agents, not automatons. I can sympathize with the suffering undergone by [some] of the kids who bullied me without believing that this makes their behavior morally all right. I can believe that, for example, those bullies deserved help rather than punishment, but I can still believe that they did wrong.

I can look back and see that what happened wasn't my fault--really, truly, despite the various [again] jackasses who want to insist that I brought it on myself somehow.

I can "get over it" by deciding what parts of my character I can live with. I mean, I don't want to be a person who can totally forget my youth or live a "normal" life. That would require a rewrite of my personality at a fundamental level, although I imagine it would be possible with lots and lots of therapy and meds. I do want to come to terms with what happened to me and live without pain.

I want to be able to asses risk realistically. As a queer, left, gender-noncomforming person I do have some risks. There are plenty of continuities between why I was bullied as a child and the risks I have as an adult. I'd like to be able to maintain the defenses I've learned while letting go of the pain and regret.

I would like to get out of survival mode. My career has pretty much been "you have to keep a low profile and concentrate on surviving; you don't have emotional/intellectual space to pursue a career that you care about or that is intellectually rewarding, plus you'd probably suck at it anyway". I'm happy in my job, but I'd like to be able to make longer-term plans for something a little more challenging.


There were, in some ways, character up sides to being bullied. I personally doubt that I'd be a political activist without my experiences - plenty of people are activists without being bullied, but the experience was foundational for me. I do not bully or make fun of people, not even lightly; this is a real virtue that I actually have. I think I understand certain stuff about race, class and experience a little better because I am used to having my experience dismissed or made invisible. Since I've thought a lot about bodies and gender performance, I find a ridiculously wide range of people attractive, which gives me a much bigger dating/crush pool. I can entertain myself because I'm used to being alone.
posted by Frowner at 8:19 AM on March 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


Why is this kid in therapy and not the ones that think it's OK to torture her?

Because she can't control what other children do. She can only control herself.


Well, that, but also for the same reason why we spend so much energy going into how and survivors of child abuse should respond. Because the victims and survivors offer themselves up for scrutiny; the perpetrators don't or they do it with self-interest.

That's why discussion about these topics always become referenda on how you should respond to this behavior rather then what is wrong with the people who do it how to get them to stop. The "get over it;" they don't "get over it;" what the hell business is it of ours? It's our business to fucking stop it.
posted by BibiRose at 8:27 AM on March 31, 2011


I do want to take a second and address the "bullied for being smart" phenomenon. I think it does happen, but it happens more in the minds of the bullied than the mind of the bully. Let me explain.

A bully is a predator. They see weakness and they attack it. And if you don't know how to deal with being bullied, or don't have many social skills to begin with, this will only attract and encourage the bully.

Yes, I was a "smart" kid. I started programming computers at age 9. I was reading at a high school level at that point. Mentally, academically speaking, I was way ahead of my peers. Socially? Not so much. By 6th grade, I still didn't know how to act around other people. At very least, I was always the "annoying" one, always breaking social rules because I didn't know what they were. This attracted bullies instead of friends.

Now, when I'd come home crying, my parents tried to comfort me, "Oh, they're making fun of you because you're smart." or "Oh, they're just jealous because they're smart." Sadly, other adults (teachers, principals, etc.) got in on this act as well.

The problem? They were wrong -- and dangerously so. Those kids were not jealous of me at all! They had friends! They had rewarding social lives! They didn't have people beating them up at the bus stop. They could give a crap about my computer programming hobby. Yes, they were bullying a smart kid; no, they were not bullying me because I was smart.

All those well-meaning parents and administrator were actually more harmful to me than the bullies themselves. Think of the messages they were sending! "Smart people get beat up." "You're being beat up because of some ingrained thing you can't change." "The kids hate you because they're jealous." "They're beating you up because you're better than them." Think about a kid who actually internalizes these messages. That will fuck a kid up!

Nobody cared that I was smart. They bullied me because (A) I was unloved by my peers and (B) Didn't know how to handle (even minor!) teasing and bullying. Both of these point to a lack of social skills, which could have been corrected if I'd had some kind of useful parent or mentor.
posted by Afroblanco at 8:44 AM on March 31, 2011 [7 favorites]


Furthermore, if you give a kid the message that they're being bullied for being smart, you're basically telling them that intelligence is more important that having a good social life. And so the whole thing becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy : the bullied kid retreats into the world of the mind and stops trying to reach out and make friends. The right thing to do is teach kids that social skills are just as important as math or computers; it's just s different set of skills.
posted by Afroblanco at 8:58 AM on March 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


> Unfortunately, bullying, or "the use of aggressive psychology against the unpopular", is not
> a phase kids go through, it's American culture.

