I used to bite my tongue and hold my breath Scared to rock the boat and make a mess So I sat quietly, agreed politely I guess that I forgot I had a choice I let you push me past the breaking point I stood for nothing, so I fell for everything
You held me down, but I got up (hey!) Already brushing off the dust You hear my voice, your hear that sound Like thunder, gonna shake your ground You held me down, but I got up Get ready ’cause I’ve had enough I see it all, I see it now
— “Roar”, Katy Perry
If 2017 taught women anything, it was this…
It’s time to assert ourselves and stop deferring to the toxic bullying and sexual harassment of sooooooo many men.
But it’s also an ongoing personal/individual challenge and one that never gets easier, no matter how loudly we roar — I still remember Helen Reddy’s second-wave feminism anthem, “I am woman, hear me roar, in numbers too big to ignore”…
That was in 1971.
The sad truth is, when women roar — even whimper — we’re too often dismissed, laughed at, overlooked, ignored.
By women and men alike, people who cling to power and are scared to lose it.
We’re told to “pipe down”.
That we’re “over-reacting.”
It’s also deeply cultural, how at ease we feel (or not) asserting ourselves and our needs — whether the honeyed silk-sheathed steel of “Bless your heart” from a Southern American woman to the “Fuck you!” of a ballsy New Yorker. (Neither one of which might win us what we want, by the way.)
I was struck by a friend’s experience boarding a plane to claim the seat for which she’d paid extra — to be confronted by some guy traveling with his large family who preferred (!) to take her seat so they could all sit together.
My friend chose to defer, and it was interesting to see how differently her friends reacted. Some of us would have told the guy “Not a chance. Move!” and others would have “kept the peace” by allowing him to usurp her spot.
Because when women don’t defer, it can get ugly, even violent.
So we often opt to defer, not because we want to or because we agree with you or because we think it smart or powerful — but because we’re scared of what will happen if we don’t.
It’s a perpetual and not-fun seesaw of being polite (or a doormat?), or being assertive (or perceived as a bitch?) and one that is never going to be perceived the same way by the next person we encounter. That alone makes for exhausting calculations.
I grew up in a family where my deference — like yours, possibly — was expected, taken for granted. I remember little to no negotiation, so I learned that many of my needs were less than.
That’s a deeply female experience.
And yet I was taught, outside the family, to boldly assert myself intellectually and athletically — like a man, really.
Being Canadian by birth and upbringing confuses this further for me, as it’s a culture more attuned to the collective good than the individual-focused U.S., and certainly elbows-out New York City.
How about you?
How do you balance being assertive and deferential?
Some of you follow the news closely and know that President Elect Donald Trump makes a habit of naming, shaming and blaming reporters he thinks have somehow insulted him, often by merely challenging him on his ever-shifting statements and tweets.
“That” was Donald J. Trump’s inaugural news conference as a duly elected United States president-to-be, in which he called BuzzFeed a “failing pile of garbage,” dismissed CNN as “fake news” and more or less told the whole lot of reporters at Trump Tower to stuff it when it comes to his unreleased tax returns because everyday Americans don’t care and, anyway, “I won.”
There were two big lessons in the Wednesday morning melee.
1. Mr. Trump remains a master media manipulator who used his first news briefing since July to expertly delegitimize the news media and make it the story rather than the chaotic swirl of ethical questions that engulf his transition.
2. The news media remains an unwitting accomplice in its own diminishment as it fails to get a handle on how to cover this new and wholly unprecedented president.
It better figure things out, fast, because it has found itself at the edge of the cliff. And our still-functioning (fingers crossed) democracy needs it to stay on the right side of the drop.
The problem is multi-faceted.
Some of the issues journalists now face in covering Trump:
— Many Americans don’t trust the MSM, mainstream media.
— Many Americans are gulping down “fake news” with no idea who’s lying to them and making bank from it.
—Many Americans loathe journalists and think that challenging those in authority — whether elected officials or the wealthy — is rude and disrespectful.
— In an era of a 24/7 news cycle, journalists are racing to be first, not always correct.
— In an era of unprecedented secrecy and obfuscation, (we have not yet seen Trump’s tax returns — and how long exactly does an audit take?), transparency and accountability are more essential than ever for voters to know what the hell is going on.
