Today I'm happy to welcome Ottawa blogger and a regular reader and commenter on my blog. Julie (from Coffee with Julie) and I don't always see eye-to-eye, but I think we have a lot of respect for each other's perspectives. What she has to say in this piece is very important. Please read her post and then join the discussion about what we need to be telling our kids, beyond just "don't be a bully".
Bullying is Bad. Don't be a Bully.
rhet·o·ric -- Language that is elaborate, pretentious, insincere, or intellectually vacuous
It's not politically correct, but I'll say it: I'm tired of hearing about bullying.
I feel like we spend a great deal of time as a society these days talking about bullying and the importance of teaching children that bullying hurts. I think children already know that bullying hurts. That's why children -- and adults -- do it.
Can we move beyond this rhetoric, this vacuous "bullies are bad, don't be a bully," to a more sincere discussion? As adults, the onus is on us to stop what seems to be a deadly spiral of bullying and teen suicide. We need to question what is a seemingly innate human urge to bully, and cut it off at its roots.
I read an interesting article in Scientific American that traces bullying behaviour back through time as well as across species. But more importantly, it zeros in towards a root cause:
“The tendency to bully, or coerce, others is natural and deeply rooted in our evolutionary history, and emerges in any group of toddlers playing freely. However, when cultures condone and in some cases celebrate violence and aggression, while suppressing or demonizing aspects of humanity that are equally natural such as homosexuality, they unwittingly give license to and encourage bullies.” (emphasis is mine)
I could easily make the case that our North American society does indeed celebrate violence and aggression simply by citing the ways in which we choose to spend our free time -- watching television shows about grisly murders, alarmingly realistic video games where the player kills to win, and music that sings of the desire to kill your spouse.
In this same vein, I think I could then convince you to nod your head and agree that our society also celebrates women (and girls) as sex objects. If you're not nodding your head, then perhaps take a quick glance at a few Axe deodorant advertisements or watch a music video or two. And if you're still not convinced then just take a stroll down the costume aisles for Halloween (otherwise known as Happy-Sexualize-Our-Daughters-Season).
All around us, young girls like Amanda Todd, are told that being "sexy" is fabulous. But there's a catch. An age-old catch: sure, sexy may be fabulous, but do not be sexual. Look sexy, but stay virginal. And if you don't, we'll demonize you.
Jarrah Hodge frames Todd's impossible position in the Vancouver Observer piece, "Why isn't anyone talking about the misogyny involved in Amanda Todd's life and death?" The media is quick to place blame on Todd for flashing her breasts on a webcab chat, but she's certainly not the first young girl to do so -- let's ask why?
“There was no discussion of the pressure girls like Amanda experience to measure their worth through their sexual desirability. From her story it sounds like this man had the hallmarks of a predator—he tried to use her photos to blackmail her and yet she's the one who got blamed. This comes from the idea that it's up to girls and women to protect their purity at the same time as all their role models in the media say that you need to ‘get a man’ to be a complete person, that you need to be sexually attractive to be liked, appreciated, and valued. She said the guy she showed off to was telling her how beautiful she was. Given our culture that can be really tempting for a girl.” (emphasis is mine)
Adding to the conversation, Benjamin Freeland blogged about misogyny as the should-be focus, rather than the bullying.
"The bullying of young girls like Amanda Todd is especially troubling inasmuch as it highlights the yawning gap between our society's post-feminist discourse and notions of equality and the harsh underbelly of misogyny that continues to contaminate our social relations. Granted, the Amanda Todds of the western world are no longer liable to be burned at the stake (as they might have been in Europe 500 years ago) or stoned to death (as she might well have been in modern-day Afghanistan or Somalia), but the horrible bullying to which she was subjected bears the same malevolent misogynist streak that motivated - and continues to motivate - such atrocities. The Amanda Todd story exemplifies the degree to which a great many men (and sadly many women) still view women within the passive virgin-whore dichotomy and consider those who lose their footing on that tightrope to be deserving of cruel censure." (emphasis is mine)
So what's a parent to do? Heck, if I knew that, I'd be running the country. Or at least not working from a cubicle maybe. But let's not tell our kids that Amanda Todd's story is terribly sad and that bullies are bad ... "don't be a bully." Our kids know this isn't the whole truth, and if we aren't able to lift up the carpet and acknowledge the full spectrum of complexity -- a complexity that might involve our own capacity to bully -- then they are likely to never feel comfortable lifting a carpet from their own lives and sharing the dirt underneath, whether that be bully or bullied.
Todd is no longer here. But the many (I'd guess hundreds) who watched and participated in the cruel cyber-bullying of Todd still are ... will they understand their role, and what will they tell their own children one day about bullying?
Julie Harrison is an Ottawa-based writer and communications professional. Her blog Coffee with Julie aims to be a virtual version of Central Perk from the tv show Friends (except, you can totally have a bad hair day).