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14 October 2010 @ 08:04 pm
On bullying.  
(I would have posted this on my main site, but it's down, so.)

There is a solidarity movement against bullying going on (at least, it's going on online), prompted by the highly-reported suicides of half a dozen gay kids in recent months. And those, of course, are only the ones that got national or international attention.

I have two reactions to this. Well, three, because I've read some of the stories people have posted about being bullied and "Jesus Christ, the *horror* some people went through" is a reaction all its own.

The other two--the more personal ones--are to recount my own experiences with bullying, and to remember a boy in my high school who inexplicably killed himself our sophomore year. I'll put it

The boy who killed himself was soft-spoken, good-looking, popular, kind, and from a fundamentalist Christian family. He had moved to Kenai...recently. Within 18 months. I can't remember if he was there for part or all or none of our freshman year. And then one day he was dead, and I had no idea why he'd killed himself. I still don't. Possibly he was really miserable having moved from wherever it was to the back end of beyond, which Kenai pretty much is.

About fifteen years after the fact, though, I suddenly wondered if he was gay. I've never gotten the thought out of my head. One of his family members is still a friend of mine, and I've never asked, because if they even know, I have the uncomfortable feeling that even suggesting it might be very, very upsetting to the still-fundamentalist family. But I do suspect he fitted the pattern of a gay youth who could see no other way out.

The other part, being bullied, is so mild in comparison to many of the accounts I've read it's sort of ridiculous to talk about. I wasn't popular by high school standards--not part of the In Crowd by any stretch of the imagination, but as someone pointed out in the last few years, by any *reasonable* standards I was in fact quite popular. I had a lot of friends from across the social strata--everybody except the In Kids, pretty much--and the only people who bothered me were In Crowd girls.

I was not bullied by the vicious standards people are relating. I don't think that even at the time I'd have said I was. I called it being picked on, and twenty years later I don't actually remember what anybody did or said to qualify as picking on me, though I do have a few visual memories (and those of you who've been reading for a while know visualized anything is not my strong suit) of three girls sitting behind me during school assemblies and...well, picking on me. Sometimes literally: pick pick pick, physically.

I honestly had no idea at all what my crime was, aside from being smart*. Since "You're so smart," is not exactly a cutting insult, I suspect much of the picking-on came in terms of that physical kind of thing, and presumably some sorts of belittling comments along with that. It did not, however, go beyond minor behavior like that, because god knows if somebody'd *hit* me I'd have belted them back. (And I rather suspect they might have known that on some level.)

Unlike many, perhaps most, kids in that situation, though, I had a secret weapon in the form of an inherent confidence so unassailable that I believed then (as, frankly, I do now) that if somebody didn't like me, that was really their problem. It wasn't that I didn't care, but at the end of the day, it was clearly not my issue.

In retrospect, that probably made the problem worse. Mom trained into me early the "don't respond, it'll only give them fuel for the fire" mindset, and so I didn't respond. I'm not entirely certain that's the right way to go about it--certainly within a few years of graduating high school my thought was that probably asking them what the *hell* their problem was wouldn't have hurt (if for no other reason than to satisfy my curiosity about, y'know, what the *hell* their problem was)--but it's the least confrontational path, anyway, and it did me no harm. But it was tiresome, and possibly calling them on it--not getting in a fight or responding in anger, but just calling them on it--would have eliminated it. I donno. I suspect, though, that calling them on it might be my advice for future generations, since ignoring them certainly didn't *stop* them.

*This topic--not knowing my crime--came up a few days ago while I was talking with my Mom, who said, "You were, and are, pretty." I was gobsmacked, because although I eventually became aware of that fact, I had no idea in jr high/early high school, at least, that I *was* pretty, nor did I care to do anything with or about it. That, as my mother said, did not mean the girls who picked on me also didn't know it, which perspective--smart and pretty--really presents me as much more of a potential threat to them than I ever actually was. I'm still sort of reeling from that. It makes a lot of what I put up with in high school make so much more sense. The In Crowd *guys* were always either indifferent or nice to me (except the senior guy my sophomore year who said some of the most unimaginably stupid things to me, the crowning one being when he walked up to me in the hall one day and said "Did you know you have no breasts?" Since this was so blatantly untrue, nevermind so unexpected, I stood there and gawked at him while my friend Kelly at least had the wit to respond, "And apparently you have no *brains*." Several years later I realized this behavior probably meant he'd had a crush on me.); it was just a bunch of the girls who were horrible. So that was rather revelatory, and I might tell it to a kid like me in the same situation. Truth is, I was never *going* to do anything with my looks, because it's not my personality, and I don't think having had that knowledge in my arsenal would have much changed my behavior. But I think it would have clarified their behavior for me even back then, nevermind in retrospect. It would not, mind you, have made them like me any better, because instead of sitting there thinking, "Ignore them, they'll go away if you ignore them," I would have been thinking, "And yet I'm still prettier and smarter than you," which would have made me walk away from their actions with a grin, and that would've gone down like a lead balloon.

