Showing posts with label bullying. Show all posts
Showing posts with label bullying. Show all posts

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Pushing the easy buttons

Okay, I know I know, three posts inspired – at least in part – by Toshgate? There’s just so much to say though. I’m trying not to say exactly the same things everyone else has been saying so well, and I’m mostly trying to take a more personal approach so here you go, post number three citing Toshgate as inspiration.

I’ve spent the better part of the last week steeped in the muck of misogyny in the Twitterverse. While I haven’t been engaging nearly as much of some of my braver tweeps I have chosen to stick around and bear witness, showing support where I can.

And then today Shakesville posted this piece about Dan Savage’s track record of fat shaming and A Time to Laugh posted this piece about rape culture and slavery apologists in conservative evangelical circles.

And all of them bring me to the same point: These people who claim to be railing against the oppression of feminism/liberalism/political correctness want us to believe that they are speaking truth to power. Their rape jokes/fat shaming/slave apologia are a spark of light in the darkness, calling attention to uncomfortable truths. They portray themselves as being victimized or attacked by those who try to silence them with the muzzle of political correctness.

At first, the notion that they are pushing boundaries sounds kind of right. I mean their words are certainly shocking to hear.  But scratch a little deeper, take even a nano-second to reflect on what purpose exactly those shocking words are serving and you can see that there is nothing revolutionary about what they are doing.  Whether they are propagating the rape culture, promoting fat-phobia or denying the horrifying legacy of slavery their actions are simply a natural extension of the dominant discourse.

The only rule these people are breaking is the one that requires those with privilege to exercise and maintain that privilege by subtler, more insidious, more structural means.

Daniel Tosh, Dan Savage and Doug Wilson (triple D?) are not the black sheep of the family.  Rather they are that loud drunken uncle that tells abrasive black jokes at the table while the rest of the family tut-tuts, only to go home and discuss why it’s a shame that that nice George Zimmerman is getting persecuted for defending himself.  The Toshes and Wilson’s are extreme enough in their methods that the rest of us can just shake our heads, safe in the knowledge that “we’re not like that”.  But make no mistake, if you have ever even suggested that a woman “should have known what to expect” or that “Black people should just get over it already” then you are just as much a part of the problem as the most offensive maker of rape jokes out there.

Where the boys aren't

Ever since I was nine or ten I’ve gotten along with guys.  In high school most of my friends, especially the ones that hung around, were guys.  I don’t know why except that I never really related to the way so many of the girls acted with their friends.  I wasn’t into the New Kids on the Block, I didn’t watch 90210 and I had a foul mouth and a dirty mind.  While other girls were pining for Jason Priestly and reading Sweet Valley High I was watching Chopping Mall and listening to the Dead Milkmen.

All I know for sure is that I had some amazing friendships with straight guys in high school.

Of course I also had a lot of male “friends” turn into emotionally and sometimes physically abusive assholes. I can think of four off the top of my head who either threatened me with violence or actually hit me.  Others spread slut-shaming rumours about me.  Others would only talk to me on the phone, not willing to be seen talking to me in public.

Still, I miss having straight male friends.

But this last few weeks of witnessing the vile, hateful and abusive things (here and here) that have been said to and about women I respect, admire, and in some cases consider to be friends has driven home how I got to a point where I no longer had male friends.

Because you reach a point where you can no longer ignore the bullshit that sometimes comes out of their mouths.  Part of the deal was always that you didn’t call them on every sexist thing they say, besides, to do so would be exhausting.  So I pulled back.

As I was reading all the hate and vitriol on Twitter this past week all I could think was, “There’s no way to tell which guys walking down the street think this way”.  There are truly no signifiers of who is safe.  As any woman in the activist community will tell you, lefty beliefs and proclamations of feminist ideologies is no guarantee that a guy won’t shut you down with misogynist epithets or rape you after he gets you back to his place to check out his collection of feminist essays.

And I know what you might be thinking, what about the queers? I’ve heard straight women say things like “just hang out with gay guys!” but being gay is not some magic bullet to shedding all your misogynist baggage. In some cases it’s just more open because, unlike straight or bi guys, gay guys don’t have to worry that they won’t get laid if they piss you off.  I’ve been forced to hide out in a bar bathroom because a gay male “friend” was trying to physically intimidate me because I was upset with his friend’s sexism.

So what’s a girl who likes to hang with guys to do?

There are many amazing, open, and thoughtful guys out there but the problem is that it can take so much time and work just to find out if any given guy is “one of the good ones”.  There are friends I had in high school that I still wonder about.  For various reasons I lost touch with pretty much everyone but I still miss some of those guys, especially the ones with whom I spent a lot of one-on-one time. I miss my friend Ryan who’s only reaction to me coming out as bi was to shrug and start talking with me about who we thought was hot, and who promised me that if I ever died he wouldn’t let anyone eulogize me by talking about how “pretty” I was.  I miss my friend Jay whose only reaction to finding me crying in his bedroom at one in the morning was simply, “what happened?”

