Let me tell you a little story. The story of how it all began for me. Like all bullying victims I didn’t see it coming, and did not know what to do.
My childhood is strictly divided into a Before and After. Before I was a happy-go-lucky girl without a care in the world. I was the one who led the play and came up with scenarios we acted out – usually involving princesses and pirates.
Before I had never, not once, experienced being rejected by my peers. I was well liked and the other children liked spending time with me. To have everyone turn against me and being completely abandoned, was not something I had ever contemplated.
My first year of school was great. I can’t say I remember much about it, but I had my best friend and neighbour attending with me, and I got on well with my classmates.
But after our first year my best friend moved away. Now this shouldn’t be a problem. By then I knew the rest of the children very well and we got along fine. I would not be lonely.
I can’t say I remember what day or date it was, but I know it was pretty early in the second school year. It can’t have been any later than September, for I was wearing a light pink jacket only suited for early autumn.
The sky was grey and overcast. The whole class was out in the school yard, waiting for our teacher to come and fetch us. In our first year we had been put in pairs, and we had to make a line with our “line mate”, if that makes sense, when the bell rang.
The girl I had been paired with, lets call her Regina George, lived only a block away from me, and we often walked home from school together. I had nothing unspoken with her and thought we were friends.
It was there, while waiting for the teacher, Regina suddenly turned to me and out of the blue said: «You think you are so pretty.»
I was stunned. I had no idea what she was talking about. I was 8 years old, and couldn’t care less what I looked like. I was a bit of a tomboy as a child, which meant I preferred pants to skirts, and loved to play in the forested area behind our school when the teachers weren’t looking. Unnessesary to say I had no fashion sense, and had never even raided my mom’s makeup bag for fun.
So what made Regina say that?
Looking back with adult eyes have made me realise she was testing me. She wanted to see how far she could go. The fact that she would bully me for my clothes and shoes later on also shows she was not consistent and it was only a flimsy excuse.
And she found out she could go as far as she wanted. I was, first of all, unable to understand the situation. Even though I had done well socially up until that point, I have always struggled with understanding social situations and social cues. Therefore I didn’t know how to approach the situation or how to fire back at Regina. I was helpless.
I was stunned into silence. I didn’t understand where it was coming from, or what I should say back.
The difference from before was that all of my peers had been accepting of me. If I had any quirks, it had not been a problem. This Regina was determind to change.
She talked constantly behind my back. Repeated to the rest of the class, but especially the girls, that I thought I was so pretty and that I was stupid and weak. Now, I know the automatic response to this will be: «Why didn’t you defend yourself?»
How, exactly? When one of your classmates, someone you up until that point thought was your friend, suddenly turns against you and repeat the slander from Regina, while Regina herself stands behind her with a smug grin plastered across her face, what do you do? Hit the stupid bitch and the slanderer?
Who will be punished? I knew, and so did Regina and the rest of the class, that if I hit them I would be in trouble. I would be hauled off to the Principal’s office and told you shall never hit anyone and violence is never the answer.
This is a crucial part of the mechanism of bullying: The cooperation from the adults. The adults don’t see it this way, of course. What they see is a difficult child who pushed and hit another student, and the adults will pat themselves on the back for interupting and correcting the difficult child.
What they have actually done is to empower the bullies, by showing them it is completely safe to torment their peers, that the adult will protect them and punish the abused, they will even assist in the humiliation, by forcing the bullying victim to apologies to their abusers.
Unneccessary to say, I am not fond of teachers. They are nothing a part of the problem.
And a few years later, I came to discover they were more than just collaborators, they were bullies themselves.