— The President-elect is hiring his own family as senior advisors, none of whom, like him, have any prior political experience. Also unpredecented. And why should any of us trust them? We didn’t vote for them, nor do they need to be confirmed through Senate hearings.
— Journalists have traditionally been respectful of the office of the President, but never before in recent history has there been a President who attacks the media almost daily, often singling out specific reporters, (like NBC’s Katy Tur) by name. That can lead to social media death threats and doxing.
— Journalists are working in an industry in deep turmoil financially, feeling economically vulnerable at the very moment we need them to be utterly fierce in their reporting.
— Without determined, consistent, aggressive reporting on every conceivable conflict of interest, voters, no matter who they chose (or didn’t vote at all), will have no idea what Trump and his kakistocracy are up to. Trying to intimidate us only invites doubling down.
A dear friend sent me an e-card for Christmas, filled with birds and flowers and music.
Her message, typically feisty, ended with: “And in 2017 we fight!”
An avowed, life-long progressive — and one of the smartest science writers I know (here’s a link to her terrific book, “Fevered” , about climate change and its effects on health, globally) — she’s full of piss and vinegar as I think we all should be in 2017, and for the next four years.
There has been a shocking and dis-spiriting increase in hate crimes, physical attacks and appalling verbal abuse in the past few months, both in Britain post-Brexit and in the United States, after the election of a President who has vilified women, Muslims, Mexicans and many others.
By “fight” I don’t mean fisticuffs.
I don’t mean screaming abuse back at someone who’s clearly got boundary issues.
Nor do I mean seeking some shouty, nasty draaaaama, if that can be avoided.
But I do mean — stiffen your spine, no matter how scared you are of what might happen if you do. (Clearly, not if you live in an abusive situation, where your life and that of others is at risk.)
In the past month, after long deliberation and, yes, fearful of the consequences, I finally stood up and fought for myself in three difficult and enervating situations, one within my family (I wrote a long letter, snail mailed); one within my parish (ditto) and one with a client whose disregard for basic courtesy (and abysmal pay) were grim beyond words.
It takes guts to tell someone, (who can just blow you off completely): “Enough!”
It takes trust in your own judgment of what you truly most need.
It also means preparing for the potential consequences, the most frightening bit: loss of income, loss of affection, affiliation, respect, losing your welcome within a community.
But the costs of not fighting for what you know is right can be crippling to your mental, emotional and physical health.
To your self-esteem and confidence.
So, eventually, it must be done.
Ask for help before you do it, from a friend, a therapist, a loving partner, to steady your nerves and make sure you’re not about to self-immolate.
But we’re also living in strange and challenging times, politically.
So, it’s also time to go fight the good fight for social justice and economic progress that doesn’t , once more, simply re-enrich the already wealthy; 95 percent of Americans, according to a recent New York Times report, have seen no rise in their income in seven years.
If all we do is whinge and cringe, nothing will change.
Write to your elected representatives.
Work hard – if you live in the U.S. — to get some Democrats elected in the mid-term elections, only two years away.
Donate your time, energy or money to Planned Parenthood, the ACLU and other groups working daily to protect our rights, bodily and civil.
Write letters to the editor, in print; women, especially! Most of those appearing these days are written by men.
On-line, leave civil, smart comments.
If you’re a writer, send out some op-eds, essays and opinion pieces or reported stories to keep issues front and center.
If you see someone being verbally abused in a public setting, stand beside them to signal that you’re an ally. Speak calmly and quietly to them. Do not ignore cruelty; passivity signals assent.
It’s not the time to shrug and look away.
It’s not the time to say “Not my problem.”
It’s not the time to just soak up fake news and comforting lies.
It’s not the time to ignore the news because “it’s too depressing.” It’s our world.
There is never a “time and place” for cruelty. By staying silent, you robbed the little girl of the acknowledgment and the apology to which she was entitled. And you deprived the boy of learning the consequences of nasty behavior. He may not understand how mean he was. But your inaction ensured that his ignorance persists.
It’s been quite a week for those of us who live in the United States and who watched the second Presidential debate on Sunday night.
