(Also, this is about how boys treat girls.)
(Okay, it’s about how people treat girls.)
(Fine. It’s about being a girl.)
In the context of my high school narrative, Delilah is like this constant, uncomfortable mirror, held up to the person I was at fifteen. Mostly, a mirror that illustrates the numerous and fundamental ways that Sophomore-me was nothing like Sophomore-Delilah.
Hell, even at eighteen—and in my own scientific opinion, vastly improved—I’m still nothing like her.
The thing about Delilah is, she’s frightened of very few things.
The thing about Delilah is, she will always, always tell you what she thinks.
The thing about Delilah is, she engages in very little second-guessing or social decoding or self-doubt. There is essentially no such thing as a filter.
In this sense, she and Cobalt are pretty much kindred spirits. They’re loud and outrageous and opinionated. They’re not in the business of making friends, but until someone actively antagonizes them, they’re perfectly willing to be friendly with just about everybody.
The fact of the matter is, you either like them or you don’t, and if you don’t, then whatever. They’ll survive.
“Your socks don’t match,” said Cobalt.
We were standing in the locker room, waiting for Little Sister Yovanoff to finish lacing up her cross-trainers. I examined my socks. One was purple and one was brown, but they had looked the same under the hall light at six o’clock in the morning.
“God damn it.”
Cobalt smiled slyly, looking at me sideways. “Are you embarrassed?”
I shrugged, shook my head.
“I don’t know, I guess there’s worse things in the world than mismatched socks. I mean, I’d feel pretty stupid if this determined my whole day.”
“Good,” she said, nodding with a satisfied expression. “Everyone else around here worries so $%&@ing much about what people think.”
I didn’t say anything. Because actually, I kind of do too.
Cobalt talks a lot about how she doesn’t care. Boys make suggestive comments and stare at her chest and she just acts like a runway model or a rockstar, invincible, basking in it. When Jackal calls her a slut and a dirty hootchie and a number of other equally articulate things, Cobalt tips her head back and laughs. She howls and hugs her sides, gleeful, delighted. She and Delilah have not been making themselves popular. This seems to be an occupational hazard of not caring what people think.
The thing about Jackal is, she isn’t nice. I know that in the context of what comes next, this probably goes without saying, but I want to say it anyway. Jackal isn’t nice, but she isn’t alone in her treatment of Cobalt, either. She’s just marginally more aggressive.
I want to point out that while this whole encounter takes place well before the concept of slut-shaming entered the public vocabulary, slut-shaming still totally exists. There’s this ugly, pervasive attitude that the absolute worst thing a girl can be is sexual, or even perceived as sexual. And I’m not even going to say that teenage-Brenna isn’t guilty of buying into it, because I think my own bias is pretty apparent in the excerpt I just shared.
Even though eighteen-year-old me never would have told you that Cobalt was dirty or bad or deserved to be punished, I’m still bothered by her obvious sense of freedom. I still feel anxious, like she’s breaking the rules of girlhood. (Hey, remember when I said that once I started getting into senior year, we were going to be coming up against some substantially more difficult topics? This is one of those times.)
Cobalt is, in most ways, a really lovely person. She isn’t catty or mean. She never says things with the intention of making other people feel bad about themselves, and when she makes suggestive comments and talks openly about attraction or bodies or sex, she’s really just acting the way that the boys act all the time.
On an analytical level, I know this. I know that if I condemn or judge her for it, that’s a huge double standard, and it still just makes me really uncomfortable. Honestly, the only real difference between me and all the self-righteous, vocal girls who hate her is that her behavior makes me uncomfortable, not angry.
And also that I’m not a total asshole about it. Which I guess is actually a pretty big difference.
So, Jackal is a year younger than me, and mean. She dates a tall, thug-y boy named Twitch, who lives up by me and is physically attached to Jackal 80% of the time and has been known to beat up sophomores for basically nothing and occasionally likes to bother Wit and call him a lot of really offensive euphemisms for gay. A prince among men, is what I’m saying.
The way it starts is, Jackal has been consistently harassing Cobalt for about two weeks. Over what, exactly? I have no idea. Neither does Cobalt. Possibly, neither does Jackal.