But at this point in my life as a married mother in her thirties the door on new guy friendship feels closed to me. Because as far as I can tell, straight (or bi) guys don’t make close friendships with married women, especially when the only men I meet these days are married fathers.

So I miss those old friends, and I wish I still had that kind of friendship in my life but Goddamn if I know how to find it now.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012


 Slut. Whore. Tramp. These are the names so many of us live with. Whispered under the breath, like a cold rustling wind that follows us through the hallways or down the streets.  This is a letter to those girls in school right now who have been labeled and slut shamed for the sin of being a girl. And make no mistake – that is all it takes to be at risk for this brand of bullying.

Wear short skirts? Slut.
Hang out with guys? Slut.
Dated the wrong guy? Slut.
Wear baggy clothes? Slut.
Live on your own? Slut.
Wear heels? Slut.
Goth? Punk? Slut.
Listen to hip hop? Slut.
On the pill? Slut.
Have a single mom? Slut.
Get along with a male teacher? Slut.
Popular guy likes you? Slut.
Unpopular guy likes you? Slut.

There are a million reasons why someone might call you a slut but they all come down to this: All girls are fair game. While boys are kept in line by the threat of being labeled “fags” girls are forever at risk for a big fat serving of slut shaming.

When it happens it’s so easy to say, “No honey, you’re not a slut. You’re a virgin/you only slept with one guy/ you have a boyfriend.” But this misses the point.

This is what I need to say to you. It is never okay to call someone out as a slut. You’re body is yours and only you get to decide when, how and with whom you want to have sex. No one has the right to tell you that you are deficient or depraved because of your sexuality.  So long as we accept that it’s okay to call a girl a slut if she “really is one” we are giving implicit consent to those who use the word as a weapon against all girls and women.

I don’t care if you’re having sex. I don’t care who you’re doing it with and I don’t care how often.

I care that you only do it when you really want to. I care that you take ownership of your sexuality and talk openly with your partner(s). I care that you take care of yourself and use protection. I care that you don’t do anything that makes you feel ‘less than’. I care that you don’t let anyone make you feel like you’re wrong or bad for being a girl who is comfortable in her own skin.

So no honey, you are not a slut. None of us are.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Shaking the demons and a Thanksgiving message

This is the third time I’ve tried to write this post. Every time I try to write about my early high school experiences I get bogged down in the details. I feel like I need to describe all these incidents to get across what it was like. I feel that if I don’t tell certain stories no one will believe that it was as bad as I remember. And worst of all, deep down there’s this voice telling me that I’ve made a big deal out of nothing and I’m just a wimp who couldn’t hack it.

So let me get a few stories out of the way before I get to the point.

Late in grade nine I came to my locker to find a defaced picture of myself taped to the door with the words “DIE BITCH” written beneath it. It didn’t even occur to me to report it, even though I was pretty sure I knew who had done it. I just ripped it down and went to class. When I walked into class one of the guys snickered, “nice picture.” I later found out that my former best friend, whose parents had declared me a bad influence, had been involved.

On several occasions I had complete breakdowns, or “flip outs” as I liked to call them. Sometimes it happened at school, often it happened at home when my parents were out. One time it happened as I was walking from the bus stop at the end of my driveway to my front door. Halfway up the driveway I just collapsed into a sobbing, hyperventilating mess. This was one of the few times that someone sincerely tried to help. Eric made the bus driver stop and came running over to me to see if I was okay. For that I want to say to Eric H., thank you.

My time in that town, at that school was the hardest time in my life. I faced regular sexual harassment and out right bullying, I was often being warned that some girl or another wanted to beat the crap out of me. Aside from one or two guys that stuck with me consistently I was regularly being dumped or shunned by people who had been close friends. Between the bullying, the isolation and the fall out from an incredibly unhealthy relationship, it’s not at all surprising that by halfway through grade nine I was suffering from some pretty severe depression.

I went to a school where the administration wouldn’t intervene until someone got hurt. I had friends who had problems with alcohol and drugs. I had friends who had attempted suicide and friends who cut themselves. I had friends who were beaten at home and friends who had been sexually assaulted. I feel lucky that I didn’t have any friends die. There were so many broken people and sometimes I feel guilty about leaving them all behind.

At the end of grade ten I went to my mother and told her that I couldn’t take it anymore. She cried at first but then we found a way for me to move away, back to where my grandmother lived and where my old public school friend went to school, three hours away.

I thought that escaping the situation would be enough, and to this day I know that it was the right thing to do. Sometimes I still get angry that I was driven to leave home when I was fifteen, leaving a loving and supportive home in order to escape a miserable school. But I left, and I made new friends and my circumstances, while no less crazy, were immeasurably better.

The following Christmas while I was visiting my family I tried to kill myself. At some point in my first semester at my new school I realized that, even though I had left behind my tormentors and started a new life, the pain and the depression were still with me. I realized that escape is not that simple and I could see no way to escape the darkness and the demons. It felt like they would follow me anywhere and never let me go.

