Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

More-on Bullying

The bullies have always been there – Jodi Picoult in 19 MInutes says that the worst part about being the bully is that nagging insecurity that if you stop trying for even a short time, your popularity will fall. So even the bully is struggling with nagging self-doubts, and those doubts compel his/her behavior – taunting someone “different”, smaller, weaker, more vulnerable, in order to make oneself look bigger. It’s pitiful, but how do we stop it?

This is a tragic article – so tragic I didn’t really want to publish it. It happens in every society, world-wide; the strong – but insecure – pushing around those who are weaker, to make themselves feel better.


April 16, 2009, 9:02 PM
Dude, You’ve Got Problems
by Judith Warner

From The New York Times

Early this month, Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, an 11-year-old boy from Springfield, Mass., hanged himself after months of incessantly being hounded by his classmates for being “gay.” (He was not; but did, apparently, like to do well in school.)

In March, 2007, 17-year-old Eric Mohat shot himself in the head, after a long-term tormentor told him in class, “Why don’t you go home and shoot yourself; no one will miss you.” Eric liked theater, played the piano and wore bright clothing, a lawyer for his family told ABC news, and so had long been subject to taunts of “gay,” “fag,” “queer” and “homo.”

Teachers and school administrators, the Mohats’ lawsuit now asserts, did nothing.

We should do something to get this insanity under control.

I’m not just talking about combating bullying, which has been a national obsession ever since Columbine, and yet seems to continue unabated. I’m only partly talking about homophobia, which, though virulent, cruel and occasionally fatal among teenagers, is not the whole story behind the fact that words like “fag” and “gay” are now among the most potent and feared weapons in the school bully’s arsenal.

Being called a “fag,” you see, actually has almost nothing to do with being gay.

It’s really about showing any perceived weakness or femininity – by being emotional, seeming incompetent, caring too much about clothing, liking to dance or even having an interest in literature. It’s similar to what being viewed as a “nerd” is, Bennington College psychology professor David Anderegg notes in his 2007 book, “Nerds: Who They Are and Why We Need More of Them”: “‘queer’ in the sense of being ‘odd’ or ‘unusual,’” but also, for middle schoolers in particular, doing “anything that was too much like what a goody-goody would do.”

It’s what being called a “girl” used to be, a generation or two ago.

“To call someone gay or fag is like the lowest thing you can call someone. Because that’s like saying that you’re nothing,” is how one teenage boy put it to C.J. Pascoe, a sociologist at Colorado College, in an interview for her 2007 book, “Dude, You’re a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School.”

The message to the most vulnerable, to the victims of today’s poisonous boy culture, is being heard loud and clear: to be something other than the narrowest, stupidest sort of guy’s guy, is to be unworthy of even being alive.

It’s weird, isn’t it, that in an age in which the definition of acceptable girlhood has expanded, so that desirable femininity now encompasses school success and athleticism, the bounds of boyhood have remained so tightly constrained? And so staunchly defended: Boys avail themselves most frequently of epithets like “fag” to “police” one another’s behavior and bring it back to being sufficiently masculine when someone steps out of line, Barbara J. Risman, a sociologist at the University of Illinois at Chicago, found while conducting extensive interviews in a southeastern urban middle school in 2003 and 2004. “Boys were showing each other they were tough. They were afraid to do anything that might be called girlie,” she told me this week. “It was just like what I would have found if I had done this research 50 years ago. They were frozen in time.”

Pascoe spent 18 months embedded in a Northern California working-class high school, in a community where factory jobs had gone south after the signing of Nafta, and where men who’d once enjoyed solid union salaries were now cobbling together lesser-paid employment at big-box stores. “These kids experience a loss of masculine privilege on a day-to-day level,” she said. “While they didn’t necessarily ever experience the concrete privilege their fathers and grandfathers experienced, they have the sense that to be a man means something and is incredibly important. These boys don’t know how to be that something. Their pathway to masculinity is unclear. To not be a man is to not be fully human and that’s terrifying.”