Like many of my friends, male and female, gay and straight, I slept very badly that night and have been exhausted ever since.
The thought of Donald Trump with access to nuclear codes?
One of the elements of the debate that horrified so many women I know was Trump’s persistent moving around the small stage throughout, his scowling and his bizarre need to stay physically very close to Hillary Clinton throughout 90 minutes.
Defenders said he simply wanted to make sure he was always in the line of the camera’s gaze, even when she was speaking.
Asked about it later, she gamely laughed and admitted she felt his presence.
If you’ve ever been physically and/or emotionally bullied by a man who is relentless in his determination to scare the shit out of you, it leaves scars.
Most of us are physically smaller and less muscular than men, so they know they can “get away with it.”
Most of us are heavily socialized to make nice and stay calm, to laugh off, dismiss or ignore the appalling things some men say and do to us, at school, at work, on public transportation, in a bar or restaurant.
Very few of us have the appetite to lash back, fearful of physical harm, even death, if we retaliate with the full strength of the rage and disgust we really feel.
From The New York Times:
to many victims of sexual assault, Mr. Trump’s words struck a particular nerve. It was not simply that he is the Republican presidential nominee, and that a hot microphone had captured him speaking unguardedly. It was his casual tone, the manner in which he and the television personality Billy Bush appeared to be speaking a common language, many women said, that gave Mr. Trump’s boasts a special resonance.
What he said and how he said it seemed to say as much about the broader environment toward women — an environment that had kept many of these women silent for so long — as they did about the candidate. And Mr. Trump’s dismissal of his actions as “locker room talk” only underscored the point.
It creates a kind of PTSD that is very real — like many women, I was shaking with rage throughout his attacks.
The examples are too numerous to recount, but like any good journalist, I keep a running file documenting the most deranged cases. There was the local cable viewer who hunted down my email address after a television appearance to tell me I was “the ugliest woman he had ever seen.” And the group of visitors to a “men’s rights” site who pored over photographs of me and a prominent feminist activist, then discussed how they’d “spend the night with” us. (“Put em both in a gimp mask and tied to each other 69 so the bitches can’t talk or move and go round the world, any old port in a storm, any old hole,” one decided.) And the anonymous commenter who weighed in on one of my articles: “Amanda, I’ll fucking rape you. How does that feel?”
None of this makes me exceptional. It just makes me a woman with an Internet connection. Here’s just a sampling of the noxious online commentary directed at other women in recent years. To Alyssa Royse, a sex and relationships blogger, for saying that she hated The Dark Knight: “you are clearly retarded, i hope someone shoots then rapes you.” To Kathy Sierra, a technology writer, for blogging about software, coding, and design: “i hope someone slits your throat and cums down your gob.” To Lindy West, a writer at the women’s website Jezebel, for critiquing a comedian’s rape joke: “I just want to rape her with a traffic cone.” To Rebecca Watson, an atheist commentator, for blogging about sexism in the skeptic community: “If I lived in Boston I’d put a bullet in your brain.” To Catherine Mayer, a journalist at Time magazine, for no particular reason: “A BOMB HAS BEEN PLACED OUTSIDE YOUR HOME. IT WILL GO OFF AT EXACTLY 10:47 PM ON A TIMER AND TRIGGER DESTROYING EVERYTHING.”
Here’s a response from a female writer, in the progressive magazine Mother Jones:
She’s done exhaustive reporting on the failures of law enforcement at all levels to comprehend, let alone address, the emotional, professional, and financial toll of misogynistic online intimidation. She’s called local police, 911, and the FBI on a number of occasions when she feared for her safety IRL; law enforcement officials have recommended to her and other women that they stop wasting time on social media. One Palm Springs police officer responding to her call, she recounts, “anchored his hands on his belt, looked me in the eye, and said, ‘What is Twitter?'” “When authorities treat the Internet as a fantasyland,” she writes, “it has profound effects on the investigation and prosecution of online threats.”
It’s a painful read, but Hess’s piece should be required reading for anyone with an Internet connection. And check out this excellent response by Conor Friedersdorf at the Atlantic (a “6-foot-2, 195-pound man”), who recalls guest-blogging for a female colleague there who was on vacation. “I’d never been exposed to anything like it before,” he recalls.