AZ mentioned the unspeakable school bully Harry Flashman up above. Flashman was a character in a novel written in 1857, set in Britain, by a British author, about British schools, and there are decades of testimony from Brits who say they knew and suffered from people just like Harry when they were school age. And the principal point of the recent George MacDonald Frazer novels about Flashman was that the British Empire absolutely depended on Harry's type for its existence and rewarded them accordingly. (Harry ends up with a V.C.) That's just one example (out of a very large number) of accounts of bullies in other places and other times. It's hard to believe there's anything distinctly American about bullying or being bullied; it's a feature of being the sort of jumped-up baboons we are. (It is, be it noted, one of the main reasons why Metafilter has and needs moderators.)


> I would imagine that, for however much expertise they profess in a situation, most adults feel
> powerless against the hive mind of a bunch of adolescents.

The single most effective action that could be taken is to eliminate the laws that force children into the pathogenic hothouse-culture locations where the bullying many have described in this thread takes place, leaving them little or no protection and absolutely no legal escape. But that won't ever happen; everyone will say "We can't have public schools if we don't force kids to attend."

And that's probably true. Who on earth would go to such places willingly? I certainly did not and would not--if I were offered the chance to be sixteen again I would refuse in a heartbeat if it meant I would have to go through high school again.

So, choose your side. If there are those who, knowing what goes on, still support compulsory school attendance laws, that's a flat statement that they are ready to sacrifice X number of children per year to bullies (including adult faculty bullies, who certainly exist) for the... greater good. Though most would deny this, to themselves as well as to others, actions speak the truth.

ObReference: Erving Goffman, Asylums, "Characteristics of Total Institutions."

ObRef #2: Ursula LeGuin, "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas."
posted by jfuller at 10:22 AM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


A perspective on the 'bullying because you're smart' thing. Doing well in school is for squares. Knowing nothing is for the cool kids. I wasn't bullied for being clever, but it was understood that I was a square because I got good exam results. It wasn't jealousy. It was anti-intellectualism.
posted by Summer at 10:53 AM on March 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


But I am astounded at the number of full-grown adults with real lives and responsibilities who are still bitter about how their peers treated them in school. I don't really remember the shitty treatment I received, though I assure you as the child of flaming hippies in a conservative, insular town I received plenty of it. Taunting, wedgies, and plenty of other stuff though I can't always recall exactly who my assailants were. But I do feel confident that they're probably now picking dead animals off the road for a living, have DUI convictions are are being accosted by creditors.

You sound a bit bitter.

My only consolation was that, as my dad kept reminding me, people who did well socially in high school generally never left it (mentally).

I really hate this mentality, that the cool/popular kids in high school end up working miserable jobs for their dads at the local car dealership, while the bullied/victims kids go on to have magically fulfilling lives.

It's just so far from true it hurts. I think of the bullied/victim kids from my school and they are not doing well at all. I had some major depression through junior high/high school, but I was one of the more popular kids in my class. I'm doing OK.

Junior high obviously has its special challenges, but I absolutely loved high school. As depressed as I was then, I still am now, so it's hard not to call it the best time of my life.

I was (minorly, compared to some stories here) bullied in elementary school, which still stays with me very much. This sort of thing is terrifying to parents.

you know the worst part? all those good-looking, dumb as a box of rocks, aggressive, athletic, popular assholes from high school? they end up being the salespeople in your company who get all the credit for your work, give you endless shit and tell you what to do in your adult work life.

It's worse when they are smart too.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:57 AM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


I really hate this mentality, that the cool/popular kids in high school end up working miserable jobs for their dads at the local car dealership, while the bullied/victims kids go on to have magically fulfilling lives.

I don't know, mrgrimm. The girls who bullied me have almost all stayed in my hometown, and the vast majority were very young mothers who didn't graduate from college.

However, I think it's interesting that I doubt any of them would see themselves as failures. They were on a certain trajectory, even then: they wanted to be pretty, normal, liked by our hometown boys--they wanted to live the same lives that their parents did. For the most part, they're doing that.

I didn't want that. I never did. I wanted travel and adventure and creative and career excellence and I didn't want to stay in my hometown and be like the hometown moms. The relationships I eventually had with boys weren't like their relationships. I wanted to be a dramatic, inconstant manic pixie dream girl--sharing dreams at the edge of a parking lot while holding hands, or whatever, and I don't know that I cared about being someone's "girlfriend" (it seemed so strange to me, then, the way that dating was treated like marriage). The bully girls went on to date those boys for whom I'd been a MPDG, then make fun of me and call me a lesbo when, with their boyfriends, they saw me in the supermarket.