That makes sense. But the strange thing is, this isn’t just about insecure boys. There’s a degree to which girls, despite all their advances, appear to be stuck – voluntarily – in a time warp, too, or at least to be walking a very fine line between progress and utter regression. Spending unprecedented amounts of time and money on their hair, their skin and their bodies, at earlier and earlier ages. Essentially accepting the highly sexualized identity imposed on them, long before middle school, by advertisers and pop culture. In high school, they have second-class sexual status, Pascoe found, and by jumping through hoops to be sexually available enough to be cool (and “empowered”) yet not so free as to be labeled a slut, they appear to be complicit in maintaining it.

Why – given the full array of choices our culture ostensibly now allows them – are boys and girls clinging to such lowest-common-denominator ways of being?

The strain of being a teenager, and in particular, a preteen, no doubt accounts for much of it; people tend to be at their worst when they’re feeling most insecure. But there’s more to it than that, I think. Malina Saval, who spent two years observing and interviewing teenage boys and their parents for her new book “The Secret Lives of Boys,” found that parents played a key role in reinforcing the basest sort of gender stereotypes, at least where boys were concerned. “There were a few parents who were sort of alarmist about whether or not their children were going to be gay because of their music choices, the clothes they wore,” she said. Generally, she said, “there was a kind of low-level paranoia if these high-school-age boys weren’t yet seriously involved with a girl.”

It seems it all comes down, as do so many things for today’s parents, to status.

“Parents are so terrified that their kids will miss out on anything,” Anderegg told me. “They want their kids to have sex, be sexy.”

This generation of parents tends to talk a good game about gender, at least in public. Practicing what we preach, in anxious times in particular, is another thing.

April 18, 2009 - Posted by | Character, Cross Cultural, Family Issues, Friends & Friendship, Interconnected, Living Conditions, Relationships, Social Issues


  1. My friend, you were publishing this for me! It is relevant to some of my volunteer work and I also printed it out for my daughter who also will work in an arena that involves bullying. Any insight into this issue is good info to have.

    Comment by momcat | April 18, 2009 | Reply

  2. Some of the most heart breaking work I’ve done has been with adolescents whose experience of bullying has borne the bitter fruit of psychopathology. The hopelessness in a 15 year old girl that would drive her to cutting and self-destruction because of the rejection by her peers for being different is hard to combat. Their whole lives revolve around the need for acceptance – and parents and adults DON’T count.
    I’ve often wondered at the pointed cruelty dispensed with casual disregard for the consequences. I still wonder because I’ve never been able to find a satisfactory answer.

    Comment by DaisyMae | April 18, 2009 | Reply

  3. Bulling has always been active in male society, from the stone ages, to the intricate levels of the military hierarchy from all known civilizations, and even appears in the animal kingdom. It’s here to stay.

    Now speaking from a male perspective (and I’m sure I’ll be getting a lot of flak from the more… ‘liberal’ crowd), I think some form of ‘bullying’ is necessary, as is physical disciplining from you parents.

    I was bullied in school, physically and verbally as well and as for the physical discipline, I was caned on the foot amongst other things but it toughens you up, and makes you stronger mentally.

    As the world becomes more modernized IE westernized, people tend to look upon their predecessors as being inferior and barbaric, taking care to avoid any notions that there may be some logic and truths to what and why our ancestors did what they did.

    In regards to the modern day usage of the word ‘fag’, the article you mentioned exaggerated it’s meaning as is typical with arrogant, so called experts of human behavior. It’s meaning in mainstream society has evolved from what it once was, a crude and derogatory word with no other implications other than hate. Similarly with the word nigger, it’s meaning has evolved and become watered down to the point where it is commonly used by many types of people all in jest.

    Today’s world is much too spoiled and easy to bruise, much in due to some aspects of westernization.

    Comment by A 3 AM Flight | April 18, 2009 | Reply

  4. Must agree mostly with A 3 AM Flight.

    Bullying was there from times immemorial, and people dealt with it in various ways.

    Although the reactions of those who are bullied are on a hyper sensitive scale (thanks to all that hype about being a fag, or gay or girl.. is like being the lowest of the low )

    Now teenagers seek acceptance, its a known pattern in psychology while forming an image of self.

