Bullying is an outdated term. Families/school teachers in the 50’s used the word ‘bullying’ to describe a kid being left out of a recent game of tag around the block. Now that same word is being used to describe a hailstorm of offences committed that include sexual assault, online harassment, tarnishing someone’s name and image, and even can result in untimely loss of life. It’s time to use a new, more powerful, word to describe the torment that is felt around the world.
Moreover, it’s time we take a step back and actually analyze what’s happening. This isn’t just bullying, and this isn’t just kids against kids. This is serious stuff. The biggest problem is that a lot of the bullying we see today is committed by adults – not by the leaders and role models of tomorrow but by the leaders and role models of today.
Let me tell you a little bit about myself. I have, through various therapists, good friends, and mental exercises, managed to turn what was a severe case of anxiety, low self-esteem, and depression into what is now a sarcastic, cynical, and useful sense of humor. But I am one of the lucky few.
When I was first called ‘Fat’ I was 6. I was in grade 1. You know what happens when someone calls you ‘Fat’ in grade 1? Well, first you go home and you ask ma and pa what it means to be ‘fat’? Then you watch as they look at you for a silent second and you start to suspect that it can’t signify a good thing – mostly because dad averts his eyes and mom looks at you with such pity and astonishment that you almost think you did something wrong. They regain their composure and tell you not to listen to those silly other kids, who raised them that way anyway? I went back to school with a newfound assurance that there was something wrong with those other kids, that their parents missed a lesson that I got because I was never mean. That lasted all of the first half-hour of school. By lunch I was in the bathroom crying. It had taken my first two weeks of public school as a newcomer to the country to severely stunt all my self-confidence, at the time and in the future.
This went on. I began to hide in the bathroom often. The four boys that tormented me would call me names, make fun of me, push me down the hill. I became scared of who I was. If I brought food from home (polish food) that looked/smelled different than theirs, they would make fun of me for being an immigrant and for eating garbage food. I felt bad telling my mom I didn’t want the food she made me every day so I took it from home in the morning, but threw it in the garbage on the way to school and stopped eating lunch by grade 2. I never tried any sports because the first time I tried to play baseball I was tormented and teased so much I gave up on gym that moment. From grade 2 until high-school I would never have the confidence to attempt to play volleyball, basketball, soccer, football, track. To this day I have anxiety walking into a new gym by myself. I need my sister or my friend to come with me to walk me to the tread mill, because I feel like everyone is mocking me.
I started sitting out of swim class with faux-diseases by grade 3. My tormenters had done their work. They no longer teased me daily because they didn’t have to. They had succeeded in creating the seed of self-doubt/loathing in my head and it did their work for them. They made sure to throw in an insult here and there to keep the ball rolling, but other than that, I had now become my worst enemy.
I was classified as Academically Gifted – but I refused to go to special schools and special courses designed for my level of inquisitiveness because I thought they would make fun of me. They altered a potential course of my future.
This continued into middle school. I had cried so much, and so often, that no one paid attention to me. I started to think everything was my fault. My parents wanted to know why I was so sensitive, my teachers suspected I had emotional disorders and needed counseling; my friends weren’t really my friends because it’s hard to be friends with a paranoid girl who thinks everyone is out to get her. But I was confused as to why everyone was focusing on me? Didn’t anyone think it was weird that these boys, six years later, still tortured me? Didn’t their parents wonder why they were so mean, so fixated on watching their victim squirm? Like my parents fixated on my faults and seemed convinced it must be something I was doing?
And so, at 12 years old, I started cutting. Not for attention, not for pity, not for sympathy, but because I had no other outlet. I had no one to tell my pain to, no one that would still listen, and their insults wouldn’t stop. At this point it wasn’t just that I felt fat, but it was that I felt fat, stupid, weak, sensitive, friendless, alone, ugly, geeky, tragic, pathetic, lonely, poor, a loser. It was everything. Everything I did and touched was tainted by self-doubt and self-loathing. Every good mark I got wasn’t good enough, every friend I made I discounted because they’d be gone soon enough. And it was true, they were.
The cutting didn’t stop until well into my twenties. But neither did the bullying.
In high school it was bullying of a different sort. Now the boys still called me fat, but the girls got in there too. There was the guys who told me my pants were too tight, the older girls that would stand at the bottom of the hill and yell/scream insults as the younger girls walked by. I would wait in the school until about an hour after school was done to go home, I couldn’t walk by the older kids without fear of severe mockery. It was debilitating. Snow balls were thrown, cafeteria insults were hurled, gum was put in my hair. People that would be my friends in private would be menaces to my sanity in public. I would spend hours on MSN chit-chatting about my pain, the suffering, to certain guys/girls I considered my friends, and then they’d mock me and make me cry the next day at school. My first boyfriend cheated on me (obviously – what else would happen to an already incapacitated 16 year old) and it became a rumour-mill battle ground. He was, coincidentally, the first guy I slept with. Everyone somehow knew that. When I finally found out he broke my little heart on his grad trip, I ran crying to my friends and realised that everyone had already known. The humiliation, the realization that everyone had known a month before but no one had the respect to tell me still could make me cry, to this day. I suspect there were a lot of factors at play, no one wants to be the rat, nor was there probably a benefit to telling me in that stage of my emotional development.