Sometimes I think they were picking up on the fact that my goals and dreams and existence were, in some ways, a critique of theirs. I didn't want what they wanted. I didn't get what they wanted, either, and thank god for that. We probably both look down on what the other's chosen.

But I think it's exactly what we all wanted, too. And I think that was at least a small part of the source of the conflict.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:26 AM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Reading this thread has been tough for me. I've been that girl and I've contributed to girls like that. I'll admit it. Being honest about it in this thread is tough, especially knowing how hurt some of you have been by bullying. So please hear this mean girl say, "I'm sorry."

I was never the "worst of the worst" when it came to bullying, but having been on the receiving end up through jr. high, I developed my strategy to get through high school: make sure someone else is at the bottom of the pecking order. It was pretty easy as I've got a quick wit and was able to notice details to set others up, like the fact that one boy only wore one type of t-shirt in several colors. By keeping the attention on others, I kept it off of myself. Textbook.

Did it work? Well, I rarely got teased in high school (because that's the word we used in those days, even for the worst of it). But it didn't really give me the emotional boost I would have liked either. When you're growing up and get teased, grownups love to tell you that bullies just do it to make themselves feel better. And we do, but at the end of the day we're just as empty as before.

And then we grow up into adults with lots of regrets about our high school years. I did grow up and learn to treat people with the respect they deserve. I'm learning to embrace the "freaks and geeks" as I realize that they're the people that tend to be much more interesting to know. In new situations I still fight the tendency to posture but I try to stay conscious of it and stay on top of it. Most importantly, I'm finally (now in my 30s) learning to like myself for who I am. It's a lesson I wish I could have learned at 10 or 15 or even 18 so I and many others could have been spared a great deal of pain.

(As I write this, I'm struck by the way I tried to minimize what I did. Yes, to me it was just the occasional put-down. But looking at all your experiences, I'm realizing the cumulative effect of the comments. If I made a comment about one guy once a week and so did the rest of our history class, I can see how his perception of those years could be so different from my own. Whew, that's a lot to think about.)
posted by wallaby at 11:33 AM on March 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


I do want to take a second and address the "bullied for being smart" phenomenon. I think it does happen, but it happens more in the minds of the bullied than the mind of the bully

...

All those well-meaning parents and administrator were actually more harmful to me than the bullies themselves. Think of the messages they were sending! "Smart people get beat up." "You're being beat up because of some ingrained thing you can't change."
Even as a kid I was never under the impression that the people bullying me for doing well in school were jealous of my grades. No parent or administrator ever suggested that either. Smart kids get singled out because they're different from the herd, just like the kids in remedial classes, the minority kid among a different ethnic majority, the overweight kid among skinny kids, the kid with orthodontic headgear, et cetera.
posted by usonian at 12:01 PM on March 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


Wow, I'm always amazed at people essentially arguing from inertia. "This is the way things are and have been for a long time, stop complaining" is such a frequent standpoint when discussing religion, drug prohibition, bullying... basically any controversial topic at all. I just don't get how somebody can make an argument like that with a straight face.
posted by tehloki at 12:16 PM on March 31, 2011


You know, it's weird. From Grade 2 through 12, I got bullied for being smart, for being queer, for having long hair, for being a year younger than my classmates, for being astonishingly nonathletic, for liking computers and the library and the wrong kind of music, for reading so much, for not being allowed to watch R-rated movies, for being a brown-nosing know-it-all teacher's pet—and eventually, after years of that, being bullied just because I was the guy everyone bullied.

From Grade 9 until the summer after my first year of college, I had horrific acne. My face looked like raw hamburger. There are virtually no pictures of me from the ages of 14 to 18 because I destroyed them all. It was that bad. And I never once heard a single word about it from my tormentors. Not one.

If that's not an object lesson in the sheer arbitrariness of bullies, I don't know what is.
posted by Zozo at 12:17 PM on March 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


Seventh grade was the worst for me too. (That Anne LaMott excerpt upthread is perfect.)

I think this is probably common with girls, but my bully had been one of my best friends up until 6th grade. When we started 7th grade, I don't know what changed, but she decided to make me her target, presumably for the entertainment of the cool kids, which won her favor with them.

My surname is never pronounced correctly, and the most common mispronunciation rhymes with 'boring.' She made up a little song that went "Boring [surname], boring [surname]!" She sat behind me in English class and would hum it while the teacher was talking. She also made fun of my teeth. I've never known why -- a classmate confided in me that it was because they were straight, but that doesn't make much sense. Anyway, she'd see me in the hall and put her finger up to her mouth, across her teeth, and give me this shit-eating grin. When she graded my assignments in English (remember how you passed your papers to the person behind you, and they graded them, then you passed them back?), she'd write little musical notes next to my grade to remind me of the Boring [surname] song.

