Saturday, October 2, 2010

On Bullying.

I want to tell all of you a story about a girl.

This girl was relatively pretty, smart, and as kind as one can manage in middle school/junior high. 

Unfortunately, she attended a junior high school (7 - 9th grade) where being intelligent was not cool.  She also happened to be a "late bloomer", and so when other girls were experiencing the woes of puberty and bonding about it, she was only wearing a bra in gym class because it seemed like the thing to do at the time, not because she needed one.

As a result of these things, and perhaps others, she found herself in certain situations.

There was the time on the bus where one of the boys decided to assign nicknames to everyone in the little posse of people who lived on the same route.  While some were assigned names like "Chunky Cheese" because of their weight, she was assigned "The Board", because of the size of her chest.

There was the time when she wore her hair "half-back", only because her mother helped her figure out how to hold her thick hair in the barrette, and another girl tore it angrily from her hair and said, "It was crooked."  She couldn't put it back in herself, and she didn't have a brush, so her hair simply looked rather silly for the remainder of the day.

There was the time when the same girl who snatched the barrette decided that she wanted her lunch money, and she slammed her into her locked in order to get it.

There was the time when, for hat day, she thought she was being very clever when she wore her Goofy hat from Disney World.  She was so excited to participate.  But when she arrived at the door to her Spanish class all of the older boys began to bark at her, and call her a dog.

There was the time when a boy pinched her bottom repeatedly in the back of the social studies classroom and the teacher pretended not to see, and she didn't know what to do.  And the boy who fondled her breasts during the movies in 8th grade and the teacher wouldn't move her seat when she requested it because her reason wasn't good enough (she was too embarrassed to tell the real one).

There was the time when she wore a pretty dress to school with many ties up the back, and the "popular girls" untied them all, and she couldn't figure out how to fix them, and so she ran into the gym locker room and cried.  And there was that kind girl that time, who helped her to fix it, and then had all of her books knocked out of her hands in the hallway the next afternoon.

There was the time when there was a candy fight on the field trip bus, all in fun, and she participated, until she accidentally hit someone with too much clout in the face, and then they all turned on her, and filled her hair with bubble gum and Jolly Ranchers.

There were those specific times.  And there were times when there were just disgusted looks, the times when she was left out, picked last, ridiculed, outcast.

There was the time when no one would allow her to sit at their lunch table unless she promised to sit a seat away from the group and keep to herself - not talking to anyone.

In case you haven't yet figured it out, that girl to whom all those things happened in junior high school was me.

I remember them clearly now, and some of the old hurt still wells up inside when I think of them.  But I wanted to write this entry especially today, because bullying is such a hot button issue right now.

Some kids killed themselves because they were bullied about their sexuality.  The GLBTQ community is rallying around them and posting videos called "It Gets Better" to try and prevent future suicides.  To tell them it'll be okay.

I wanted to write this because I think it's important for everyone to know and think about the fact that bullying is a problem for so many kids.  Not just GLBTQ kids.  I was a staight, white, thin, smart, sort of medium looking kid.  Not tall or short.  Just me.  I'm sure there was something about it that made it easy for them to pick on me.  Maybe the fact that I was a late developer or that I cared a lot about my grades or that I didn't play a particular sport at the time or that I was still in Girl Scouts - I don't know the answer.  I may have just presented myself to the world in a really vulnerable way.  But the fact is - it happened.  Those things above happened to me and so many more things.  I'm sure so many more than I could ever remember.

But I want to talk a little bit here about hope.

First of all - there are those people who give hope in the moment or soon after.  Those kids who go to the locker room with you and fix the ties in your dress even though they know they'll be taking some of the same the next day.  There was a little circle of outcasts who sort of found each other and we all ate our lunch in the auditorium.  It was me, the girl who had been out of school last year at the mental hospital, and the gay kid.  They found ME and invited me into their place.  They shared their lunches with me when mine was stolen.  There are always going to be those little rays of hope in our lives.  And those are the things that you need to cling to if you're in that place right now.

The other thing I'd like to say is that, as others are saying right now:  It Gets Better.

This is a true statement - because once you leave high school it's no longer socially acceptable to put bubble gum and Jolly Ranchers in someone's hair - for example.  There are no more lockers in which to be thrown.  And we grow up to realize that those for every teacher who doesn't care there are three who just might.

Through all of this the most important thing for me has been the ability to look back on what my life was then and how my life changed.  How God brought me through all of that pain into so much joy.

After ninth grade my dad was transferred to another church (he's a pastor) and I was mortified.  I wanted to stay there - believe it or not - because I was afraid the new place could only be worse.  On top of everything else, to be the new kid?  No.  I didn't want that.

But when I got there things were so different!

It was a much more arts based school.  I had a place to belong.  I was invited to join the swim team.  I got myself some friends.  And the next time a bully picked on me I had a teacher who FLIPPED OUT on that girl.