I’m standing in the hallway with Cobalt, Delilah, and Little Sister Yovanoff, waiting for the bell and suddenly, Cobalt pitches forward, banging into my shoulder. I put out my hand to steady her, and when I look up, Jackal is stalking away, accompanied by Twitch.
“She just pushed me,” Cobalt says, in a slow, wondering voice, the way a person might say That ’97 Honda just turned into a pony.
The whole incident is just stupid. It’s the kind of pointless scuffling that happens from time to time, juvenile, but ignorable. Except, Delilah is not really the type to ignore anything.
“Hooker,” she calls after Jackal in a light, sing-song voice.
And Jackal spins around, dragging Twitch back to us. “You say something to me, bitch?”
She says this with her nose less than two inches from Cobalt’s, and even though I know—unequivocally know that I have to not—I begin to laugh.
I can’t help it. It’s this awful, jittering sound, and I’m covering my mouth with both hands like a cartoon character, trying to stay quiet, but the laugh keeps squeaking out anyway.
Cobalt is less affected. In fact, she seems entirely bored by the situation. “No,” she says, looking up at Jackal. “No, I didn’t say anything.”
“That’s what I thought, bitch.”
Cobalt smiles then—the slyest, sweetest smile—waving her hand at Delilah. “I didn’t say anything. But she did. She called you a hooker.”
Jackal rounds on Delilah, her expression emphasizing the way that people are really scary looking when they pluck their eyebrows very thin and then draw them back on. “Did you say something to me, you $%&@ing bitch?”
Delilah nods. Slowly. Earnestly. “Yeah. I called you a hooker.”
Jackal was opening and closing her mouth. Her eyes were big and shining. I felt bad, suddenly, even though she’d started it and even though she says horrible things about Cobalt all the time. She was still leaning forward, but like she was off-balance, breathing too fast. She turned and looked at me, started to say something, but I still had both hands over my mouth, giggling into my palms. She stared hard, then swept on to Little Sister. But Little Sister is in her grade and has always been perfectly civil to her. Jackal just sucked in her breath and then let it out in a strange, huffing sigh, shaking her head. The two-minute bell rang and I waited to see what was going to happen next.
Jackal turns back to Delilah. “If you’ve got something to say to me, then you better $%&@ing be able to say it to my face, instead of waiting ’til my back is turned. If you’ve got something so important to say, how come you can’t say it to my face?”
Delilah considers this. Her expression is bright and attentive, but her shoulders are hard. “How could I?” she says. “You were walking away.”
“I should kick your skinny ass,” Jackal says, and she even sounds like she means it.
I start seriously trying to anticipate what happens next. Jackal gets in fights. She’s meaner and more impulsive than Delilah or Cobalt, but she’s also slender and off-balance, wearing high-heeled boots, and I know in a placid, objective way that thanks to soccer, Little Sister and I are both much stronger. I don’t want to get suspended, but I don’t want Delilah to get hurt. I decide that I’m reasonably sure I could pull them apart, which comforts me.
However, Delilah doesn’t do anything rash or unwise. Instead, she says, with absolute sincerity, “Why are you so mean to us? All the time, you’re mean to us. What did me and Cobalt ever do to you?”
“Yeah,” Cobalt says, coming up next to Delilah. “Don’t you have anything better to do than terrorize people who never did one thing to hurt you? Don’t you have anything better to do?”
And at first, I’m tremendously relieved. I think, Oh, we’re going to have a civil discussion. This is awesome. This is how we solve interpersonal problems like grown-ups.
But the problem is not solved in the style of grown-ups, because Jackal doesn’t answer, and because Cobalt and Delilah immediately start laughing hysterically.
“You don’t, do you?” Cobalt says between gasps. “You really don’t have anything better to do.”
Jackal doesn’t answer. After a long, uncomfortable silence, she just turns and walks away, still hand-in-hand with Twitch, the heels of her boots clicking hard on the floor.
I have this mute, elated moment where I understand that the whole fiasco is over and I can melt and hyperventilate and have a little heart attack and then go to ceramics class.
“Hooker!” shouts Delilah, with great conviction.
