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Writer's Block: Anti-bullying month

Who is the biggest bully in your life? One response chosen at random will win an Amazon Kindle. [contest details] (sponsored by )


The biggest bully in my life was probably me.

Yeah, for all that I work in railing against bullies now, I was a bit of one myself. Not in the overaggressive, bigoted, beating up kids in the bathroom kind of way, but not in the passive-aggressive 'frenemies'/slowly-poisoning-your-mind way, either. I was in the middle. I was a bit of a domineering person, tending to shift conversation in my direction, manipulating people, that sort of thing. But a lot of the time I took it a bit too far, and no one really recognized it back then, least of all me, but looking back on it now it's easy for me to see it as it is.

The biggest problem here, I guess, is learning how to respect boundaries, and dance that hair's-width line between 'playful' and 'painful'. A girl who I used to poke all the time because the want she squirmed and squealed (and god doesn't that sound wrong?) amused me and my friends. It started out friendly and ended up not, and to this day I'm not exactly sure when that line was crossed, but at some point it did. It's one of many regrets for me.

I often joke about being the tough girl when I was little, about how when I was in the older stages of elementary school I could point to the biggest boys of the class in the corner of the playground and say, "See them? Yeah, they're afraid of me." That part wasn't the bullying part - those boys were 'afraid of me' in the sense I could easily wound their pride by standing up to them in the fight despite being a girl, and we were all on equal footing and I was just the occasional 'leader' due to sheer bossiness, not any 'enforced' hierarchy. But the fact that these were the guys behind me was something I used to negative effect. I never actively made fun of everyone, and in some cases I wonder if that was the worst part, that no one could point their fingers at me and blame me for making them feel bad about themselves or feeling miserable. I could compliment and backhand someone with the same breath, a skill I have since mostly lost, thank god. I could get kids to look up to me only to turn my back on them when they wanted to play with me. I would trick them, manipulate them, use them, and with very little remorse, still convincing myself this was all just 'playing'.

I wasn't abused at home, or bullied in any manner prior to this issue. The closest I'd ever come was a bunch of kids ignoring me, but otherwise, I show none of the "background" typical to bullies.

It worked both ways, oddly enough. At school I was the boss, then me and about 2/3 of the boys would all live in the same apartment complex and depending on whose brother showed up that day I suddenly was back at the middle (never the bottom), clawing my way up. I always hated being 'a girl', not for any innate hatred of my gender but because of the way people would treat me. I tried too hard to fight back against that. I was desperate to be the pack Alpha, not content until everyone was listening to me, either in obvious deference to me being leader, or even if in deference to someone else and me 'riding along' so long as they knew that if *wanted* to take charge I could.

Things mellowed out for a bit in middle school. I wasn't desperately trying to be the pack Alpha. I was still the bossy one, and I could still get people to listen to me, but looking back on that now and comparing that to my younger years, I don't think I was the bully as much. There were certainly some friends who were perhaps taking the brunt of the jokes in our groups, but they were quick to fire back with their own and while I may be hesitant about calling us equal, I feel pretty confident in being 'not a bully'.

And the fact that this was the stage of 'almost being bullied' for me, oddly enough, had nothing to do with it. I say "almost being bullied" because a lot of girls, entering into their feminine world with the onset of puberty, shunned me for wanting to stay back in my safe little world of playing on a playground, climbing trees, and getting dirty. Oh, conflict and mean people were everywhere, but at least in our kid world I could confront someone, we could toss a few punches, and that would be the end of that (a blessing that guys can still, metaphorically, get away with that - men, don't take that for granted, being able to confront someone and just let it all out and end it.) I'd already gotten a taste of the girly world, where you could never be sure if a compliment was genuine or an insult in disguise, whether you were 'in' or 'out', whether you were popular or not. I preferred respect, and occasionally fear, over popularity, and me and all my other screw-you-grown-up-world friends, after stumbling through a couple of months of junior high, managed to band together in a, ah, fashion, and get on with it. It was great.