It was constant. All the kids knew she was doing it. I'm sure some of the teachers did too. No one ever did anything about it. I asked her to stop. I TOLD her to stop. I begged her to stop. She'd laugh and say "Stop what??" She'd be really nice and friendly to me one day, and I'd think maybe it was over, but then she'd start right up again in 5th period.

That leads me to this: kids who fought back in self-defense got punished just as much, if not more, as the instigators.

One day, in Spring, after much of the school year had passed, I got fed up. She sat behind me in English, her feet up on the book basket of my desk, humming her little song. I asked her to stop for the last time. She didn't. I sat there with my back to her, removed the cap from my pilot point pen, and held it up over my shoulder. She kept humming. So I waited until the teacher's back was turned, and I reached back and jammed that pen into her calf.

She yelped, and the other kids gasped. I don't remember whether she said anything to the teacher. I didn't get in trouble. But the thing is, that was in the mid-80s. That was before Columbine and zero-tolerance and the awareness that we have now. If I'd done that today, *I'd* have been the one disciplined. Hell, I'd probably be charged with assault. Maybe I would have deserved it. I don't know.

That's the only violent act I've ever committed in my life. I don't regret it. It wasn't the most mature thing to do, but it was the only thing I knew to do. If I'd been bigger and stronger, I might have punched her, but that seemed to have too many negative consequences.

She chilled out after 7th grade. Once she got into boys, and they got into her, she didn't have to focus on me anymore. But we were never friends again. We were in the same circle, and were friendly, sort of, but I always despised her from then on, and I never trusted her. She never apologized, or even acknowledged the bullying.

It's been over 25 years. A couple of years back, she started sending me messages through Facebook. Super-friendly messages. The first one read, "Hi, A, I miss you so much! How are you??? I'd love to catch up with you. You were always one of my favorite people!!!"

Getting it made me break out in a cold sweat. I ignored it. Six weeks later, she sent another one. Equally effusive. I ignored it too. And, again, sweated. It was an awful feeling. She didn't take the hint. Kept sending me notes periodically. Overly-friendly ones that didn't acknowledge my silence, or why I might possibly be uncomfortable, or anything. And it felt like it was starting all over again.

She's the reason I cancelled my Facebook account and won't open another one.

I'm a grown-up now. I'm almost 40. I could address it with her. I could tell her off, call her names. I have that in me now, whereas I didn't as a 12-year-old.

But it's not worth it. I don't want her in my life. I don't want to be involved with her. I don't want to give her the satisfaction of being able to apologize -- to absolve herself -- or, worse, to claim that she never did anything that bad. She doesn't deserve that from me. (I maintain to this day that she definitely deserved to be stabbed in the leg with a pen, though violence doesn't solve anything, yada yada.)

She has daughters now. They'll be in 6th and 7th grade in a couple years. I hope they're better people than she was.
posted by mudpuppie at 12:17 PM on March 31, 2011 [5 favorites]


Yeah, bullies are very arbitrary. There was this girl who was in 8th grade when I was in 7th. She was like the Head Mean Girl. Her brother was a football star, she was a cheerleader, they were both very good looking. She was athletic and slim and tall, but not so tall that she was taller than boys. She looked like a 13 year old Cindy Crawford, or an adolescent dark haired Jessica Simpson- just a beautiful girl who was mean as a snake.

But she wasn't perfect. She was growing out a bad perm, so her hair was ombre before that was cool, and if she didn't iron it straight or hot roll it, it looked very weird. And she had braces.

I was (am) chubby, intensely unathletic, pasty white, and I certainly don't look anything like Cindy Crawford, I'm more of a Monica Lewinsky. I have really nice hair, though- it's very thick, shiny, and naturally wavy, and at that point it was quite long, past my shoulder blades. I got really lucky in the genetic lottery, and I have perfect teeth. No orthodontia, they are absolutely straight and quite white. I also have a very full mouth, which was Not Cool until Angelina Jolie happened.

It took me years to realize that the Head Mean Girl started calling me "Ni**er Lips" because I had the two things that she, at the time, didn't- good teeth and hair. She could have picked on so many other things- I had huge feet, my clothes were "meh", I was awkward and clumsy, but she decided to make good clean racist fun of what is probably my best feature. Odd.
posted by Leta at 12:48 PM on March 31, 2011


Looking back, both my sister and I got picked on at school, and both of us stood up for ourselves and others as we learned to deal with bullies. We moved to a rural area when we were 10, and started grade 5 in a new, much smaller and more parochial school. One wrong move there and it's curtains, as everyone either knows or is related to everyone else.