And I kind of want to grab her and slap my hand over her mouth.
This time though, Twitch is the one who comes storming back to us, dragging Jackal behind him. She looks limp and sort of miserable, but he is absolutely raging.
He stops right in front of Delilah. “Watch—your—mouth.”
The toes of his shoes are actually touching hers, but she doesn’t move, just stands with her hands tucked cutely in the pockets of her sweater, looking up at him. She’s smiling, but it’s this strange, scary smile that reminds me uncannily of Jane, and I’m fascinated by the way they pretty much only look alike when they’re angry.
Also, I’m not laughing anymore.
“Oooh, big man,” Cobalt says, popping her eyes in a wide, gleeful way.
Twitch turns to face her, looking thunderous. “And you shut up, you little [C-word O_O], or I’ll shut you up.”
It’s weird, hearing him say the C-word. It’s funny, because it’s nothing I haven’t heard before, but never in this raw, vicious way and never out of anger. Because the thing is, even though a few of the boys at school seem to have this incontrollable impulse to say it in casual conversation, like it somehow makes them cool, they are unilaterally terrified to say it to girls.
Delilah is totally unfazed. She just smiles up at him like he is not standing nearly on her shoes. “That’s a pretty big threat,” she says—unhurried, thoughtful. “Coming from someone who only just yesterday mastered the art of walking upright.”
He gives her this dumb, furious look somewhere between hurt and apoplectic, and I have an idea that he might actually hit her, even though she’s fifteen, and even though she’s a foot shorter and a girl and harmless-looking in her glasses and her vintage cable-knit cardigan. Because he is that threatened by her.
His hand is actually in the air, floating above her. I’m doing the same frantic risk assessment that I did with Jackal, but the circumstance is all wrong, because Twitch is easily 6’3” and because his face is aneurysm-red and all I can think is that I don’t want Delilah to get hurt. She’s just looking up at him like she absolutely does not care one way or the other.
When the late bell rings, no one even moves. I wait for him to slap her, for things to get much worse.
The situation doesn’t get worse though, because just then, someone small and muscular pushes his way in front of Delilah. It’s one of the more personable junior drug-dealers, looking sweet and unconcerned. He puts both arms around Cobalt’s neck and when he speaks, he sounds friendly and conversational.
“So, what’s going on?”
Twitch glares at both of them. “Back the $%&@ off her, Eerie. I’m gonna kill that $%&@ing bitch.”
Eerie presses his cheek against Cobalt’s and pulls her closer. “No, you ain’t. And you’ve got no reason to talk that way to ladies.”
Shockingly, this declaration seems to appeal to some backwards sense of chivalry in Twitch. Or maybe he just doesn’t want to be the obvious villain in front of someone he actually knows.
Eventually, he and Jackal leave hand-in-hand. Furious and resentful. As they’re walking away, Twitch looks back over his shoulder and yells, “You get away from her, Eerie. Don’t you be touching that $%&@ing ugly-ass bitch.”
Eerie just grins and kisses Cobalt hard on the side of her face, a loud, resonating smack.
“I hate them,” Delilah said. “I hate him.” She took my arm and began to walk down toward the gym with us.
“It’s okay,” I said, patting her shoulder with my free hand. “You know he’s just bitter about being definitive proof of evolution. Next time he bothers you, run and call Discover. They’ll get someone over here to take him in for testing.”
And she laughed, which was really all that I’d been wanting. She leaned her head on my shoulder and squeezed my arm tighter. “He’s just an asshole, right? He just likes to victimize people because it makes him seem big—that’s why he does it.”
“Yeah, that’s why.”
I knew the rest of it, though, even if I wasn’t about to say it—the reason he raised his hand like that, the reason his face got so red.
Because Delilah, with her neat burgundy hair and her sharp smile, her librarian sweater—her way of always knowing exactly what to say—Delilah wasn’t scared of him, wasn’t ready to be victimized. She was grim and brutal, and no matter how close he stood, she wasn’t remotely intimidated. And that was the one part of the whole vicious encounter that he just couldn’t stand, because she wasn’t supposed to be that way.