I’ve fled a public space on the Internet — Open Salon — years ago after a really frightening experience there; my last post there is May 2012.
It’s a space — unlike some others on-line — that attracts some terrific writers but also some really weird, creepy people with a shitload of anger and animosity. I blogged there a lot for a few years, and usually cross-posted from this blog to that one. But what worked here just fine, there sometimes prompted some crazy-ass responses.
It got really ugly at one point, with dozens of commenters piling on to vilify me, mocking my resume (wtf?) and eventually escalating to the man who told me that he would physically hurt me if I continued there.
That was it for me.
I went to my local police station — I live in a small town north of New York City. The cop stood above me, barely listening, clearly dubious. Some woman whining about the Internet? Really?
Only when (too ironic) I started brandishing my legacy-media dead-tree credentials — 20+ years writing for The New York Times — did he start to pay closer attention. I also knew, (from a friend also posting at OS), that the man threatening me lived in Florida.
I wanted to be sure he lived very very far away from me, so his threats were highly unlikely to come to fruition.
I also know a District Attorney and have some knowledge of the law. I pushed hard and the cops finally did determine that yes, my harasser lives in Florida but — so far — had no criminal record. I also pushed hard, repeatedly, to get the guy removed from OS and, finally, management there did so.
I haven’t been back since.
Having been, in 1998, the real-world victim of a con man, a convicted felon, I have no illusions that the world is filled with unicorns and rainbows, nor that law enforcement gives a shit about how absolutely terrifying it is for a woman to be threatened and/or pursued by a malefactor determined to do us physical, emotional and reputational harm.
So women have to figure this out for themselves.
Interestingly, very few trolls find their way to Broadside.
I have very strong opinions on volatile issues like gun use, abortion, women’s rights and more, but rarely express them — for the reasons stated above.
I have no time or energy to fight with trolls or to keep running to the cops for help.
And, yes, it’s very much self-censorship.
Ironic, in a medium designed for the maximum freedom of expression.
Have you or other women bloggers been harassed in this fashion?
It’s shocking and depressing that so many young people, struggling with their sexuality, identity, self-confidence and future wonder how they’ll even survive the next few hours — bullied 24/7 by peers whose toxicity is relentless, vicious, heartless and widespread.
In Internet shorthand it began “Yes, ik” — I know — “I bullied Rebecca
nd she killed herself.” The writer concluded that she didn’t care, using
an obscenity to make the point and a heart as a perverse flourish. Five
weeks ago, Rebecca Ann Sedwick, a seventh grader in Lakeland in central
Florida, jumped to her death from an abandoned cement factory silo
after enduring a year, on and off, of face-to-face and online bullying.
The Facebook post, Sheriff Grady Judd of Polk County said, was so
offensive that he decided to move forward with the arrest immediately
rather than continue to gather evidence. With a probable cause affidavit
in hand, he sent his deputies Monday night to arrest two girls, calling
them the “primary harassers.” The first, a 14-year-old, is the one who
posted the comment Saturday, he said. The second is her friend, and
Rebecca’s former best friend, a 12-year-old.
Both were charged with aggravated stalking, a third-degree felony and will be processed through the juvenile court system.
What on earth is driving these wretched children to torment one another to death?
“As a child, I can remember sticks and stones can break your bones but
words will never hurt you,” the sheriff said. “Today, words stick
because they are printed and they are there forever.”
I’ve blogged about this before and will likely return to it because, as someone badly bullied in high school for three years, I’ve lived this firsthand. It was long before the Internet, so my bullying was only daily, public and within the physical confines of my Toronto high school.
I arrived at my school at 14, reeling from the sudden move into my father’s home after seven years with my mother; arriving halfway through the year into a group of people who had all grown up together in neighborhood schools and a girl both plagued with acne and intellectual confidence.
I was nicknamed Doglin, barked at in the hallways and a dog biscuit was laid on my desk. Three boys spent a lot of time and energy making sure I was as miserable as they could possibly make me.