Being the complete extrovert I once was, I blazed right in trying to make friends. That hit the wrong note - girls were supposed to be demure and non-aggressive in our new school, don't you know. I consequently spent my school years on the outside looking in. My sister, more shy than me, fit in better, but lived in abject terror of being rejected as I had been. We both got picked on, and saw others being picked on for stepping outside of that unspoken circle of expectations that the class seemed to have agreed on when we weren't there. It got really bad in grade 7 and 8. By then, both of us had had enough. In my case, I stopped my tormentor by taking him out with one backhanded blow to the face. My sister lifted him by the collar (oddly it was the same guy for both of us), pushed him up against a wall and warned him never to try anything funny again.

We would act as bodyguards to other girls in the playground seeking shelter from the bullies. I broke up "facewash" sessions where bullies would push someone down face-first into the snow and grind snow in their face. I pushed guys twice my size in the playground when I caught them bullying people. I once even convinced the girls to gang up on a bully - all we did was march towards him in a unified line, and he bolted.

Looking back, we did a lot of constructive things against bullies, and to their eternal credit, our teachers never said a word to me or my sister about the things we did to fight against the bullies. By high school, we were tutoring some of those same bullies and providing support when they couldn't stand their bad home lives or whatever struggles they were facing.

But man, even for all that, I can't look some of those people in the face when I go back home for the fall fair. Even when you take constructive action, positive action, it still fucks you up.
posted by LN at 12:49 PM on March 31, 2011


The bullying still fucks you up, I mean.
posted by LN at 12:52 PM on March 31, 2011


One day, in Spring, after much of the school year had passed, I got fed up. ... . So I waited until the teacher's back was turned, and I reached back and jammed that pen into her calf.


mudpuppie, That is remarkably similar to my own "last straw" moment. 7th grade, study hall. 8th grader bully sitting behind me, doing the usual bully stuff... flicking wadded up bits of paper into my hair, whispering insults, kicking the bottom of my seat, and so on. Then I guess the teacher was somehow distracted and he decided it would be really funny to get stand up right behind and lean straight over me, sticking his face about a foot from mine. I punched him right in the eye, as hard as I could. I then immediately pretended to attend studiously to my work like nothing had happened. He yelled in surprise/pain and the teacher told him to sit down and be quiet, and that was that. I had the advantage of never having acted out, so even if he had said something I probably would have gotten away with it. I don't know if the teacher was really oblivious, or just let it happen because the kid was a pain in her ass too.

After school that day he told me I was dead meat (from a safe distance of 15 feet or so) but he pretty much left me alone after that. Like you, that was the only violent thing I've ever done, and I don't regret it. And seriously, what the hell is with these people that they send social media friend requests all these years later? All possible options are disheartening; either they're back to wheedle you some more, or they have no memory of how they treated you, or they vaguely remember but in "Eh, I was fooling around, those were good times!" terms. Definitely best to ignore/block them.
posted by usonian at 1:27 PM on March 31, 2011


Someone wrote something on the green some time ago and I can never find it. It was a story about a father telling his son to remove nails from a fence analogizing how words leave a mark long after the nails are removed. Video's like the original make me think of that comment.
posted by squeak at 2:44 PM on March 31, 2011


Squeak, I think this is the story. I couldn't find it on Mefi, but I remember reading it here.
posted by acoutu at 3:11 PM on March 31, 2011


You know what? In high school I was not only bullied to the point of being suicidal by the kids, I was bullied by the teachers. One of my friends got mad at me and went and told the school counselor I was gay. (Friend later apologized.) School counselor decided that telling everyone else this would be the best way to help me, because people would understand and leave me alone. Never mind that I told her I am not gay and she didn't believe me. So that added to the bullying. Then the Spanish teacher, for some effed-up reason I never have and never will understand, told everyone I was arrested for looking in her windows. The closest I ever got to her house was walking my dog on the public street in front of it. (She lived down the road from me.) The teachers acted like they were in high school as well. I will never forgive adults for treating children that way.

And that says nothing of the kids. I was harassed in every way, including sexually (I was a virgin until after I graduated so this wasn't based on my reputation). In fact, I was fat so I got made fun of because of that. One girl told me she wanted to lick out all my crevices. A guy on the schoolbus told me his cock would really fill me up. If I dropped my pencil and bent over to pick it up, someone would stomp on my hand. I had a perm in the 8th grade and the lady left it on too long and fried my hair. After that, someone wound gum into my hair without my feeling it and I had to have it cut out. I would ride my bike down my road and kids would throw rocks at me. I'd get prank calls in the middle of the night from boys asking me if I wanted to fuck them tonight.