Have you or your friends ever run up against bullying or harassment? Did you feel like you didn’t know what to do? Or did you just do the first thing that came to mind? Did you do nothing? Something calculating? Mean? Something you wish you had done differently?
Also, anyone who has any thoughts about the unsettling tendency for girls to attack each other in ways that revolve around the having or not-having of sex, please feel free to share in the comments, because these thoughts—I want to hear them.
Also, this pervasive idea that the boy should (will?) save the girl—what is that? Because believe me, Delilah needed very little saving, but it still took Eerie wandering over to defuse the situation, which even now gives me this very frustrated feeling about who is allowed to be In Charge of Things.
And also, I want to believe that none of what I just described in this post ever even happens anymore, but I don’t really think that’s true. So, I want to hear from you guys. About all of it.
I was bullied a lot in middle school. I met it with angry silence and walking away. I don’t think anyone was particularly satisfied with this response, but at least people seemed to get bored of me. Unfortunately, there were a lot of people in my school.
I distinctly remember being in seventh grade, walking into my Spanish classroom and a completely unfamiliar eighth-grade boy smacked me on the butt. When I turned around, shocked, he said, “You know you like it.” He walked away laughing with his friends as I stood there, utterly shellshocked by the whole thing, my face burning. I might have cried, I can’t remember what happened after. That was the first time I was told by society that I’m a sexual object, that strangers are allowed to touch me without my permission and I can’t do anything about it because I don’t know their names and anyway, they’ll just say I liked it or that I wanted it. I didn’t tell anyone what had happened because to do so would be admitting that I’d let a boy touch me and walk away.
And what has always struck me about this encounter is that the boy was a total stranger to me. I had no sexual reputation at all – if anything, I was thought of as a prude (which was true). He didn’t know me, he had heard no rumors of my sexuality. He certainly wasn’t attracted to my overwhelming femininity because I hadn’t even hit puberty yet. But still, he touched me and said that I liked it as if it were his right to touch me. It was one of the most helpless moments of my life. When people say there’s no such thing as “rape culture,” this is what I think of. This boy was doing something that he saw as completely harmless and funny, but it was a message to me that he couldn’t even hear because he is a boy and those are the things boys do and it’s okay because girls like it because we tell them they do.
I heard the message, but I never believed it. I never presented my sexuality to a boy for attention, or for popularity like so many of the girls I knew did. But even though I never devalued myself for being objectified, I harshly judged the girls around me who did. I was still a part of the system, and that’s the biggest problem, that even rebelling against the system of sex-for-attention made me a part of it.
I distinctly remember being in seventh grade, walking into my Spanish classroom and a completely unfamiliar eighth-grade boy smacked me on the butt.
Oh, man, I am really sorry that this happened to you. Almost the exact same thing happened to me in tenth grade, the only substantial difference being that I was older, which was just enough of an Advantage of Perspective to bolster me, because if it had happened to me at 13, I don’t know what I would have done. Honestly, I probably would have cried. (I talk about it here, if you’re interested: https://brennayovanoff.com/2011/05/09/grabby-hands/) (Because apparently this is a goddamn epidemic.)
I didn’t tell anyone what had happened because to do so would be admitting that I’d let a boy touch me and walk away.
And this! I am so mad on your behalf right now. In addition to being just a really awful way to feel about something you had nothing to do with, this is a surprisingly close relative to my 10th grade self’s irrational but insistent fear that I was going to get in trouble for using bad language in response to a total stranger grabbing my butt. Like boys are allowed to do things that are disrespectful or invasive or even threatening, but you’re not allowed to retaliate or ask for help—like the girl is somehow tacitly responsible both for what she does, and for what other people do.
When people say there’s no such thing as “rape culture,” this is what I think of.
I really hope right now that everyone reading this post is also looking at the comments, because BINGO.
Oh, and this:
But even though I never devalued myself for being objectified, I harshly judged the girls around me who did. I was still a part of the system, and that’s the biggest problem
I was in exactly the same place for most of my adolescence. Even after I started to kind of get an uneasy feeling about it—ALL of it—the unease was absolutely not defined until I saw American Beauty and Mena Suvari’s character Angela was like the true embodiment of all the complications and the nuances and the desires and insecurities that up until that point, I was only just starting to suspect. There are so many excellent, evocative characters in that movie, but she was all my friends and I could talk about. (Except for Wit. He was obsessed with Ricky Fitts. Because he wanted to be him.)