Thank heaven for dear friends, male and female, who kept me going. Thank heaven for winning awards for my writing, which buoyed my confidence. Thank heaven for a teen quiz show (then hosted by Jeopardy’s host Alex Trebek) which I competed on two years in a row, taking our school to the semi-finals.
The Internet has done amazing, wonderful, stupendous things for
connecting the world, promoting freedom and diversity, enabling distance
learning and online friendships, and establishing whole new worlds of
commerce, but there is a dark side to it that is really starting to
bother me. All of this interconnectedness has created a meanness in us,
or maybe it has simply revealed a mean spirit that was there all along,
but I wish it would go away. Even kind, loving people I know are
susceptible to it, and my hope is that this post will get folks to
reconsider before hitting return.
I’m talking about the Mean Photo. You know, the snapshot of someone
grocery shopping, or going to the prom, or on the subway who probably
thinks she looks perfectly okay, but some stranger (or worse, a friend)
takes a picture and posts it on the Internet for the rest of us to share
and “like” and write snide, superior comments.
If I see one more picture with the caption, “Oh. Dear. God!” I may just lose it.
That is a human being in that picture. A person who got up that day,
got dressed and left the house without ever thinking it would make her
the subject of public ridicule, simply because her shorts are too tight.
Maybe she’s gained a lot of weight recently due to a medical condition
and can’t afford new clothes, or doesn’t want to buy things in a size
she intends to reduce. Maybe it’s a single mom who had to choose
between doing the laundry and going to her son’s baseball game, so here
she is, cheering him on, making the better choice, even though this
outfit is all she had to put on.
I’ve never seen a site like this that mocks people, nor do any of my 600+ Facebook friends indulge in this special brand of nastiness, (at least on that site), so this was news to me.
But — seriously?
As someone who was bullied for three years in high school, I have zero tolerance for this sort of shit.
Bullying, in any form, makes me insane. It’s cheap, crude, pathetic behavior on the part of people who have some sick need to project their toxic insecurities and judgement onto others.
Here’s a wild idea. It’s easy to remember because it’s the first three letters of the alphabet: ABC.
Always Be Compassionate.
I get it…we all have lousy days. We all have times that our lizard brain kicks in and starts spewing. We’re not saints and some of us have no desire to be one, either.
But, a default position that others are struggling (too) is probably a safe choice, because:
You have no idea what someone else is facing, emotionally, financially, intellectually, physically.
You have no idea why someone’s hair needs a cut or their shoes are scuffed and filthy or their kids aren’t wearing designer clothes like yours do.
You have no idea why they’re driving a crappy, banged-up old car or don’t have a car at all.
You have no idea why someone is 30 or 50 or 100 pounds overweight.
Like the man in my building who was trim and handsome for years — and now has such big jowls I didn’t recognize him when I saw him the other day.
He isn’t eating donuts or being a lazy slob stuck to the sofa.
He has a brain tumor, and a brave wife and a gorgeous little white dog, and his medications have blown him up into someone who looks like he can’t stop eating.
His appearance breaks my heart — and all I think is “There but for the grace of God…”
I can’t fathom a world in which people are using their phones and the Internet to mock others for malicious amusement.
It’s a phrase some of you might not know, even as your every workday includes it:
Does your job require you to manage your emotions, or the way you express those emotions, to meet organizational expectations? This is called ’emotional labor.’ People in a service-oriented role – hotel workers, airline flight attendants, tour operators, coaches, counselors – often face the demands of emotional labor.
Arlie Hochschild created the term ’emotional labor’ in 1983 to describe the things that service workers do that goes beyond physical or mental duties. Showing a genuine concern for customers’ needs, smiling, and making positive eye contact are all critical to a customer’s perception of service quality. These types of activities, when they’re essential to worker performance, are emotional labor.
When you face angry clients, or people who are generally unpleasant, emotional labor can be particularly challenging. A large part of that challenge comes from the need to hide your real emotions, and continue to ‘smile and nod your head,’ even when receiving negative or critical feedback.
Companies often place a great deal of strategic importance on service orientation, not only to external customers but to colleagues and internal clients as well. While emotional labor is applicable to many areas of business, the consequences are probably greatest in traditional service roles. However, in an increasingly service-oriented marketplace, it’s important to understand how emotional labor affects workers, and what organizations can do to support and manage any issues.
