Just the Bullying We Care About

March 29, 2012

There’s a lot of attention toward school bullying these days. Specifically, it’s the bullying of students by other students. Oftentimes, even more specifically, the student-on-student bullying that is because one student is, or presumably is, homosexual.

These kids are definitely suffering. I’m not going to deny that. I was bullied and taunted constantly from grades six through nine (and it was one of the reasons I ended high school early). Yeah, when you have hair like mine, it’s inevitable! That and in 9th grade when I unwittingly admitted I didn’t know what “giving head” meant when someone used that term, the next several weeks consisted of that group of people asking me on a daily basis “do you give head?”

Here’s the interesting part. I can also think of times I was bullied (albeit differently) by teachers and other staff! In fact, I was more worried about that than anything my fellow students did because the students were not in a position of authority over me or my future. In high school particularly, the teachers were decidedly cold, uncaring, and dismissive. Though it didn’t stop them from being excruciatingly controlling and even willing to give you a lower grade simply because they did not like you.

I’ll bet the last two paragraphs would elicit different reactions from most people. The student bullying paragraph would be “OMG bullying is so horrible!!1!!” The one about teacher bullying? Nope, that would my own fault! The bit about the cold teachers would be (and was) treated with “So what? Welcome to high school! Get over it!” And them being controlling and spiteful? “Oh, that’s ridiculous! Teachers wouldn’t do that. You were probably just a bad student.” That’s even if you consider how little information I even gave about the incident, a verdict based entirely on one being a teacher (adult) and one being a student (teenager).

As said above, much of the focus on bullying lately is specifically anti-LGBT bullying. Yet, like any bullying scenarios, all anyone cares about is when the bullies are other students, when perhaps more often, the bullies are also ADULTS the youth knows, perhaps his/her own parents. A fact that a lot of people like to downplay or even outright ignore. Because, when it comes down to it, this focus on bullying lately, like so much else, is another “we must save youth” crusade and another “youth are horrible” crusade. Where adults play only the heroes who say “it will get better” and pat themselves on the back for that while barely doing shit to make it better now. While not even making a glance at how they, as adults, are part of the problem.

I also mentioned above that the bullying was among my many reasons for leaving high school early, but even so, I caught some flak from people for this decision, that by leaving school and not getting a high school diploma I surely ruined my life somehow! Adults love to “agree” that life as a “typical teenager” is hard and something they’d never want to return to (while somehow ALSO often saying these are the “best years of your life” and openly wishing to be 16 again for some reason). But woe to the teenager who chooses to deviate from that life somehow! Oh, they’ll feel sorry for you if other students are bullying you, but if you show any sign of wanting to, you know, leave this situation, suddenly you’re evil and ruining your life!

Bullied students shouldn’t be forced to leave, though. The bullying needs to stop entirely, of course. That begs the question, if we’re to focus on the student bullies for the moment, why they are bullying in the first place. In middle school, some of my taunters would only tease me if they were in a group, and in the few cases where I’d be interacting with only one of them in a separate situation, we’d actually often get along just fine! Would lead some to figure, okay, he just teased me to look cool in front of his friends. In fact, it was very rarely a single person teasing me at any situation. So, what was it? Peer pressure? I’m sure that was part of it, but definitely not all of it.

I never really knew the backgrounds of most of them, particularly the high school ones, but the ones I did know came from bad homes. The ones who didn’t, well, their homes were probably bad some other way. Or maybe not even bad. So often student bullies are portrayed as being inherently evil, that it’s just the age or whatever. But, again, I got along with some of them sometimes. They were still human, and I knew it then. No, the bullying wasn’t so much an inherent trait. It could at least partly been them getting carried away with joining their friends. But clearly it was also them fulfilling some need, some desire to maintain their superiority by demeaning someone else. They came to believe that this was how to be, perhaps the right way to be. In a culture that worships beauty, especially female beauty, they came to believe aesthetic imperfections, especially female ones, had to be ridiculed. While not the case with me, in a culture that still points out homosexuals as other and sinful, they came to believe homosexuality or deviations from gender norms had to be teased and shamed away.

So many things about our culture encourage bullying and devaluing the lives of anyone who is in any way different. Many people have these beliefs, and many of these people are parents. These parents may be teaching their boys that it’s wrong for them to behave “like a girl” in any way. Mothers may be obsessing over daughters’ appearances, that they must look perfect or else there is something wrong with them. And the kids are being told that their parents are controlling these things because they care, so that it’s a good thing they are doing it, that it is right for deviations to be changed. So we have boys harassing other boys who are effeminate in the slightest, or girls harassing other girls for the slightest fashion faux-pas. Their parents basically taught and encouraged them to do this! Not to mention the parents bullying their own kids in general to make themselves feel good and superior, so the kids learn this is the way to make their own selves feel good and superior. That they must prey on the weak to prove their worth.

It may even be more direct. Galen has admitted that, as a teacher, he’s known parents who actually wanted their children to be bullies. Because they saw it as either “bully or be bullied”, so they chose the former.

So I’m getting tired of all these articles and whatnot implying parents are totally innocent, saying things like “help your teen stand up to bullies” or “encourage your child to defend a bullied classmate”. First of all, my parents and other adults all had their little advice for me when I was being teased back then, and not a single word of it was helpful to me. Most of it was either bitter retorts, ignoring them, or, the old standby, “just feel good about yourself”. Feel good about myself? I was friggin’ twelve! My entire life at that point had only been as my parents’ biological baggage and another little ant marching lockstep through the K-12 system, with any of my creative or other unique qualities being only as worthwhile as adults in my life could brag about them to make themselves look good. How was I supposed to just feel good about myself? I didn’t know what the hell that meant! And you can’t just command someone to feel a certain way (although because I was, again, twelve, people were sure they could command the most impossible of me and wonder why I couldn’t deliver yet still make me feel like a failure, which would only make me feel all the worse about myself). Of course, this begs the question of what I think now that I should have done then or what my parents or others should have said. And, well, I don’t really know. You never grow out of being affected by meanness or being the cause of it. And every situation is different. What might be the “right” solution for one bullied student might be totally wrong for another.

And, complicating it further, often the definition of bullying, especially when it’s outside adult looking into student situations, can be incredibly broad, and as such, often those who are being bullied are ALSO bullying someone else!

So one might ask why school environment can be so mean? Well, that’s easy. Because the adult world is pretty mean as well. And pretending adults are innocent, especially when they are bullying kids, when parents like this get applauded, only makes that problem worse and therefore makes school bullying worse.

Instead, we have adults pointing fingers at the youth themselves, not only the bullies and not caring at all why they are bullying, but sometimes even at the other students who in a given situation for whatever reason didn’t intervene “enough” when they saw bullying. Really, adults? How often do YOU intervene in other people’s arguments? It’s sad, but not a lot of people will step in even when someone is getting hurt. To sit there and expect your much-less-experienced-at-life child to just stand right up and do it is just downright delusional and ignorant. I’m not saying it wouldn’t be nice. I’m not saying that the few times people have stuck up for me or I for them haven’t been wonderful. But it’s not something people should be coming down hard on kids for if they fail to do so. When they’ve been raised by parents who told them all their lives “just mind your business, doesn’t involve you”. A lot of it comes down to adults setting higher standards and requirements for kids, ones that are often unrealistic, than they do for themselves. And complaining that it’s the kids’ failing when they don’t live up to it.

And bullying them for it.

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