Thursday, November 4, 2010

Bully for You

The child of a friend was recently targeted by a bully at school. Based on her mother's description of the incident, it was jealousy over a boy, and possibly because the bully's behavior is gradually isolating her from her former friends- other kids' parents are forbidding them from social contact with her as her nasty behavior escalates. The problem seems to have resolved itself after a trying several days, when the victim finally confronted her tormentor. Let's hope it stays that way, and that the bully realizes what she's doing to herself before it's too late.

Ah, it brings back the bad old days. How well I remember, and as bullying expert Jodee Blanco writes, 'a bully never remembers, but the victim never forgets'. My bully has been a teacher back home for a number of years now, and yes, I have a long memory. Hopkins' bully is a successful attorney in another state, the perfect outlet for her vicious personality and intelligence.

My bully's M.O. was pretty simple: she was overweight, but I was more overweight than she. In addition, I was nerdy in an era before it was considered acceptable or cool, and my upbringing had been strangely sheltered- so to deflect attention from her own weight problem, she singled me out for ridicule by her clique. One of the boys in the group was goaded into asking me, in seventh grade, if I was a lesbian because I didn't go steady with anybody...and even though I was reputedly brainy, I had to go home and ask my parents what that meant. We didn't discuss such things at our house, you see, and so it was a good twenty-four hours before I could angrily confront Eric and tell him that no, I like boys.

The same year, a different boy from the same cadre gave me his spare football jersey to wear on the eve of a big game, which in junior high is a HUGE deal.

The next day, he quietly cornered me after everyone else had gone outside for gym to ask for it back. He was polite and apologetic, and even explained that the Queen Bee had told him I was so uncool that he'd be excommunicated should he allow me to keep the jersey. I took it off, folded it, and forked it over, somehow managing to contain my misery until he left the room. Our homeroom teacher, Mr. Shively, witnessed the whole thing from the doorway...and he let me cut gym that day so I could recover before anyone saw me.

These are things I wish I could forget- and it didn't stop when we moved up to high school- but I can tell you exactly when it did: the first semester of my junior year. She laid into me while I was lying in the floor of Washington County High School with a shattered kneecap, and I snapped...in front of her mother, among others. Not that she didn't keep trying after that; it just didn't work anymore. During our senior year, as she was cranking up for a spoiler, I turned to her and said, "I've been to college, and it's enough to know that you. don't. matter. Get out of my face."

I've seen her twice since we graduated, once at our five year reunion, and also when she asked for my help with a graduate research paper. That's it. We really don't exist in each others' worlds anymore.

As for Hopkins' bully, Nemesis, I dedicated an earlier blog to her antics- if you missed it the first time, it's Frenemies. She and I attended SFU together, where she avenged herself spectacularly upon me for drawing her off her intended victim. I haven't seen her since college...although I might at their twenty-fifth reunion next year. God, I hope not; she'll either show up to gloat or decide it's beneath her, if I don't miss my guess. Honestly, I could care less. I witnessed her nosedive from grace in college, and with it, her fangs being drawn out.

If you think that bullies "grow out of it", guess again, too. I co-presented this past summer on adult workplace bullying, also known as "mobbing", at a national conference. Bullies don't grow out of it, they just change context- and although the presentation track, and our presentation in particular, were blasted by an ultra right-wing group as whiny and immature (i.e., bullying doesn't exist among adults, just spinelessness, so pull up your big girl panties and deal with it)- I assure you, it does exist. A bully will seek out victims and an opportune forum; unfortunately, they also tend to float into management positions where their behavior is rewarded.

There've been those who've tried to bully me in adulthood. It meets with...eh...resistance. That's better than what follows if it persists, because then it becomes fury. Too many kids have killed themselves after being bullied lately, so I think it's past time to speak out. It's a real problem, and one that stays with you all your life. I should know.

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