People who serve others in customer-facing jobs — like waitress/er, bartender, nurse, flight attendant, public transit workers and retail staff, to name only a few — shoulder this significant burden with every shift.
Part of it is the assumption, if you work in a service job like retail — and a snotty assumption increasingly made in a time of growing income inequality — that the person serving you has never attended or graduated college or traveled or can speak foreign languages. (All of which our staff of 15 could or had.) We really didn’t need to be spoken to sloooooowly in words of one syllable, as we so often were.
And then there was the bad-customer behavior — which we were expected to ignore, or greet with indulgent smiles — The tantrums! The insults! The whining and finger-snapping and eye-rolling.
With a grateful sigh, I left retail work on December 18, 2009.
But my writing business is pushing many of the same buttons.
A few recent examples from my freelance writing life:
— The young PR official from a company I’m profiling who Tweets my visit, (alerting all my staff and freelance competitors to my story), and then, (oh, irony), accused me hotly of “betraying” him by finding and interviewing sources he hadn’t pre-selected, approved and overseen. His naivete in tweeting leaves me shocked and furious, but in front of him, I pretend it’s not that big a deal because I really need to get this story finished.
–An editor assigned me five stories then told me she was leaving her position the following week. I felt a mix of confusion, annoyance and fear I might not get paid without her there; instead, I simply wished her well in her next project. (And, funny thing, the final two fell through, and cost me income I expected to earn. I did get paid, six weeks after invoicing.)
— A lawyer, a partner in a major D.C. firm, a story source, talks for 30 minutes — then tells me “this is all off the record.” In an email, he insists I print every word as he wrote it to me later, a promise I make but know I can’t keep because I don’t edit these stories. I’m now scared he’ll make my life hell, annoyed at his lack of understanding of how journalism works and sick to death of people threatening me!
Technically, I don’t have to do this for any employer (that would be me!), but I do…because maintaining my composure in the face of endless bullshit, no matter what I actually feel about it, is still just as essential to keeping sources cooperative, getting editors to answer/return my calls and emails and making sure I actually get paid.
Being self-employed offers no protection from emotional labor! We’re all in the service industry now, kids.
“The experience of bullying in childhood can have profound effects on mental health in adulthood, particularly among youths involved in bullying as both a perpetrator and a victim,” she added.
The study followed 1,420 subjects from Western North Carolina who were assessed four to six times between the ages of 9 and 16. Researchers asked both the children and their primary caregivers if they had been bullied or had bullied others in the three months before each assessment. Participants were divided into four groups: bullies, victims, bullies who also were victims, and children who were not exposed to bullying at all.
Participants were assessed again in young adulthood — at 19, 21 and between 24 and 26 — using structured diagnostic interviews.
I read this story, which my husband chose to highlight for me, because I was badly bullied for more than two years when I was a high school student in Toronto. I arrived halfway through Grade 10, into a school where everyone had attended the same local schools since kindergarten. I was pimply, socially awkward and had been attending single-sex schools and camps since fourth grade. Boys were an alien species.
Worse than acne, I had confidence, the kind that often is deeply nurtured by single-sex environments, where every teacher and student leader is female. Deferring to male authority? Why would I do that?
And so a small gang of boys made sure to teach me a lesson. They called me Doglin, barked at me down the echoing hallways, even brought a dog biscuit and laid it on my desk. I walked home every day alone, in tears, often getting into bed with all my clothes on to cry and sleep and recover before it all started again the next day.
Hell. School was hell.
I eventually managed to turn it around, snagging a cute boyfriend, starting a school newspaper and — score! — was even named Prom Queen. It taught me that a shitty situation can, sometimes, be transformed.
But there are days I feel like there’s still a target on my back. I’ve experienced much bullying since then, mostly in work settings where casual cruelty is considered normal. I also come from a family of people with explosive, nasty tempers — being the recipient of verbal abuse will set me back for days, even weeks.
I know why people bully. I get it. I don’t care.
And far too many of those who see it choose to turn a bind eye: “Suck it up. Man up! Kids will be kids.”