*I* would have loved it, though. :)

I got totally off topic there at the end, didn't I? Oh well.
Current Mood: thoughtful
(Deleted comment)
kitmizkit on October 14th, 2010 08:55 pm (UTC)
I suspect it's probably a much better question to ask an adult, yeah, though really, I don't know that adult bullies have answers either.
(Deleted comment)
SaffronRosesaffronrose on October 15th, 2010 08:23 am (UTC)
My son finally started making his bullies look stupid in 7th grade. They'd get confused, and they started leaving him alone.
Mary Annepers1stence on October 14th, 2010 08:25 pm (UTC)
re: footnote and the boy with the comment about your boobs.....Were you around for the story about smelly Kevin in Nerland and his comment about my "flat chest"?
kitmizkit on October 14th, 2010 08:55 pm (UTC)
*laughs* No.
Mary Annepers1stence on October 14th, 2010 09:05 pm (UTC)
After announcing to all and sundry inhabitants of the lounge (including his very sweet little girlfriend) the previous semester that he fantasized about me....The fall semester rolled around and I was moving stuff back into Nerland. While I was fiddling with something outside next to the dorm, he strolled by leading a gaggle of freshman, whom he was touring around the campus for orientation. As he walked by, he turns to the group and announces: "That's Mary Anne, and she has a flat chest." *blink*blink* Yep, just that matter of factly and utterly out of the blue and wildly inappropriate.

It occurred to me to be offended, but really, I was just relieved and entertained that his fantasies were clearly so far off the mark. It made me feel much less in need of a shower....I have no idea what the freshmen thought.
kitmizkit on October 14th, 2010 09:07 pm (UTC)
Apparently he'd never actually looked at you. :)
Mary Annepers1stence on October 14th, 2010 09:22 pm (UTC)
Indeed! And that makes me very grateful, to this day....
tammy_mooretammy_moore on October 14th, 2010 08:33 pm (UTC)
I was a mouthy child and I always responded to bullies when they were bothering me. It didn't make any difference. There were more of them and when they couldn't out-shout me they pushed me down.* I don't think there is anything the child being bullied can do to make it stop because there usually isn't anything they did to make they start other than provide something to target.

The only thing that helped in my case - and I was bullied off and on until I was 14 - is when my mum got involved and wouldn't back off until the school made it clear that bullying me caused more problems than pleasure for the bullies.

* It was mostly name-calling and coventry, occasionally coventry because I 'smelt like poo'. The only physical stuff was pushing and throwing stones occasionally.
tammy_mooretammy_moore on October 14th, 2010 08:35 pm (UTC)
And because I am still a bit sensitive about that - I didn't actually smell since I washed two or three times a day.
kitmizkit on October 14th, 2010 09:08 pm (UTC)
Children are wretched. So are many adults, I suppose.
tammy_mooretammy_moore on October 14th, 2010 09:27 pm (UTC)
I went to very good schools too. And really, a lot of the kids who made my life miserable grew up to be personable, productive members of society. It's just that school fosters a pack mentality. It's all about belonging and belonging only matters if you can demonstrate that 'others' exist. I was smart, weird and un..damaged, I guess. (Bad word, but there was some inappropriateness going on with a teacher who focused on the pretty, popular girls)

People always say that the victims of bullies didn't do anything to deserve it. That's true, but the truth is also that there's nothing they can do to stop it either. Either an external party exerts enough pressure, they bullies grow out of it or they find a better target.
mevennenmevennen on October 15th, 2010 08:08 am (UTC)
To an extent. I endured a lot of bitchiness at junior school until I turned on my tormentors (slammed one girl's head into a wall and ripped out another one's hair). They ran off crying, whereupon their support network melted away and started being nice to me.

On another occasion, after a lot of rumour-mongering and bitchiness, I shouted at someone in the street. She ran off crying, her support network melted away and started being nice to me.

The first two incidents took place when I was about 10. The latter one occurred about 6 weeks ago (I'd have ripped her hair out as well, but at 45 one starts worrying about assault charges). Depressingly, it's almost exactly the same dynamic.

I would like to say that I'd learned some kind of Buddhist compassion out of all this, but all school taught me in this regard was that it is sometimes necessary to be really vile to people, in order to get them to behave. You can stop it yourself, but this does presuppose that you're dealing with one individual and not a pack. I found, however, that packs are very unstable organisms when it comes down to it.
madmiss on October 14th, 2010 10:56 pm (UTC)
It's almost instinctual for some kids.
They somehow know to isolate the weakest.

Perhaps they test their social boundaries that way? If a parent/teacher doesn't intervene or an older sibling doesn't beat the snot out of them...
But then I ask when is it them learning their morals through practice and when is it them just mimicking the adults in their life...
T. Revst_rev on October 14th, 2010 09:09 pm (UTC)
I have the feeling that bullying is less a bug than a feature of modern school systems, which have more in common with prisons than any environment an autonomous adult would tolerate.

(Ob.: Horrifically bullied thanks to Tourette's and related problems.)
madmiss on October 14th, 2010 10:43 pm (UTC)
Your footnote reminded me of my foreign exchange in France(when I was 16): At a festival a boy said I was 'Jolie', my first reaction was disbelief, my second reaction was to confirm the translation and when he said it again I dismissed the comment, thinking 'foreign boy, trying his hand, I want none of it' ...he proceeded to dump a pint of beer over me.

(Two years before 2 girls at Irish College poured a glass of water ... )

The recurring theme here is that, obviously, people think I'm a witch.
Geek of Weird Shit: vengeancegows on October 15th, 2010 05:46 am (UTC)
I got the same "ignore them and they'll go away" advice when bullied by the kids at my bus stop. This poor advice was so blisteringly untrue that I wound up getting molested by two neighborhood boys when I was six--not to mention a couple of other "inappropriate touching" incidents in my later years. I just kept hoping that if I didn't respond, they'd get bored, stop, and go away.

It wasn't until I left for college that I decided to change that. I'd always read about the attractiveness of self-confidence, so I decided to fake it and act as if I didn't give a damn what anyone thought. There was no one there from home to dispel the lie, and gradually, people began to treat me as if the confidence were real. Which, of course, helped it become real.