I’ve never been bullied but I hear girls attacking each other by slut-shaming all the time. Just this week I heard two girls (who generally seem to consider themselves feminists) talking about another girl they didn’t like. One of them said, “She’s so mean- and she always dresses like a slut.” As though the way she dressed was evidence to back up the accusation of meanness.
Just this week I heard two girls (who generally seem to consider themselves feminists) talking about another girl they didn’t like.
I think it’s just really fascinating and unnerving to think about how *easy* it is for people to default to that kind of thinking, even when they’d generally count themselves as knowing better. Also, this post got so long that I didn’t even *get* to one of the things that bothered me about the incident, which is the fact that in retaliation, Delilah called Jackal a hooker, even though this kind of mindset about girls and sex is what started the altercation in the FIRST PLACE.
I was bullied in middle school. It was ten years ago or so and I’m only just now uncovering exactly how it has affected me and how, in response, I established patterns of behaviour that lasted into my university years. I do remember being to one to step up and challenge how people treated other individuals though… I never managed it for myself somehow. It always came from the naive belief that people should treat other people nicely. Just like what they teach in kindergarten! I never had anyone yell and swear at me though, it was always way more subtle and insidious in my school, harder to fight in some ways…
I do remember being to one to step up and challenge how people treated other individuals though… I never managed it for myself somehow
This was *exactly* the way the way it was for me. When I finally started to be vocal and object to the way someone was acting, I was almost exclusively intervening on behalf of other people. It was only from there that I actually started being assertive on behalf of myself.
I never had anyone yell and swear at me though, it was always way more subtle and insidious in my school, harder to fight in some ways…
Honestly, when I first started school, the possibility of yelling and profanity as a method of dealing with conflict hadn’t really even occurred to me, because WHO DOES THAT!? Then in Sophomore PE, this guy on the wrestling team called me a stupid bitch after he ran into me when we were playing kickball AND he had to come all the way over into my field position to do it, and it surprised me a lot and I looked him like an angry goldfish because I was just that shocked, and then after that, I wasn’t really surprised by anything. But it still took me two more years to start actually objecting to things on a regular basis.
I had a bit of an interesting experience despite being homeschooled (or maybe because I was homeschooled). The homeschool group in my hometown largely consisted of superconservative Christians, which was not a big problem until, at some point during high school, I finally caved in and confessed to atheism. Which in that circle was a lot like confessing to Satanism, and actually some people thought it was the same thing.
There were a lot of nasty words thrown around for a while (you’re sick/twisted/disgusting/demented, you hate God, you’re going to Hell, the normal stuff) and not only was I ostracized, but my mother and sister were ostracized by association. (Both of them later thanked me for doing it because otherwise they were going to have to.)
This makes a marginal amount of sense in a superconservative Christian circle, but the one reaction that DIDN’T make sense to me was the girl who decided to tell everyone that I was sleeping with my boyfriend. Which in that circle was as bad as atheism.
We lived on opposite ends of the country, which would have made sleeping with him difficult, but girls will believe anything when they suddenly think they have God-given permission to hate someone. It bothered me a LOT; I’d always been part of the in-crowd and relatively popular in my weird homeschooler way, and hadn’t really experienced the power of rumor before. Also, I was very concerned with being sensible about my relationship, and I did NOT want it to look like a normal teenage fling, because I wasn’t comfortable with the concept of sex yet either and I didn’t want to deal with those assumptions. I suppose it speaks to my own cultural prejudices that I was so distressed by the idea that someone might think I was sleeping with someone when I wasn’t, but sex was scary, and knowing I couldn’t stop it was scarier.
I’ve never really figured out why that was her response. It doesn’t follow any sort of logical procession, and I suspect it was more a gut reaction–I was clearly pretty okay with my situation, both as an atheist and a person in a relationship, and she was miserably single, and it’s possible that she was just feeling spiteful. Or wanted some further excuse not to like me. She wasn’t actually a very nice person. But as a reaction, it’s never made much sense to me.