As an adult, there are still people who might look down on you or who don't like you or what have you, but you are empowered to walk away from them.  You don't have to keep going to that school and facing those things day in and day out.  You can walk away.

Some day there WILL be a place to belong.  There will be a community who accepts you.

I don't know where that will be for you, but I know that it's out there.

There is a place to belong for everyone.

So I guess..all I want to really say is - to those of you who are being bullied right now - It Gets Better.  And - God will make a way for you.  Some day, you too can look back and know that while your life may have been horrifying, there is an END to that - you grow up.  You get out.  You find help.  You find friends.  You get support.

I don't know everyone who reads this blog and I certainly don't know all the kids who are being bullied right now - but I pray for strength - and I pray for your very own band of auditorium kids who will share their lunches and hug you when you cry.  And for a teacher who will stick up for you, no matter what the system says.  And for the person who is willing to risk her own popularity to fix your dress in the locker room, or help you get the candy out of your hair.

Much love,


PS - Is there someone who was there for you when you were bullied?  A teacher, other student, friend, family member?  Leave a comment to tell others about your Hope Person.  If there wasn't someone like that - how did you escape from the cycle of bullying?


Heather Bartlett said...

I think this is a perfect example of how a school and environment can either help bullying to flourish or stomp it out.

I don't know you very well, but you stand out. I noticed you acutely in Equus. You are lithe and have an aura - you are different in a good way. But in jr. high and high school I think that makes you a target or a star. Considering that you seemed to be at a school that didn't appreciate your ability to stand out - but rather made it a liability. I'm so glad you got to have some happy school time after all of that!

Missy said...

Heather - thank you SO MUCH for your comments. I so appreciate your kind words! We must get to know one another better. :-)

And yes - my high school years from 10th grade one were really wonderful. I pray it happens for many more children than me.

Michelle said...


I know a little bit more about what makes you tick. I had my moments too in Jr High with my bottle bottom glasses. Thanks for being authentic.

Stan (not Michelle)

Missy said...

Thanks, Stan. I try to be as authentic as possible, because I feel like if I'm not, there's not much point in a blog like this. Junior High is rough! And thanks for reading.

Anonymous said...

I was bullied throughout elementary and middle school. Every day was pure torture. The only respite came during summer, and I dreaded the approach of September each year. The worst part of my experience was that the teachers and school staff, the very people who were supposed to protect, did NOTHING to stop the teasing. They saw it, and just turned their heads (literally and figuratively). I vividly recall playground aids watching me get teased and tortured, to the point where I was in tears and literally fearing for my safety. And they did nothing to stop it. My experience makes me really wonder if teachers and school staff should be held responsible if they are found allowing bullying to take place. I feel that such accountability is the only way that this horrible behavior will stop.

Missy said...

I think that teachers need more training on how to stop bullies. Period. And there need to be repercussions for kids who ARE bullies. I think that the biggest issue is that bullies come from somewhere. As a former teacher, I know that usually when you talk to the parent of a bully, you usually find another bully. Teachers have had a lot of their power stripped away by the system. They can't touch kids without worrying about their job. It's a really sad situation and I pray that someone will realize the problem and give some of the power back and teach teachers how to handle kids who bully others.

Irene Glassman said...

Hi Missy,

I was bullied, kind of a background hum then viciously targeted in 7th grade and thrown out of my "group," which basically meant thrown to the wolves. It was open season on me for several months: prank calls, hate notes, tacks taped to my seat, followed home, called names, my stuff vandalized, my butt pinched by boys I barely knew, "tolerated" by a two-faced lying girl who presented herself as my "only friend," but made me feel like shit any chance she got. But I thought she was all I deserved.

It died down eventually. I wanted to answer your question about hope. I lived in a bit of a dream world through my childhood. I think my writing was one thing that helped me get through I wrote short stories, poems, in my journal (though never about the abuse). Today, interestingly, I write for a living, helping nonprofit organizations raise money through grants.

I did make real friends later in junior high and in high school. I also went twice to an amazing summer camp in Michigan that no longer exists--an eight-week program in the arts and sciences for kids from all over the country and all over the world. It was run by an educational research foundation and part of the mission of the Camp was to create an environment where people felt included. I am so grateful to that place. Having an oasis, having hope, a taste of acceptance, was so important. Then in 11th grade, I met a geeky, awkward, brilliant guy who didn't let anyone make him feel less than. He was even a little arrogant. If people made snide comments to him, he didn't even notice. He thought he was the greatest person ever and involved himself with all kinds of interesting projects. He didn't care where he was not invited on weekends. He enjoyed himself. I respected him tremendously and he thought I was absolutely fabulous. I believed him. We became good friends. He is still my best friend today, 33 years later, and we are fortunate to have landed in the same city. I owe him more than he knows.

I have a good life. I have had good love connections, good friends, hobbies and interests, work I excel at that has meaning. Anyone who has gone through this or is going through it, my heart goes out to you and I am with you. And you will get through this and come out the other side.

Missy said...

Thanks so much for your comment, Irene, and your inspiring story.

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