I haven't gotten over it. I still have dreams of being trapped in high school. I am trying my hardest to go to the office and withdraw from classes in these dreams... I even know that I'm a college graduate and don't belong there.

I have a personality disorder. It is thought that PDs, unlike Axis I mental illnesses, are environmentally based, rather than biologically. I strongly believe my experiences in school contributed to it. I saw a therapist after I graduated. She said I was using coping techniques that prisoners of war use, like pretending I wanted nothing more in the world than to be at school.

I completely understand what these bullied children are going through and my heart goes out to them. I wish I could do something. I wish I could sit them down and tell them they are good people and their lives will change and are worth living.
posted by IndigoRain at 5:42 PM on March 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


“You have to stand up for yourself. I’ve seen people’s lives ruined when they didn’t stand up for themselves.” A guy, not a close friend, but a guy from my social circle, who actually took the time to try to talk to me. A guy my age, who thought the best answer was for me to fight back. Well, he grew up in a military family, was in the junior reserves or something. I figured that wasn’t the sort of guy I should listen to, of course a soldier’s kid would be all for fighting back.

“This isn’t my life. I get to leave high school eventually. They won’t have ruined my life.” This was me, probably at my most lucid. I was a shy kid, but not painfully so. The bullying kept me from really breaking out of my quiet shell, but I had friends and made friends. But I couldn’t always say what I was thinking. Usually I would clam up when people used to talk to me about what was happening. But I was pretty sure these bullies wouldn’t ruin my life. The end of high school was in sight… somewhere in the distance.

This exchange is one of my most vivid memories, though I can’t remember exactly how old I was at the time. It was at some point during my high school career, during which I went through waves of bullying and ostracisation. I took quite a few friends from primary school to high school, but high school is a different game, different kids. I remember little spats in primary school, silly things, but not bullying. The bullies arrived in year seven.

I don’t know why it happened. I can guess with some bullies it was their home lives. Others were just acting out. And why me? Well, I was quiet and smart, but it was probably because they could get away with it. Because I didn’t fight back. Because I didn’t want to fight back. I didn’t want to be that kid.

Recent studies suggest that fighting back isn’t the answer. Kids that fight back often antagonise the bully enough so the bully punches harder or brings along back up. But I didn’t know that at the time. I just didn’t want to sink to their level. I wanted people to know that a physical reaction wasn’t the right thing. Of course, taking a beating proves nothing more than I am a kid that can be beaten up.

It wasn’t constant throughout high school and it wasn’t even the same bullies throughout. There was one particular kid who harrassed me on and off for several years – kneeing me in the groin, slapping me across the back of the head and quietly threatening me even when I tried to capitulate to his demands to never look at him. Even when I agreed with him, he didn’t like the way I answered him. I’m almost certain that he was an abused kid trying to find some power in his life. I think I even knew/guessed that at the time, but it never helped.

Another bully was fond of punching me when I went to my locker at the end of the day. He’d wait for me. I’d race to my locker or I’d hang back in class or go to the library – just to avoid meeting him there. But sometimes he waited a long time. Just because he liked to hit me. I endured a lot of pain thinking I was being the bigger man. And maybe I was, but I still don’t know.

I swore to myself that if anyone ever drew blood, then it would be on for young and old. If anyone ever drew blood, I’d have fucking killed them. They never did and I think they were lucky, because this cycle of abuse put a lot of anger inside of me. If someone had crossed that line, I’m not sure what would have happened.

Or I was fooling myself and just feeding myself a line, putting retaliation on hold until the bullying crossed a line it might never cross.

I saw a counsellor early on, but I’m not sure how much good that did. It got me out of class, which brings more attention with it than it should. Later, I began to take music lessons during school hours, which kept me out of regular classes some of the time – partly to keep me away from my bullies and partly to improve my self-esteem. Even though eventually I decided music wasn’t my thing, it sparked my creative drive and that’s what keeps me going, even now.

But it’s not just the bullying – verbal and physical – that makes me remember high school so badly. It’s the fact that friends at that age can be damn fickle. Sometimes they will stick by you, sometimes they will side with the bully or the other kid who just wants to make fun of you, sometimes they will join in the teasing because it feels like if they don’t they might be next. And it’s the fact that during a period when I found myself with friends again, after the bullying subsided for a while, I fell into the trap of making fun of other kids just because I was desperate to keep some friends, even if it meant ostracising other people or calling them names. I hate myself for that, so much. (I apologised to a couple of those kids after high school, but mostly lost contact and have never been able to make complete amends for some of the shitty things I did.)