When I was little, our homeschool group was a really odd mix of super-liberal hippies, and fundamentalist Christians (this was in the 80s, and I guess there weren’t really enough of either variety to make for two separate groups), so I spent a fair amount of time playing with kids who truly thought that I was going straight to hell, but because we were little, none of us were very concerned about it.
And then I got to high school. And met a lot of aggressively nice girls, who were also convinced that I was going to hell, only they were a lot more bothered by it than my childhood fundamentalist friends had been. We had a lot of long talks, because while I wasn’t raised in a staunchly religious environment, I was really interested in theology, and had a lot of Thoughts about it. Some of which were pretty unorthodox. Then one day at lunch, one of the girls told me I was being heretical, and I knew that I probably couldn’t hang out with them anymore.
the one reaction that DIDN’T make sense to me was the girl who decided to tell everyone that I was sleeping with my boyfriend.
It bothered me a LOT
This is something that I’ve always found to be super fascinating/UPSETTING. It’s amazing how much power the mere suggestion of sex has to make people feel like they’ve acquired all the necessary tools to determine the goodness of someone (girls, really). I can only assume that to this girl, her charge against you was literally the most damning thing she could say, because it would have been the thing that made her feel most devastated, guilty, or unworthy if someone had said it about her.
I was never really bullied in high school or middle school. I made it through most of my grade school years feeling fairly safe–most people liked me in theory, even if they didn’t really know me, because I was polite.
I didn’t get truly gossiped about until I was in *college*, the time when I thought we should all be past this stuff. This isn’t exactly about slut-shaming, but it is about the way girls can treat other girls, and the way they default to this sort of bullying.
I had a close guy friend, one of few, that I really enjoyed talking to. We used to ride to school together because our schedules matched up, and I’d shared a bunch of my books with him and we did NaNoWriMo together one year. As some of my closest friends transferred to a bigger university and I was left with a group that was expanding to include people I didn’t know, he was one of the only people I had left to talk to. We had inside jokes and a lot of feelings about our favorite characters and how we thought books should have ended, and it was nice to know a guy I could be that friendly with, since I’m usually much more comfortable around girls.
Then, for a while, he got really busy, and we stopped hanging out. It wasn’t until weeks later that his girlfriend, apparently feeling guilty, told me that they’d both been avoiding me because people–people in our group of friends, people who’d known me and been friendly with me for years, even if we weren’t close anymore–were saying that I was after him. That I used my “little sister act” to get guys. (To which I wanted to say, “If that’s working so well for me, then how come I’m single?”)
I was sort of in shock, and as she sat there, stumbling over herself to apologize to me (and also shifting blame to other people, because THEY started it; she just make the mistake of believing them), I just sort of responded on autopilot. “It’s okay. Wow, I had no idea. I’m really surprised.” Because she was apologizing, I let her off the hook. I felt on the spot, without time to process it, and seemed the polite (non-confrontational) thing to do.
When I told my friends about it, my *close* friends, I made it into this big joke. “So, guess what? Apparently, I’m a man-stealer!” I made it sound ridiculous, because it was.
But really, it wasn’t funny. It was *awful,* especially because I’d been asked if I liked him before, and I said no. Repeatedly. So not only was I being accused of trying to ruin a relationship, but of being a liar, too.
I did eventually confront one of them about it, but I never entirely got to resolve things. Like so many other people on this thread, if they’d been talking about one of my friends, I would have had tons to say, but because it was me, I let it tear me up instead. (Thankfully, I’m now at the university with friends old and new, and I feel much less alone.)
I didn’t get truly gossiped about until I was in *college*, the time when I thought we should all be past this stuff
Pretty much this SAME thing happened to me my freshman year in college. (Only, I did dodge a bullet when it came to being labeled a boyfriend thief.) I had a close friend who was a guy, and after my roommate left school mid-semester (personal reasons), he was easily my *best* friend there, and would come over pretty much whenever and hang out talking until really late, which was fine, because we had a good time together and I had the room to myself, and he really disliked his roommate.