    If there should be considerable decrease in such incidents as suicides, then the responsibility falls upon parents to build self worth in children from the beginning, to make them understand by example.

    Parental education plays and important role for young generations who are going to be parents and such an education is quintessential in today’s parenting.

    We are here to adapt, and those changes which are not adaptable are perishable.

    So, forget about westernization, try adaptation.

    ~ Soul

    Comment by Soul | April 18, 2009 | Reply

    • “…on a hyper sensitive scale…”. It is obvious you enjoyed you years of bullying, and are still psychologically attached to that somehow being regarded as righteous, or, at least, justifiable.

      What part of it being wrong and evil to cause severe emotional and psychological, as well as occasionally extreme physical damages to others; do you not understand? Oh…I see: being part of your own ‘adaption’ process, their life-long pains are justified by your own benefits.

      Absolute power DOES corrupt absolutely; and bullies are allowed absolute powers in childhood and adolescence.

      Then again, should anyone be surprised or upset, about the bullying gestalt being so well ensconced into the national psyche, that it not only IS NOT objectionable, but is IN FACT, accepted, condoned and encouraged?

      I reject your snarky, cowardly cheer leading opinion. Yours is a time-honored tactic, expressed with the intent to deflect perceptions of actual causation to such vacuous ‘red herrings’.

      Comment by EricB | July 21, 2009 | Reply

  5. Bullying bothers me.

    I remember how shocked I was, the first time I heard a Parliamentary session from Britain. Our Senate and House has rules; you can say mean things if you say them very nicely and politely, and the raw sarcasm and snideness allowed on the British parliamentary floor, and all the backgound noise, pro and con, was a shock.

    I am guessing underneath, it’s all pretty much the same, but I was used to a more civil interaction.

    Words matter. What we say matters, and how we say it matters. I think that is one thing we need to be teaching our children.

    We also need to be teaching them that it is our duty to protect those who are smaller and weaker. I believe bullies can be turned around – on an adult level, I have seen it with my own eyes.

    Momcat & Daisy Mae, my heart goes out to the two of you on the front lines battling against bullying.

    3 a m, I think everyone gets bullied a little, and everyone bullies – a little – at some time. But to be the daily recipient of abuse because you are in the wrong place at the wrong time and somehow just a little different – to survive that takes a whole lot of self confidence, and that confidence is eaten away slowly, bullying is an acid that eats away at your self image, self worth . . . there is a weapon – humor – that works with bullies. It must be wielded carefully, and few children have the wisdom and strength to make it work.

    Soul – you are right about how vulnerable teenagers are because they seek acceptance. I disagree that it is about adaptation, although it might be about learning to choose your battles and choose your battle fields, i.e. timing, witnesses, etc.

    It’s not like bullies go away when we grow up, either – there are always the loudmouths, those who want their way, those who take advantage of the good manners of others to force their own preferences, beliefs, convenience, etc. on them.

    I used to be afraid of bullies; now I challenge them. There are ways, like “I disagree” and “Let’s take a vote!” (Watch them grit their teeth over that!) The stereotype is the male bully, but women are often the meanest, sneakiest bullies, choosing a victim and ganging up on her, spreading malicious and false rumors, criticizing her clothing, her figure, her speech, the smallest, least consequential thing . . . they are like wild animals, isolating the victim, sending her out alone into the wilderness without the protection of the pack/pride.

    Daisy Mae makes a great point – when a child is being bullied, the teachers and the parents don’t matter, except to provide physical protection – it is the acceptance of their peers that the child wants, to be included, not singled out for abuse. Especially now that victims have access to lethal weapons . . .

    Comment by intlxpatr | April 19, 2009 | Reply

  6. “there is a weapon – humor – that works with bullies”

    No, I’m sorry but that’s some ultra cliched advice from those with no experience in the matter. I always laugh in movies when you see the small kid trying this method out or simply flat out ignoring the larger bully, then in the next scene, you see the kid stuffed in a locker or with his head in the toilet.

    This is what you did back then, ads like this were all the rage in the fifties:

    And it still holds true to this day.