Then I moved, 800 miles away. Which wasn't actually the bad part. After a slow start I made friends easily enough. We didn't have that much in common and yet we clicked perfectly together, and while some I've drifted apart from over the years, many are still the ones whose numbers reside on my phones and who I talk to and text at all times. No, that wasn't the issue.

The issues? a.) no matter how hard I ran away from it, I couldn't avoid 'being a girl' without avoiding everyone all together, and b.) I was coming to terms, publicly, with being bisexual. The fact that I was 'the new girl in town' certainly didn't help matters, either.

The long story short is that after some girl got pissed off that I wasn't impressed by how rich she was, somehow managed to start 4 different pregnancy rumors about me in freshman year (ah, Year 9, I think, in Brit terms? Age 14-15, anyway). Yes, 4, and all but one in the last semester to boot. I dealt with them easily enough, making light of them, cracking jokes about them being real while refusing to take them seriously, and my lack of negative reaction got them all to die down eventually. But - the fact that someone actually had the desire to do that to me, over something really so petty? Really stung.

Then the next year, came perhaps one of the most jarring and eye-opening experiences for me. It had to do with my sexuality. I was wandering around my campus after school, waiting for my dance class to meet up for our recital...when two boys came out of nowhere and started calling things at me like "Hey, dyke, whatchyou got against cock?" and things like that. I started out being my snarky little self and saying, "Half-dyke, dude, and nothing, though I got something against pricks" (those two are the only lines I clearly remember, there was much, much more verbal abuse exchanged but all the rest is a blur). Then they came up to me, started pushing me around, pushing me into the wall, the lockers - all those little knobs and handles against your back and legs? Really damn painful. I fought back. Pathetically easy, in fact, because they apparently weren't expecting a little girl like me to fight back and ran off as soon as I started throwing serious punches, of the kind I haven't used in years.

The physical part wasn't what scared me. I've been in worse fights over stupider things - I've shed blood over Animorphs for Chrissake, and I went on to perform a dance recital that evening with little consequence. It was the fact I had no clue who these guys were. I didn't know them at all, and considering I never saw them again despite being on red-alert for weeks afterward, I'm pretty sure they didn't even go to my school. But, these two complete strangers felt enough hate for me as to come over to my school and track me down, and attempt to assault me, based on...one tiny little part of my identity. No, really, the fact that I'm bi factors so very little in my life, I've got way too many things to do to try and define anything more than my aesthetic preferences based on that. But these two people who I didn't know, and who I am pretty sure didn't know me, based on that one little factoid that as far as they knew may not have been true anyway, still managed to garner themselves that much hate as to make all that effort just to make sure I know someone out there loathed me for existing.

THAT was what scared me. Anyone else I'd ever had problems with, I at least knew them. There was a relationship and history there, even if that relationship and history were all bad. And sometimes I didn't know exactly who was causing certain rumors or social hardships but I had a pretty good, strong idea. But this? Out of the blue, and then right back into it.

Yep, the bully had become the bullied.




Being on both ends of the bullying problem has given me some perspective. Not much, perhaps. There are people who were never really involved in bullying from either direction and will look on my experiences in horror, while people with too much involvement will look on my experiences with eyerolls and unmuted mutterings of 'whiny bitch' and I'd guess most people probably fall in between, I don't know for sure. But it's not the depth of experiences for me, but the width, that I feel gives me enough insight to say that no amount of affirmative measures and positive attitudes that the media and child-educators love to fawn over. I'm not denying that many of them work out wonderfully, but I fear we have come to depend on false platitudes when it comes to bullying.

But then, just saying that makes me a hypocrite, considering I don't really have any better ideas.

After all, to this day I struggle with balancing "domineering" and bullying. One of the most pressing examples for me is an online friend of mine, who I've followed and who has followed me from fandom to fandom over the years we've known each other. A while back, we got invested in writing a fic-verse together, but then she lost interest...and later, looking back over the archives of our conversation, I realized I'd become the "bad boss", both in the playground sense and the workplace one - in the playground sense of bullying-without-bullying, and the workplace sense of trying to take over a project to the point of shunting out the others involved. I've tried since then to hold myself back quite a bit.