During the course of the semester, I also had two different instances of almost-sort-of dating someone, neither of which really went anywhere, but were apparently sufficient to give the girls on my hall the impression that I was some sort of scarlet woman. I wasn’t really social with them, largely because most of my friends lived on the other side of campus and being How I Was, I didn’t really see any need to make MORE friends, so I kind of just went on my merry way. So not only did this make it tempting for the other girls to try and fill in the blanks about me, but it also meant that I didn’t hear about any of their theories for a really long time.
Then one weekend in late spring when the weather was nice, everyone was out in the quad. I was reading for class and started talking to one of the girls from my floor, who had the same class, and after about 20 minutes, she said, “You’re not anything like how I thought you were.” And then she explained how she thought I was. And then I had to desperately fight the urge to say, “Are you for %&@ing serious? What is WRONG with you?” Because at that point in my life, I was working very hard at having a filter.
Like so many other people on this thread, if they’d been talking about one of my friends, I would have had tons to say, but because it was me, I let it tear me up instead.
I think this is a really important observation, and I still feel like this sometimes, and see other people react the same way. It’s just so much easier to identify unfairness or bad behavior when it’s not aimed at you. I think that once it becomes personal, there’s this awful little voice that says things like What if everyone says I’m overreacting?, What if everyone else thinks those things about me too?, and then it just seems so much easier to stay quiet. When it’s happening to a friend, there’s just enough distance to feel reasonably objective when you say “Wow, that is NOT okay!”
I seem to be bait for bullies and I’ve never really been able to figure out why. It all really started around fourth grade, when another girl in my class decided that I was… what? Competition? Threatening in some way? Prior to this point I’d been the quiet, bookish kid who hung out with the popular crowd, because the popular crowd at my grade school was led by someone who was her mother’s perfect little princess around adults and was massively nerdy when mommy wasn’t around to tell her it was unladylike. The girl who decided she hated me was part of this group as well. She started out in the usual way, just saying mean things about my clothes, my choice of books, etc. I mostly ignored it, resenting it in silence. Then she scaled up to attacking me physically. I have a very specific memory of being able to see the underside of the play structure, which I had never seen before, because she had knocked me down and begun kicking me in the head so hard and so often that I couldn’t get up. I often came home with bruises.
Unfortunately, the solution the teachers offered was to put me with her as often as was possible to “teach us to get along”, over the strenuous protests of my parent(s) (my father died very suddenly in the middle of my fifth grade year). The physical assaults continued for over a year. This girl was everywhere in my life. All my classes. My girl scout troop. Every birthday party and sleepover for all my friends. (It’s also worth noting that she got her black belt in fifth grade, which is laughable on a serious martial arts level but not so laughable when you’re also in fifth grade and she’s using even somewhat mediocre technique to kick you in the head.) Finally one day she cornered me on the steps to the basement in the girl scout house and tried to put me in some kind of arm lock. I broke the hold but couldn’t get her to let go of my arm, and she started trying to hit me with the other hand. I did the only thing that came to mind; I bit her on the upper arm, as hard as I could, and didn’t let go until she dropped my arm and started screaming. Her parents finally had to acknowledge that there was actually a problem, and we received strict orders to stay away from each other from then on (apparently this was finally a problem because I had now, at long last, hurt _her_, so the school/her parents stopped seeing it as reparable bullying and started seeing it as “fighting”, which was much more serious).
I was also bullied by a teacher that same year (fifth grade). I mentioned above that my father died- that happened in January of that year. Sometime in February, shortly after I returned to school, my homeroom teacher decided that I “wasn’t sad enough” about my father’s death. In truth, I was still in shock, and this had made me appear numb and indifferent to the outside world. She dragged me in from recess by the arm one day, yanked me into an unused classroom, and shook me. She said that I was cold and unfeeling, that I wasn’t sad about my father, and that there was something wrong with me. She told me that she’d always disliked me and that I was a bad person. She then told me that she’d fail me if I told anyone what she’d said and done, and that in any case, it would be her story against a “traumatized” eleven-year-old and that no one would believe me. I sat on the secret for a month, then broke down sobbing and told my mother, who was horrified but reluctantly agreed that the teacher was, in the end, right- no one would believe me. I just had to stick it out until I moved up to middle school in the fall.
