I had a high school bully. He followed me around, yelled things at me, made lewd comments about me and what my then-boyfriend were or were not doing, threw things in my hair, and made my life kind of a living hell for quite some time of my Senior year of high school. To add insult to injury, I was, of course, a Senior and he was a Freshman, so I was additionally humiliated. I attempted to ignore him, because I had been long taught that if someone is bothering you a la your little brother then you should just ignore them and they would go away. This idea did not work with my little brother, and it didn’t work with Andrew, my high school bully, either*.
I did, of course, tell people. The lunch monitor in our cafeteria, who only had to see him flash his charm, and then I was the one who got the talking to for swearing at him when I would finally break under the stress, or told to, of course, ignore him, or to move tables, ignoring the fact that I had sat at that table for quite some time before he settled in to start bothering me. I told several teachers, and eventually the principal. The principal decided the best course of action was to pull us both in his office and talk to us, and I am certain it was necessary to bring up Andrew’s father’s golf game or whatever relevant nicety was offered to him. Me, I had no local businessman father to smchooze with the principal, so I didn’t stand a chance. With a smirk and a wink I kid-you-not Andrew was told to knock it off, and we were let go, and not two feet outside the principal’s door I was told that I was “in for it now”.
The last day of school for Senior’s couldn’t arrive fast enough, and I dreaded that cafeteria every day. The set of emotional issues that I was harboring in my childhood weren’t helped by the fact that Andrew had set his sights on me for whatever reason. Before he decided that I, and my then boyfriend who bore a lot of the abuse as well, was a viable target for his bile and vitriol I didn’t know who he was, other than the twin of a girl who played in the marching band with me.
Much like Phoebe Prince, and others like her that we have read and heard about this year, the people whom I begged for help and then gave up on, knowing they would do nothing, did exactly that. Nothing. The last day of school for Seniors rolled around and I kissed my school and most of my town good-bye. Were that I could have done some things better or more nicely, but a lot of years of therapy later and I know that I just had too much baggage from too many layers of abuse and disappointment that I was hauling around with me.
And sadly today things don’t fare much better for our children in schools. But even more surprising to me, is that those of us working in social justice is that things are hardly better online. Internet bullying is hardly a concept that is new to any of our eyes and ears. Many of us are familiar with the concept of the internet stalker, and at this time when Facebook is under criticism for its horrendous disregard for user privacy the thought of internet bullying is even more worrisome.
But heartbreaking to me is the way that we as social justice advocates are willing to stand around and allow this to happen to each other. I am not even talking about how big sites, like Feministing allow their writers and commenters to disenfranchise and abuse marginalized voices. I am talking about how people will sharply criticize in dishonest ways, and then stand in faux surprise when their critiques are taken to task. To the point that they become down right condescending, and don’t even bother to mask their insults. Or, how people offer intentionally dishonest criticisms of others in an effort to further personal agendas against someone again, and again, and again to the point that some of those people have not had to shut their blogs, or as in the case of my friend s.e. smith, close it to comments in order to avoid the constant abuse.
Bullying is real. It is hurtful. It is awful. It kills people. Let me repeat that. IT KILLS PEOPLE. And if I may use the recent vocab lesson that I so graciously received to my drug addled brain from Feminist Review recently (no, I am not linking there, if they thought Google was enough to go on, then so do I) as a jumping point, I will offer that if in fact more feminists or social justice activists, not just those speaking from the marginalized “contingent”** spoke up then I think that people might feel disinclined to abuse and bully us as often. I think that we were less tolerant to allow the bullshit we see happening to these marginalized voices when we are able to step in and say something then maybe we wouldn’t find the loss of spaces where marginalized voices are centered, because contrary to some self-important opinion not all safe spaces are echo chambers. Spaces that advocate for the listening to of the voices oft ignored are not in fact circle jerks. They are rather an attempt to bring to light the voice that is lost in that atta-boy pat you on the back meeting between that high school principal who plays golf with your abuser’s father. You needn’t be worried about centering the voices of people who might possible be racist or transphobic or homobigoted or ableist because the net is completely full of that voice. If you are actually interested in this discourse that everyone is crying so loudly about then how about S-ing TFU and L-ing to the voices that everyone keeps trampling over? Huh?
But not everyone can safely speak up in these spaces, because obviously it has repercussions. My high school bully found his second wind after I went to the principal, and believe me I never tried anything so foolish ever again. When people tried to tell me there must surely be two sides to that story, I can assure you there was not. I never knew Andrew before the first time he cat called me and told everyone at his lunch table that I was giving my boyfriend blow jobs in my car. Sometimes to speak up is to set yourself up for more abuse. Like Anna said, ignoring it doesn’t work. Launching the contingent isn’t ideal (even when that isn’t what we are doing), because that will inevitably cause us our own personal backlashes, so what do we do now?
Some of the best learning experiences and most meaningful friendships I have found in a long time have sprouted out of places like Shakesville and FWD, safe spaces, those so-called echo chambers. FWD/Forward has been one of the most positive experiences of my online life. What people don’t see are the things that happen behind the scenes (and admittedly due to my 13 hours of time zone difference I don’t see a lot of it) and a lot of that is the bullying that takes place, the shit storm of people who are all up in arms over our attempt to make it a safe space, not only for the community there but for us as well. No space is ever entirely safe, and people will never be fully pleased with the results. Those people have become as important to me as any real life friend I have ever made, as some of you who read my blog and have formed similar friendships with me know, Bloglandia friendships have a way of being just as important as Meat World friendships, and then some. I am fiercely loyal to them, my co-contributors. To hurt them is to hurt me. I will not tolerate people who openly bully or hurt them. I will not participate in work with you if you foster an unsafe space with a bully to them. If you hurt them, do not come to me for harbor.
*No, as a matter of fact I don’t feel the slightest bit bad for using his real name. This kid made my life a living hell. I was AFRAID to go to lunch. School bullying is A REAL THING. It isn’t just “kids pick on kids”. It hurts. It causes real pain with real scars that takes real time get over. Ass wipes who feel no remorse over causing that pain for shits and giggles do not deserve pseudonymous privilege at my blog. I might reconsider if the jerk seeks me out and apologizes after all these years. I am easy to Google, as I can see by the hate Google hits I get to my blog.
**I would like to note, as lauredhel pointed out, that at the same time the “Evelyn/Evelyn” review went up at FR, Mandy contacted some of the FWD/Forward staff about providing content for FR, ensuring that many of us would see that review. Her position that we engaged in some kind of “organized brigade” is dishonest at best. I also have heard that other contributors to FR have received final versions of their pieces from editorial staff before it was published, so Natalie’s claim that “I didn’t know those links were there” is disingenuous, I believe. Apparently they don’t need the readers or the writers having “over 150 contributors”. The whole gig seems suspect to me. At this point with all the shit sandwiches being handed out I don’t know if anyone over there can be believed or if I am about to be handed a smallpox blanket if I comment again.