When you surround yourself with the "strong", it's easy to forget not everyone is. In my playground days me and the boys could beat each other black and blue and we were okay because we were on equal footing there. Any abuse I threw at them they could throw back, and the fact that this was so easy and effortless made it play for us. But enter in someone else - someone unused to our casual violence, someone even remotely sensitive to our unkind words, someone who didn't even know that they were expected to fight back, let alone know how to do so - and it crossed a line...and none of us would notice. We were so used to seeing it around us, that we didn't notice our own 'friends' getting hurt, and that became a slippery slope into not caring when we did notice.

To this day, I also struggle with what "should" be bullying. It's hard for me to accept that every use of the word "bitch" is degrading to all women everywhere when my friends throw it at each other in nothing but affection and even in a complimentary fashion, yet at the same time I hear my little brother shout it while playing his (remorselessly violent) video games, and something in my gut clenches every time, the way he says it and just what context he's saying it in. I've tried talking to him (I've not asked him to *stop* using such language, but to use it more sparingly with judgment and discretion), and I am hearing it less, but I'm not sure if he's using it less, or just using it less around me. And yet the next time my friends and I hang out together we'll probably still end up using it again.

I've never thought anything like violent video games or disturbing pornography or anything like that was the problem with society. I think the problem is that kids are growing up around that without anyone sitting down and talking with them about it. Kids are hijacking cars and killing each other and beating people up in video games, and yet rarely or never running into the idea that this is purely fantasy and that this is never to be something to be considered in real life. I don't have a problem with people getting a kick out of rape as a sexual fantasy or playing rape-games with (consenting!) partners, I have a problem with so much rape being depicted in a culture that barely deigns to acknowledge it exists, let alone discuss it at length in a way that would let people enjoying it know that this is a fantasy and never should be carried out in real life.

Seeing violence all around you is not the problem. Seeing violence and not talking about it is. It was so easy for my to convince myself that those victims of mine were just being 'too sensitive' because I never saw the idea of how much words could really hurt, outside of cheesy cartoons that few people I knew could relate to even remotely, letalone in any meaningful way. It was so easy for me to think, "We're all just playing around" when the bullying I was doing looked nothing like the overblown, underdrawn, and achingly dramatic bullying we saw on TV, or the achingly "fake" type we would see in cartoons, where no matter how much the jock beat up the nerd everyone else but the show's protagonists liked him and how no matter how much the nerd/hero got beat up no one really cared. I had nothing to work. I could look down on those bullying others in media and because of that not recognize that I was doing the same thing.

This campaign, this entire long-winded answer, is supposed to be in the name of getting rid of bullying.

Are there bullies out there who are genuinely hateful to others? Yes. Are there bullies like that. There are bullies acting out in the name of racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia...there are bullies lashing out to cover up the fact they are being bullied so severely at home. There are bullies who do everything with the intent to be cruel, who will drive their victims to suicide and boast about it, who want to destroy someone they've set their sights on for no discernible reason. I am not doubting that.

But I think the bully everyone has forgotten about is the one who doesn't know what they are. The ones who don't realize that they are even on a line, let alone crossing it. The ones who don't know their own strength, verbal and social as well as or in spite of physical. The ones who have gotten so used to seeing violence all around them and have had no other point of view, no other perspective, offered to them, that they are just acting on what they know, get confused when they are berated for it, and lash out even more. They aren't deluding themselves into thinking their bullying is normal, they genuinely believe that, and why shouldn't they? Everyone is telling them it is.




TL;DR


I was a bully, and I was bullied. I was the tough girl of the playground and of the block who managed to bully people without every laying a finger or a word on them. I was also shunned by my peers while barely clinging on to my friends, and eventually even assaulted for something that is such a small part of me and yet such a big part of what people see in me.