…of course, the last of my bullies was waiting there, ready to continue the first girl’s torment because I had the sheer temerity to (calmly, indifferently) answer a question the teacher asked me that this other bully had already gotten wrong. She picked on me mercilessly through the end of seventh grade, when she dropped out. At least Middle School Bully confined her attacks to words- she never laid a hand on me that I can recall, apart from occasionally trying to trip me or “accidentally bumping into me”. I still dreaded going to school because it was the same situation as before- she was always there, in all my classes, in all my assigned work groups. We were, once again, “to learn to get along”.
The upshot of all this was that I spent all of high school devotedly blending into the wallpaper, and developed a fairly crushing case of social anxiety that I finally started to work on in college. Every so often it still comes up, though- loud, brash girls still make me flinch. I certainly received my share of superior looks and “she’s a whore” rumors anyway, because the school at large decided I was half of a lesbian couple with my best friend. And then my other best friend, who went to another school. Fortunately, I found this utterly hilarious rather than insulting, and completely ignored it because hey, the people I actually liked neither thought it was true nor cared.
If this giant tirade relates to your topic of girls bullying girls, I guess all it demonstrates is that bullying starts well before sex consciously enters the equation, and that rumors and shaming of “abnormal” sexuality will suffice when there’s no convenient man that can be used to demonstrate traditional whore-dom.
It’s times like this that I feel really, really lucky to have skipped all the elementary school stuff—some of it seems to have been just *so* brutal. The worst I ran up against as a homeschooler typically just revolved around things like swim class, where they were every day, but for a short time. (Almost got kicked out for “physically assaulting” a group of boys who had been tormenting me for weeks—really just kicked the one who happened to be yanking on my ponytail at that moment. Was subsequently told that they “only did it because they like you.” Registered in only the vaguest way what utter bullshit that was, because their liking should still not equal my being harassed every single day.)
I was also bullied by a teacher that same year (fifth grade).
I think that this is some of the worst kind of bullying that can happen and sadly, I’ve had a number of friends who’ve gone through similar things—been horribly mistreated by people who were supposed to be protectors and mentors. I’m outraged that someone could come along and tell you—tell a kid—what your grief was supposed to look like.
We were, once again, “to learn to get along”.
I feel like this has got to be one of the biggest fallacies perpetuated by grown-ups! Yes, it’s good to learn problem-solving, yes, sometimes we can come to an understanding and put this all behind us. BUT. That’s not ever going to happen with kids who are mistreating classmates because of factors that have nothing to do with the people who are being picked on.
It is totally ridiculous to say to the person who is essentially just collateral damage that, “Oh, if you just work harder at getting along …” when all they did was unknowingly walk in front of a person who was already (figuratively) punching everything in sight. It’s like no one ever stops and says, “Hmm, maybe the thing to do is work on getting this person to stop punching everyone!”
the people I actually liked neither thought it was true nor cared.
I remember just the utter feeling of relief when I started to understand this very powerful truth. This is the thing that can change everything.
bullying starts well before sex consciously enters the equation, and that rumors and shaming of “abnormal” sexuality will suffice when there’s no convenient man that can be used to demonstrate traditional whore-dom.
(Reiterated for emphasis.)
I posted my response on my blog, here: http://actualteen.blogspot.com/2012/10/on-slutshaming-high-school-and-why.html
(Also, coincidentally, today is stand up against bullying day or something similar.)
I want to address this post point by point, and then I think why—why do that? You said it all, completely. I have nothing useful to add.
Everyone scrolling down through these comments SHOULD GO READ M’s POST NOW!
(It’s a true, actual, reporter-on-the-ground account of stuff that is happening in our world right now, on a pervasive and daily basis, because apparently high school really hasn’t changed a whole lot since I was there.)
Also, okay fine. I *will* address one thing, one minor, peripheral thing, which is that I also want to know everything-ever about everyone too, and was always so glad when I got to know other girls well enough that I could ask them the probing and technical questions (even if they couldn’t always really answer them, because a lot of times, they hadn’t thought about these things to the logistical level that I had, even though they had a lot more practical experience.) So. It is good to have someone who will tell you things.