My husband, who was small and slight as a boy, was also tormented by bullies. We both know what this does to you, then and later. There is no excuse for verbal abuse or physical harassment — we all refuse to tolerate physical assault and know it’s against the law.
In Massachusetts, a 15-year-old Irish girl, Phoebe Prince, made the fatal error of dating the wrong guy, and was soon targeted by girls in her school as a slut, mercilessly hounded. She hanged herself at home.
After her suicide, I spoke out against bullying in this USA Today essay, describing my own experience in a middle-class Toronto high school in the mid-1970’s:
I was 14, and also new to public school, having attended a private single-sex school in grades four to nine, with a year at a private co-ed school in grades seven and 10. Boys were an alien species. I had no idea how to dress fashionably, having just spent the past six years wearing a school uniform. I had pimples. I was socially awkward.
I quickly became the brunt of merciless, relentless public bullying by a small group of boys. They nicknamed me “Doglin” — a “dog” being the most vile name, then, one could bestow on a young girl. They barked and howled at me whenever I walked through the hallways, their taunts echoing off the metal lockers and terrazzo floors. One brought in a dog biscuit and put it on my desk in class.
I was terrified and traumatized. Like many bullying victims I and my worried parents felt helpless to stop it. I was lucky enough to make a few good female friends and to excel intellectually, appearing on a regional high school quiz show and helping our school reach its quarter-finals for the first time in years.
But the daily, visible, audible torture continued. In desperation, at 16, I started seeing a therapist, who recommended I take medication — I refused — to handle my anxiety.
Our teachers saw and heard it every day for years and did nothing.
I knew that I was taking a risk by speaking out in a national publication with more than a million readers. Americans, especially, pride themselves on mental toughness and self-sufficiency. Wimp! Wuss! Whiner! I knew these comments were possible.
Which was my whole point. Being bullied leaves you scarred for a long, long time. I have spoken twice as a keynote at two conferences, appeared on television a few times and routinely speak publicly — all to promote my new book, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail.”
But for a long, long time I was deeply uneasy when people, boys especially, would look at me, fearing the next volley of vitriol. I’ve also been bullied several times in New York jobs, with one trade publication manager who shouted curses at everyone and stood subway-close when she threatened me. Another had a red-faced shouting fit in my very small office. Maybe it’s journalism, or New York, but some of the most toxic people I’ve ever had the misfortune to encounter work in my field in this city I chose.
Maybe everyone who’s been bullied emits some sort of magnetic force field attracting even more of it!
Only by speaking out, ideally as someone who had had some professional success and had, in some measure “made it” could I make clear that one can, as so many people do, survive bullying, but not everyone has the self-confidence or resources to handle it.
The thoughtless, knee-jerk response to bullying is always the same: just put up with it. Sort it out among yourselves. Suck it up.
Kids will be kids.
And cruel fools come in all shapes and sizes.
Tacitly allowing bullying to continue creates a whole pile o’ hells for the bullied:
we lose faith and trust in adults whose authority is to care for us and protect us
we lose faith in others, who stand by idly and do nothing
we lose faith in ourselves as we find ourselves powerless to stop such abuse
we withdraw from social, athletic and professional arenas requiring exposure, competition and confidence, feeling unloved, even despised
The New York Times ran a front-page piece today raising questions about the new responsibilities recent New Jersey laws, passed post-Clementi, will impose on teachers and school administrators:
But while many parents and educators welcome the efforts to curb bullying both on campus and online, some superintendents and school board members across New Jersey say the new law, which takes effect Sept. 1, reaches much too far, and complain that they have been given no additional resources to meet its mandates.
The law, known as the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights, is considered the toughest legislation against bullying in the nation. Propelled by public outcry over the suicide of a Rutgers University freshman, Tyler Clementi, nearly a year ago, it demands that all public schools adopt comprehensive antibullying policies (there are 18 pages of “required components”), increase staff training and adhere to tight deadlines for reporting episodes.
Each school must designate an antibullying specialist to investigate complaints; each district must, in turn, have an antibullying coordinator; and the State Education Department will evaluate every effort, posting grades on its Web site. Superintendents said that educators who failed to comply could lose their licenses.
Of course, some educators are annoyed and say it’s too much for them to handle.