To this day, I struggle with trying not to bully others, trying not to be domineering. I try not to turn into a "bad boss", hurting and ignoring others to my ego-stroking benefit and at their expense.

There are a lot of types of bullies and a lot of reasons people bully, and there will be no one, easy solution to depend on to get rid of it, or even make a dent in it. But one type of bully I can say we can help is the ones who don't know that they are bullies.

And yes, they exist. They think their roughhousing is just playing, and don't realize that it's not playing when your friend/opponent is not nearly of your size or skill level. They think their back-and-forth insults are just joking around, without realizing that some of the people around them take these words to heart in a negative way. They believe what they are doing is truly okay, because they are seeing it on TV and in books and in video games that it's okay, and everyone expects someone else to do it so no one is just talking with them about it.

I can't speak for every bully or bullying victim, or even most, but I can speak for the ones who were like me in saying that we need to stop relying on bullshit campaigns and false platitudes, and that we need to start figuring out what bullying is and what it means for kids today, where they are getting the message from. The existing plans and campaigns against bullying are great, and they get a lot done, but they ultimately only reach out to a few kids because they only target a few specific types of bullies - they get a lot done but not enough, because we are placing too high and unrealistic expectations on them. We need to quit the futile efforts against stopping these ideas and instead equip kids with the ability to filter these ideas, learn what is and isn't okay, because if we don't, then no one else will - after all, no one else has so far.

No one did for me until it was too late.






What the hell did I just type 3300 words in an hour?! I spend 3 years ignoring that 'Writer's Block' widget on the LJ homepage and this is what gets me?!

Comments

I'd love to repost this, but not tonight. It's been a long day and it's a very tender subject for me.

But what you're writing here helps me a lot as a mother. Because I fear that Pea might end up becoming that kind of un-knowing bully, if we don't handle his current problems right. He clearly prefers to make every conflict physical and he will no doubt get into some sticky situations later in life. But because I was bullied myself I'm actually kinda desperate to teach my son the kind of empathy and confidence in himself that helps avoid bullying.

For starters, I encourage him greatly when he shows interest in puppet shows or a book that deals with emotional situations. How characters he likes to watch comfort each other when they cry or draw limits for each other in an acceptable way.

An example is how character A catches B in going through his stuff and gets mad. But A knows that it's just because he's got some awesome stuff and he then asks if B wants to play with his stuff together.

I hope things like that can teach Pea that it's okay to be mad but that lashing out will only make things worse.

I also try and explain the reasons for things all the time. Even though he doesn't quite understand yet, I want it to become a habit for ME to explain things, so it doesn't bite me in the ass later. "M is crying, because her toy broke." "T is angry because D took his toy, but they're pals, so when D gives it back, he probably won't be mad long."

Stuff like that. I think I'm rambling. Tired.

Anyway, thank you for putting all this into words. It was certainly worth something to me.
If you couldn't repost then, how about now? :P

But in all seriousness, I am glad to hear this helps. This is so stupidly long that I didn't really expect anyone to read it.

I'm actually kinda desperate to teach my son the kind of empathy and confidence in himself that helps avoid bullying.

I will have to say this right now: empathy and confidence shouldn't work together, here - they should work in opposition. Empathy can keep your son from becoming a bully, while confidence can keep him from being bullied. He definitely needs both, but I will say a large part of my bullying was just how arrogant I was. I often write Arthur as the main character in my Merlin fics because I relate to him so easily in the deeper level, the one where most of fandom seems to better relate to Merlin or many of the other characters. The bullying doesn't necessarily come from cruel intent, but the lack of realization of cruelty, and that was borne of too much confidence. Arrogance is something I struggle with today (and low self esteem at times, too, and yes, that is absolutely possible).

I can't speak for how your son will turn out. For one thing you guys live in Denmark which is a hugely different culture from America (hell the other side of America is vastly different culture from where I grew up, and just 15 years back is a vastly different culture from when I grew up, ect ect). But I do think that despite whatever is troubling you and your son now, you both can keep Pea from becoming a bully, and from becoming bullied.