In university I thought I found my niche. New friends, new places, new lives. What I didn’t realise was that the problems in my head were there for life. The cutting, the self-doubt, the pathetic attempts to garner approval from every new man/woman/child I met – all those were now lifelong issues I had to deal with. I began drinking heavily, dressing provocatively, impressing everyone with new outfits (OSAP), new makeup (OSAP), bar tabs (OSAP), and my general false wealth (OSAP). It wasn’t long before they found out my family had no money, and the torment based on my ‘poverty’ commenced. Keep in mind I had clothes, shoes, books, and was going to university – it’s just these people got BMW’s at 16 and didn’t like to mesh with ‘my kind.’
The charade ended and soon I was experiencing bullying of another kind – sexual pressure/harassment/assault. Guys I thought were my friends would coerce me into their dorm rooms. Guys I trusted. Guys that would take me home would be very pushy if I changed my mind about having sex with them (something I did often, but I was very intoxicated and never one for one-night stands). They got angry, said things like, “come on, don’t be a cock-tease.” Would be forceful, and would talk shit about me the next day. They’d be mad and no longer be my friends. Sometimes I would walk into a bar with my friends and one of the guys I considered my best friends the day before would be giving me the finger, publicly, across the room. My boyfriend at the time cheated on me many times, but each time would consider it funny/tell his friends/blame it on something I did. Men started throwing around the word, “crazy”, like it was hot. It was the new word to describe an upset female. If a man cheated on his girlfriend and she got really mad, she was crazy. If a girl walked into a bar and saw her boyfriend making out with another girl and got really mad, she was crazy. If anything happened at all and the girl showed any sort of human emotion, she was crazy. Crazy was my new tagline and it was frustrating. No one listened to girls, we were nothing more than accessories, goals, things to discard and pay no heed to.
I heard stories of girls passing out drunk after they went home with a guy, and guys putting beer bottles in weird places and taking pictures of them. I’ve heard horror stories of girls who woke up and didn’t know where they were, how they got there, or anything else but the guy had sex with them anyway. I’ve heard of upset girls going home with trusted guy friends, only to be taken advantage of. I know of guys who have bedside tallies scribbled on their walls as a sort of homage to the amount of cattle they’ve brought home.
I’ve seen sexual violence, I’ve seen blackmail, I’ve seen extortion. These kinds of crimes weren’t committed by some random dude that lives in a trailer in the woods preying on little girls. These crimes were committed by my peers, by the leaders, executives, corporate board members of today – against their friends. It wasn’t a crime to them, it was a joke.
And here’s where the problems are with bullying. Things I can’t understand but things I noticed.
From day one I had a strange, fucked up, yearning to be friends with these boys. I even developed crushes on the meanest ones sometimes. I wanted to hold their hand and be their friend/girlfriend. This started from the first day they started bullying me. I wanted them to like me so bad.
This was further justified because all the adults around me told me, “It’s just because they like you.” What kind of a lesson is that for a little girl? It sets me up for a lifetime of abuse that I subject myself to, agree to, even invite because I’ve been taught from a young age that it means acceptance and love from the opposite sex.
I’ve been taught that it’s just because boys don’t know how to express their feelings. If we continue letting little boys and girls bully because we think it’s the only way they can express themselves, when are we ever going to teach them how to deal with/speak about their feelings? These boys that were never forced to talk about their emotions are going to beat their wives/girlfriends later in life because they won’t know how to recognize and curb their anger. Then we’ll wonder why their wives don’t leave abusive relationships. See above point.
There’s always something wrong with the victim. Here I’ll finally mention Amanda Todd. So many people wonder why she didn’t get more help, why she was so sad and alone when she had a family who loved her, why she did this, why she did that, why she, she, she.
STOP. I will never understand why so much attention is focused on the victim and what the victim does/doesn’t do. I don’t understand why so many anti-bullying rules focus on the response on the victim. “If you don’t want to be bullied, don’t pay attention to the bully. Don’t give them a reaction. Don’t do this, do that.” Huh? Why isn’t there more attention, almost all of the attention, put on the perpetrators? Why is there only a 20 person strong RCMP task force looking for Amanda Todd’s extortionist now? Why only post-mortem? Didn’t her parents know about this guy before? Didn’t the police know about this guy before? Was everyone too busy sitting there thinking of ways Amanda could be blamed for her torturer’s sick obsession?
Focus needs to be on helping the victim heal. The rest of the time we should be punishing the bullies. Kids need to be punished at school if they bully others, and parents of these kids need to take an active role in parenting. They need to stop saying, “well he doesn’t mean it, he probably just can’t express himself.” Instead, they need to say, “I am very sorry my son/daughter has been bullying someone. I will ensure that this matter is dealt with properly at home.” And no more TV, no more video games, no more rated-14A movies for their seven-year old kid.
Sexual assault, mental abuse, and emotional abuse is not funny. Somehow, somewhere, we lost the equality we fought for and now – on college campuses and university campuses everywhere – it is funny/acceptable to treat women like cattle. Women who protest too much are labeled crazy, emotional, uncool. Women that go with the flow and don’t see the point of protesting, that want to fit in so they accept their roles in this fucked up dynamic are eventually labeled sluts and discarded on the side of the social road. This needs to be addressed. If the men sitting in the offices of Bay Street today were to write out their dirty deeds of yesterday, or even last weekend, we would be much appalled to know who is leading our worlds. We would also suddenly realise why body politics, abortion, and reproductive rights are still such issues of debate.
So, after all that, I stand by my initial statement. Bullying needs a new name, and we need a new plan. It’s not just hop skotch and ‘missed me, missed me, now you gotta kiss me.” It’s suicides, spousal violence, murder-suicides, crimes of passion, and frat houses. The war needs to change, the enemy is different.