After years of suffering, interspersed with fickle friendships, I think my parents were at their wits’ end. They had done their very best not to get involved but in the end they felt like they had to say something and it got back to some of my friends, my “friends” and the bullies that my parents had spoken to the Principal about my renewed ostracisation, which threatened to ruin my enjoyment of an upcoming school camp. I know I wasn’t a victim all through school, but even when I wasn’t, I always felt on the edge of becoming one. (That camp turned out to be one of the few high school experiences I remember fondly.)

I left high school with basically no friends. Leaving high school was a great moment in my life. Tertiary education changed my views on what I wanted to do with my life and my view of myself. I am now no longer that scared boy who walked through school with his head bowed looking at his feet, worried that looking at someone the wrong way would evoke an unkind word or a slap across the back of the head.

But…

The kid who tried to help and tried to tell me to stand up to myself, the kid who was no older than me at the time, wasn’t wrong about bullies ruining people’s lives. Because it doesn’t take much for me to feel that rage bubble up inside me when I think I’m being picked on or not being listened to or understood. It doesn’t take much for me to realise that starting post-high school with no friends meant I spent a good deal of my adulthood keeping friends I probably shouldn’t have for fear of being alone again. And sometimes I think I am still that shy little boy who flinched when people got too close, who reeled when he was ever the centre of attention (even positive attention).

I am not that boy anymore, but he is still inside me and I can’t get rid of him because I owe him for taking a principled fucking stand against violence (even in retaliation), I owe him for somehow making it through all that trauma. And he deserves to be shown through the life I live now that it does fucking get better, but not at the expense of forgetting what I went through or pretending that “boys will be boys” is an answer to anything.

Bullying ruined a lot of my life, but less and less as the years go on. I’m not over it, because it’s a part of me, but I know how to cope with it now even though it never feels that far away.
posted by crossoverman at 2:40 AM on April 1, 2011


Has anyone ever done an international study of school bullying? Because it seems like every single time the topic of bullying comes up, at least one person mentions that it's not nearly this bad in other countries. Yet the only solutions anyone ever talks about involve what the kid should do with the situation as it exists (fight back, ignore), what parents should do with the situation as it exists (homeschool, step in), or what school administrators should do with the situation as it exists. No one's talking about a structural solution - but there must be one. It's not like all these other countries just happen to be full of awesome nice kids or perfect parents or really brilliant principals.

I mean, seriously, at best our schools are debating between adopting one untested, newly-invented anti-bullying program or another. Why doesn't someone go to the U.K., and look at how their schools are set up and run, and look at the culture in their schools, and figure out what they're doing that we're not doing? Because this is fucking ridiculous. This shouldn't be happening to children. And just looking a little outside U.S. culture, it's obvious that it's nowhere close to inevitable, or unstoppable, or just "human nature." This bullying culture is the result of something we're doing. We can stop doing that, if we just figure out what "that" is.

Is there a sociologist in the house?
posted by Anyamatopoeia at 5:34 AM on April 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


PTSD. The brain is chemically and physically changed by bullying.

I was bullied by one of my parents. That sounds weird, but that's pretty much the best way of describing it - if the same behaviour had been experienced at school, that person would have been expelled. Name calling ('subhuman', 'moron', being told I was disgusting and embarrassing), not being allowed my say, violence, sometimes with implements, the feeling of not being able to leave the room and get away, the feeling of not wanting to be left alone with this person without another adult around. I'd read guides to bullying and wonder why it sounded really like my dad - surely not all dads do this?

You know what? It started when I was nine, got worse as time went on, and when I got to secondary school, I must have looked like the victim because I got picked on CONSTANTLY. I was very smart, didn't care about fashion, very headstrong in some ways, oh, and I was fat and clumsy (I later found out that a) I was dyspraxic and b) it was my uniform that made me look fat and once I went to women's clothes shops rather than buying cheap jeans I fit into a US 6-8.) and a dormant speech impediment popped up for some reason when I started secondary, just in case I needed more minus points on coolness. I was pretty 'sensitive' and once or twice broke down crying in class when I was eleven. I had my diary picked and read out to class, my things taken and thrown around (because they knew I wouldn't be able to catch them) and when a rumour started that I was going out with a boy in the year below, he then got picked on and asked hwether he needed a white stick (the poor guy).