An example is how character A catches B in going through his stuff and gets mad. But A knows that it's just because he's got some awesome stuff and he then asks if B wants to play with his stuff together.

This (and what you described below) is great. But just so you know, it won't last long. Pea certainly needs to know how A asks B if they should play together, but Pea will also need to know a nonviolent way to get B to stay away without playing.

One of the biggest things about 'false platitudes' I mentioned earlier is that it's so hard to relate to education/feelgood cartoons because they only give very narrow answers, which often don't apply.

Using your example above, assuming Pea is A, what if, even if he knows B thinks his stuff is cool, he still doesn't want B near his stuff? Yes, Pea should be encouraged at all times to share. But one day Pea is just not going to feel like it. If all he has been shown his whole life is how to share with B, but right now he just wants B to leave him alone, he will lash out at B because he doesn't know anything else.

Do you see what I mean there? That's what I fear most in bullying campaigns - that their narrow answers won't be any different from what's already been done for so long, that grown-ups are too focused on what they want their kids to be like to focus on what their kids are actually like. You may not like Pea being selfish, but you can't actually stop him from feeling like that - what you can do is stop him from lashing out at B.

Too many adults don't want to do that, because they are so desperate to make kids into little angels, that they don't equip them to be just human, and that turns them all into little demons in the end.
I just realized just HOW tired I was when I wrote this. I saw this reposted on my F-list with a cut link and I followed it assuming that it was a link to my friend's post. You might have noticed how I blindly assume you know who "Pea" is. (My 2-year old son, btw. Not his real name.)

So I just posted a hugely personal and complicated comment to a person who has no idea who I am. Go me.

But it's still an important topic and I'm totally not against discussing it further.

Y'know, once I'm done cringing from my blunder.
Oh, no, don't worry, I am nyxelestia. This is just my political blog separate from my fanfic LJ. I suppose I should have mentioned that. I try to downplay the connection between the two LJ's (I might end up deleting this comment later, just in case).
Ah, I see. That makes sense. Hehe.

I see what you mean about the situation I mentioned and perhaps it wasn't the right one to highlight. It just happened to be the one I could dig out of my brain just then.

But given that Pea does have a temper, I try my very best to teach him that it's perfectly okay to be angry, as long as he lets his anger out on things rather than people. I try and show him that he can stomp the floor, punch the table or otherwise express his feelings as much as he needs to. I've seen how his father handels anger and it's not pretty.

He's been told all his life that he needs to control it to avoid hurting people, so instead he lets it eat him up from the inside until he cannot contain it at all. While we were together I begged him repeatedly to go kick something or join a boxing club so he could let it out safely, but he always ended up bottling it up, eventually being so much on edge that it was impossible to talk to him without an angry reaction from him, as if his temper was bleeding into everything he did.

I don't get angry often, but when I do, I've thankfully learned what to do with it. I've destroyed a few possesions over the years due to letting off steam, but it was totally worth it and I hope to teach Pea the same.

I know what you mean about empathy and confidence working in opposition, but I don't think I was entirely clear about it. What I mean is that I hope he gains enough empathy to realize when he's hurting people and enough confidence to stand up for himself and not just go along with bullying because he's afraid of losing friends. It's probably an unrealistic dream, but it's what I hope for.

Pea does seem to understand empathy, but seems unsure of what to do when someone is upset. And he doesn't always seem to make the connection between someone being upset over something he did.

But he is developing fast and any day now he will have enough language to be able to talk about things instead of just lashing out. I look forward to that day.

I only hope that I won't go over the top and become focused only on the feelings of the injured party. This could very well happen, since I only know this story from the victim's point of view and frankly, if I ever catch Pea red-handed bullying, I'm not sure what I would do. Something horrible, I'm sure. I get a little shivery just thinking it.

So, yes, this helps me. Because being your friend makes me actually care what your feelings might be, unlike my former tormentors. I am SO not inclined to show any empathy for them anytime soon. If ever.