    You become what a bully is to you, then you can see some real change in how you are perceived and how you perceive yourself.

    Comment by A 3 AM Flight | April 19, 2009 | Reply

  7. Whoa! 3 a.m. I totally disagree. My father was a bully, and I had to learn from a very young age how to jolly and tease him out of his sulks and rages. Teens have to find some other outlet, some escape, some safe place from the bully, and ignoring the bully is about the best thing you can do. As adults, we face bullies all the time, and yes, humor – not sarcastic, not taunting, not aggressive – humor is a tool to defuse a bully and a tense situation. It has to be done gently, but it works.

    I totally agree about physical fitness – especially martial arts – for men and for women. I look at those Kuwait (women) rifle and pistol team members and I just GRIN at the confidence on their faces. I recommend martial arts – it changes the way you move, and it sends a message that you are not to be messed with, men and women alike.

    Working with rape victims, I learned that men often target their victims by their demeanor. If they see a confident person, they will move on to a target less likely to cause them problems. I think bullies are the same, we send non-verbal messages; they pick up on them and choose the weakest to be their victim.

    So how do we increase our children’s confidence level to reduce their chances of being a bully’s victim?

    Comment by intlxpatr | April 19, 2009 | Reply

  8. I was definitely bullied when I was a kid; there was a boy who bullied me when I was very young (around 6 yrs old) and there were at least four girls who bullied me when I got a little older (around 10-12). I still remember that. I was one of those thin shy quiet girls who most teachers seemed to adore. I guess considering the amount of bullying I got I must have given off that weak vibe that bullies like to take advantage of. One of the girls who bullied me when I was a kid met me again when I was an adult and at the time we were both in college and she was laughing about how she had made her roommate cry. I remember thinking SHE DIDN’T CHANGE! Even as an adult she’s still a mean spirited and ugly personality.

    But you know, although I remember feeling very miserable about when I was young, somehow it didn’t affect me negatively as I grew older. I’m still not aggressive but I find that bullies tend to avoid me for some reason. But as for how to stop it, I think both schools and parents should lean very hard on bullies. I know this sounds horrible because in the end we’re talking about children here but I think publicly shaming bullies is the best way to make them stop. You know the dunce hat? They can do another one that says “i behaved in a mean and ugly way towards a fellow classmate” and make the child wear it and sit somewhere alone for the rest of the day.

    Comment by 1001Nights | April 19, 2009 | Reply

  9. First, 1001, I am sorry you were bullied. I am guessing you were a NICE kid, a good kid, and often bullies misunderstand, misperceive goodness as weakness. It’s a mistake.

    I had a really good friend in Germany who was an elementary school counselor. She formed a club, a club called something like Stop Bullies, then she recruited all the bullies and told them there was a problem with “some people” bullying others and she needed their help watching out for the younger and weaker children. I laughed out loud when she told me about it, this tough/gentle southern woman, I couldn’t imagine it would work.

    Most of the bullies came from families where the men didn’t have a lot of social skills and didn’t have a large emotional repetoire. The bullied because that’s what their dad or mom or steparents did. Slowly, slowly, this special “Stop Bullies” club helped them find other ways to behave. She was right and I was wrong.

    I worked in a high school; my office was a safe place for students. You are right, girls can be the meanest. Did you ever see the classic movie “Heathers?” Bullies can grow up to be very unhappy adults.

    Comment by intlxpatr | April 19, 2009 | Reply

  10. The bullies I had to deal with turned out to be nice people as adults except for that one girl I mentioned. Actually one of them apologized to me. Two of them couldn’t remember bullying me but I mentioned it to them and we laughed about it and I actually like them now. I hope that for most bullies it’s just a childhood emotional immaturity thing. I actually think it is – still other kids shouldn’t have to pay for it. Your friend is brilliant mashalla. Making them police each other like that…very smart.

    Comment by 1001 Nights | April 19, 2009 | Reply

  11. You have touched upon a recurring universal theme. And what to say of bullying in corporates! It’s a way of life there. As long as your balanced score card shows you are cash positive for the company that’s the end of story as far as management is concerned. The whistle blower policy which many corporates claim to have is not worth the paper it is written on.