I still don't believe people when they say I'm beautiful or attractive. I still panic when I go out with a group of people, and when I hear laughing in my presence I'm often paranoid that someone's laughing at me. I avoid eating out with people I don't know well, and I seem to eat very quickly now because back then I was desperate to get away from the table where I felt like I was constantly being I wouldn't go bowling with work because I can't laugh at how awful I am at it - I still have the feeling that everyone is taking the piss out of me rather than just gentle mocking (and I often have difficulty distinguishing the two). I hate saying it was character-building - if I'd had that alone and not the situation at home it would have been - but my self-esteem is pretty fucked as a result and it's taken a long time to sort out for what on paper seems a pretty run of the mill problem - the stories here tell how common it was, and I'm not of a minority or gay with that layer of prejudice to deal with too.

I'm doing better now than the main offenders (well, my dad's dead). A year after we left school, one of them stopped me in the toilets of a pub and told me that if she'd worked hard as I had, she'd have a better time of it now. I sometimes think, though, that I'd trade all my intelligence, all of the stuff that made me want to move away and try new things and do the things I do now, to always feel comfortable in my skin.

So, yeah.
posted by mippy at 8:12 AM on April 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


Going to school in the UK, a lot of this stuff is unrecognisable. There was bullying at my school, particularly by a nasty crew of homophobic and racist kids, but it was always dealt with in short order by teachers or pupils. If you tried to pull some of the insanely cruel shit described in this and other threads, you'd be expelled, plain and simple. Probably after getting your head kicked in by the victims friends.

You were pretty lucky. When I got to sixth-form, friends from other schools had tales of being picked on for being gay or weird or whatever - serious nasty bullying. It may have been where you grew up, but where I did being at all against the status quo was frowned upon.

One thing remembered thanks to this thread - walking home from school, behind me some kids from a different year, no idea who they were, with a girl about five or so. They got the little girl to shout abuse at me loudly; every so often she'd turn to the kids my age and say 'will you tell my mummy about this? will I get in trouble?' Yeah, the teachers can expel the kids, but stuff happens outside of school, on the way home, and probably now on the internet. My youngest nephew got his arm broken when he was ten - he's now at a different school far away from theirs. After suing the families for 5k.
posted by mippy at 9:02 AM on April 1, 2011


sudden memory of getting a knife pulled on me when I was about thirteen, walking home from school.

A friend was tossing rocks around, being a little careless, I guess, because one got too close to some older, cool kid, who for some reason decided I was the one that threw it. He demanded an apology. I mouthed him off. He pulled a little jack-knife, said he was going to slit my throat. I just kept walking, mouthing him off, confident that I could outrun him (he was a little fat, I was a fast runner).

And that's the full story. Nothing more ever came of it. Better part of forty years ago now, but I'm pretty sure I never even considered mentioning it to an adult. That would've been squealing. As for the guy with the knife, I don't believe we ever had another encounter.

And my friend, he later took out most of another friend's front teeth with an carelessly thrown rock.
posted by philip-random at 10:27 AM on April 1, 2011


Part of a PM that I thought should also go in this thread, edited a bit for clarity:

While I don't think we can end all murders [for example], I also don't think we should just throw up our hands and say, "Murders happen, so it goes." This is part of my progressive [politics] - there are certain cultural tendencies that *we* created and continue to perpetrate - rape, bullying, domestic violence, poverty, gang violence, drug violence, prison violence, etc. etc. etc. *We* cause these things to happen by creating and perpetuating the systems that support them - in the case of bullying, middle school (one community that often has a high reported rate of bullying) groups together children who are transitioning from a fairly isolated childhood to a community of teenagers without any positive role models for group behavior. By economic necessity, we lower the number of teachers per student and make it ineffective to monitor students during free time. We subconsciously and [explicitly] reinforce the idea that tattling is wrong. We encourage conformity and punish kids who do not "fit". I could go on.

If all these systems are changed within a community, and yet that community still has a problem with bullying (not isolated cases of bullying that are quickly reported and dealt with, but a continuing culture of bullying), then perhaps I could concede that bullying is part of the natural order of humanity. But until then I won't, I can't be defeatist.
posted by muddgirl at 1:50 PM on April 1, 2011


You were pretty lucky. When I got to sixth-form, friends from other schools had tales of being picked on for being gay or weird or whatever - serious nasty bullying. It may have been where you grew up, but where I did being at all against the status quo was frowned upon.

Yeah, my school was old-fashioned and quite strict (friends at Univerity used to joke that I went to school in the 1950s) so it's probably wrong to generalise. I still think the point about different social groups mixing stands, though.

I do know that (some) schools here handle this stuff well nowadays. My friend's son, who's 15 and goes to a different local school had problems with mild bullying, and they had a seemingly well thought out set of procedures. Eg. the bullying happened at a particular time/place, so a teacher would 'just happen' to be there for a week or two, and the bullies were talked to without the victim's name or specific incidents being mentioned.
posted by jack_mo at 1:54 AM on April 7, 2011


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