I didn’t plan to kill myself. I got in a stupid fight with a family member and ran up to my bedroom, once I started crying it brought all of the pain to the surface and it was excruciating. I blasted Nine Inch Nails and wrote in my journal. The last thing I wrote before I swallowed all my painkillers was, “I don’t even have the balls to kill myself.”

So here, finally, is the point. Bullying is cruel and vicious and can make a kid’s life a living hell. But it’s the depression that kills you. So yes, we need to stop the bullying. But, unless we find ways to reach out to those who are targeted and help them to pull themselves out of the situation and the depression, we will continue to hear about these tragic suicides and helplessly ask ourselves, “What could we have done?”

Just because there are no bruises doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt like hell.

Postscript: To those who showed some compassion and liked me for who I was, thank you.

To Ollie, thank you for being there for my late night crying jags and thank you for caring enough to be angry at a certain crappy boyfriend.

To J, thank you for being completely un-phased when I showed up at your house in the middle of the night crying. You could have been angry, embarrassed or even flustered but you just looked at me and asked, “What happened?”

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Life in the weird lane, part I (or why the bullies hated me so)

The other day I was listening to CBC and they were talking to someone from Big Brothers and Big Sisters Canada about a survey they had done looking at what parents are most worried about.  As always, one of the top concerns was bullying.  We've been hearing a lot about bullying over the last several years.  A few years ago when "Mean Girls" came out it got everyone talking about how girls bully differently, humiliating each other by using popularity as the bait in a nasty game of shame.

This kind of emotional bullying is cruel, hurtful and malicious.  It also only works if you give a shit about fitting in.  Me, I didn't give a rats ass about popularity or fitting in.  I thought popular kids were conformist and often assholes.  I was weird from day one and my Mom always encouraged me to be "an individual" so I had no pressure to fit in on the home front.  Even before I got into middle school and started experimenting with my unique sense of style, I and all the kids in my class knew that I was weird.  In elementary school this meant I was a social pariah. 

I remember when my 'best friend' became popular in grade 5 and told me that she could only talk to me behind the shed because she couldn't be seen with me.  That year I read "Blubber" by Judy Blume.  If you haven't read it it's all about the sympathetic, exceedingly normal girl who has to do a project with the fat outcast (not, by the way, a very sympathetic character.  I wanted to like Blubber but she was kind of an irritating and dull character).  We get to explore the cruelty of bullying without actually identifying with the bullied kid or frankly, even liking her.  It's nice and safe and totally targeted at bystanders rather than kids who actually experience bullying and teasing at school.

I was an avid reader and watcher of the tube so I had an acute sense of types and archetypes.  It wasn't until I read "Blubber" that I realized that I was 'that kid.'  I'd never thought about where I fit into the social hierarchy but when I read that book it clicked, I was the kid that everyone makes fun of, that was my place in the social landscape.  I'm kind of vague on how bad it was and I'm pretty sure it was more isolation than straight up bullying but I do think it was bad enough to get me crying in bed fairly regularly.  All I can say is, I pined for a group of friends like The Babysitter's Club or the girls on the Facts of Life to stick by me through thick and thin but that was definitely not in the cards for me.

It wasn't until my family moved and I started high school that things turned from the pain of social isolation and general teasing to the world of sexual harassment and threats of violence.  It wasn't just that I was weird looking with my shorts and tights and peace sign and (God forbid) un-permed, un-teased hair. Or that I listened to weird music like the Violent Femmes and the Dead Milkmen. I also didn't fit in to any of the social strata.  On the one hand I didn't drink, I didn't smoke or do any drugs and I didn't put out (despite what so many liked to say) so I couldn't gain acceptance by partying hard.  On the other hand I swore like a trucker, wore tight clothes and didn't believe in God so the bible thumpers wouldn't have me.  To top it all off I was loud and outgoing and refused to just quietly sit at my locker and keep to myself.  Nobody knew what the fuck to make of me.

I usually managed to have some friends but I also lost friends on a regular basis.  One person didn't want me bringing down his popularity quotient so he unceremoniously ditched me.  Another said her parent's thought I was a bad influence (she's thirteen with a 20 year old boyfriend who's regularly drunk but I'm the bad influence).  And others just found other people that they could better relate to.  There were a few people who stuck by me right through and for that I will always be grateful but through all of this the one thing that was never an option was fitting in.  No matter what they did I knew that I would never change for them.  I'd rather be alone and respect myself than fit in and lose myself.  I think a lot of people would say, why not just make it easy on yourself and stop dressing so weird?  But for me there would have been nothing easy about that.  I only know how to be one person and to try to be someone else, for the sake of fitting in no less, would have been the worst kind of betrayal.

Even then I knew this one all important fact: So long as you stay true to yourself and your values, they will never win.

So let me finish with my favourite Molly Ringwald quote. In Pretty in Pink when she decides to go to the dance alone in her self-made dress, "I just want to let them know that they didn't break me."

Stay tuned for Part II