    Comment by Candid Chimera | April 19, 2009 | Reply

  12. 1001 – Best of all, it worked. 🙂 She is brilliant.

    Candid – Don’t get me started. . . . it doesn’t end. I have a great story. I had a boss, and he was always after me to do it his way. He was aggressive. I had my own way, and I was very good at it. One day, after a major event, he asked how I had handled X account, and were they going to come up with the money, and I told him to give it time. At that very moment, the fax binged; it was the X-men donating more than he had ever dreamed of hitting them up for. It was all worth it, just to see his face as he read that fax.

    I’d like to say that after that, he left me alone. He didn’t. I brought in a fortune, and he wanted me to be “more aggressive.” Aarrgh.

    Comment by intlxpatr | April 19, 2009 | Reply

  13. What i meant by adaptation is to learn how to deal with the bullies.

    This adaptation won’t come without help.

    The German counselor which you talked about in the other reply did actually help by forming the club.

    Its such kind of help that really matters and helps the weak adapt faster, for then, and for future.

    ~ Soul

    Comment by Soul | April 19, 2009 | Reply

  14. Yeh, but Soul, my friend formed a group to police bullies – and the “police” were the bullies! They changed their behavior!

    I think you have to work on both sides. I think we need to teach our children a lot of different coping mechanisms. I picture it like a tool box – you don’t use a hammer to turn a screw. The more tools you have, the better capability you have to handle situations that arise.

    Physical training – in my opinion – is essential. It can be anything, tennis, swimming, karate, fencing, water polo, soccer – as long as it gets people moving and teaches them confidence in their body. I think it changes the way we move, and the way we move can deter bullying. That’s just my opinion. It just feels right.

    Comment by intlxpatr | April 20, 2009 | Reply

  15. You are right, physical training does help in projecting a good self image.

    ~ Soul

    Comment by Soul | April 20, 2009 | Reply

  16. What very few people have the moral courage to say, is that boy bullies flourish, each generation, because SO MANY GIRLS LIKE THEM.

    Most girls are fascinated by bullies and treat respectful, ‘nice’ boys as if they were shit under their shoes. This behavior is prevalent in 100% of schools and school districts, nationwide. It is ALL about STATUS.

    Since the vast majority of people form their emotional nature in childhood and early adolescence, and there are few other forces strong enough to affect this process in any other stage of life, this also informs general behavior in courtship and business, for the rest of people’s lives.

    The bias effects of gender agendas also has an increasingly strong role, here. We now see whole grade and middle school education systems ripped up and re-designed because one university women’s group asserts that girls are slightly “silenced” in their expressions as compared with three years earlier; but having a boy’s face punched in savagely and repeatedly? Well…”OBVIOUSLY” this is unimportant, because it’s only a BOY who is suffering REAL DAMAGE, there.

    Comment by EricB | July 21, 2009 | Reply

  17. EricB, I disagree. One of the things I tell young people in middle school and high school is to “hang in there – you’re going to love being an adult.”

    The are bullies in the workplace, bullies in social arenas, but adults have better skills for dealing with them. Even in high school, I don’t believe girls like the bullies. I think they are also afraid of them. Bullies use their physical strength, and their verbal “humor” to dominate and humiliate.

    If you haven’t noticed – nerds grow up to be doctors and lawyers and own corporations like Microsoft and work for companies like Google. Nerds become college professors and political wonks. Bullies find themselves more and more sidelined. Wooo HOOO.

    Being a grown up who treats others with respect, who demonstrates kindness, and self restraint and self discipline, who can return good for evil – ultimately, these are things other grown ups respect.

    There are still situations where bullies are a concern – stalkers, especially men or women who think they own some other person. serial killers. Those who wield power and allow it to corrupt their sense of accountability to society as a whole.

    The truth, as I have seen it, is that kids who survive bullying and become adults, can lead very happy and productive lives. Some become bullies themselves. Most use their experience to help them protect the weak and stand up to those who try to wield power inappropriately.

    Comment by intlxpatr | July 22, 2009 | Reply

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