Anti-Bullying: You’re Doing it Wrong

WTFNine year old Grayson Bryce was being bullied for carrying a My Little Pony back pack.  He told his mom, she told the school counselor.  The school says “we take any allegations of bullying seriously and work diligently in all cases to resolve the issues in the best interest of students. We have programs in place to prevent, report and intervene to keep our students safe and protected.”  So what did the counselor do to intervene and keep Grayson safe and protected?  She told his mom that he should hide his back pack.

According to Grayson’s mom “She said that if you have something like this you’re asking for trouble.”  Later that day the principal called and said that Grayson had to leave the backpack at home.

Most of the fat people I know, including me, have had a similar experience – we’ve pointed out bullying that occurs because of our size and been told that if we don’t like being treated poorly for being fat, we should “do something about it” and become thin.

The idea here is that the problem is with the people being bullied – it’s obviously our fault because bullies wouldn’t target us if we weren’t asking for it by refusing to do or be what they think we should do or be.  So we should just give our bullies what they want and then hope they’ll stop beating us up.  If that doesn’t work we should just keep changing ourselves to suit them.

And that’s totally, completely, and utterly bullshit.

The problem with bullying is bullies, it’s not a nine year old boy with a My Little Pony backpack, it’s not fat people who refuse to self-deprecate, hate ourselves, diet or do whatever else bullies want us to do.   The cure for social stigma is not a new backpack or weight loss, it’s ending social stigma.  Suggesting that bullied people solve bullying by changing ourselves is, in and of itself, a form of bullying.  And it’s never, ever okay.

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42 thoughts on “Anti-Bullying: You’re Doing it Wrong

  1. It is amazing how the victim so easily becomes the perpetrator. “What do you expect?” OR “That’s what you get..” are unacceptable responses to any form of bullying or harassment. I will gladly sign your petition.

  2. Exactly! What a maddening response! This is no different than “Well, really she deserved it because she wore that dress” or “Maybe if he hadn’t been out about his orientation, they would have left him alone.”
    I get that there’s a practical lesson here. The sad fact is, if he wears the backpack, it will probably attract negative attention. Is that right? No. But it’s a harsh fact of life. I carry a MLP keychain and have a character as my profile pic because I enjoy the show. But I know that decision gets me some funny looks and harmless ribbing from my friends. Like it or not, there’s a cost to behaving in a way that is counter to cultural and societal standards.
    That doesn’t mean we just roll over and accept that, like these school officials. I can’t believe anyone would stand for this logic.

  3. Just a little story…. I lost 90 pounds one time in high school (over 30 years ago). Let me tell you, the bullies did NOT leave me alone. A lot of them were so used to torturing me that they didn’t even notice my weight loss. They either continued the same way they always did or they ignored me completely. Bullies cannot be appeased!

    And – unless that kid moves to a new community, those bullies are not going to forget the My Little Pony backpack. That will stay with that kid as long as he lives in the same place. The lesson for him would be to continue being who he wants to be and stand tall and self-assured in the face of adversity. Kind of a big order for a little kid. Sounds like his mom is on her game. Go Grayson!!!

    1. I think the national movement of Broneys (Bros who like My Little Pony) should step up and say something about this. I know many of them and they are all awesome… most I know are straight and just really like the message of the program. That little boy should not be presumed gay.. or anything just by the tote he carries.

      1. This has to be the first time I’ve ever heard any woman online say a kind word about Bronies. Most Bronies have terrible reputations online for talking over women and girls, not to mention for loudly complaining that a rare girl-centered fandom isn’t catering to men and boys as much as it should.

        Also, honestly: How does it make Bronies better representatives for male fans if you can claim that most of them are straight? If a boy who likes MILP is being bullied for it that’s bad. Period. It shouldn’t matter whether he and other fans are gay, straight, bi, asexual, or hasn’t even thought about his own orientation yet. (I’m reminded of mainstream feminists who feel compelled to play up our conventionally feminine attributes or characteristics because otherwise we’ll be called “lesbians” by woman-haters. As if the worst thing on Earth a woman can be is a lesbian. DX How about “no.”)

      2. Of course there’s nothing wrong with being gay, but overall, thumbs up to everything you said.
        My son is a Brony. He happens to be straight, but is totally cool with people of whatever sexual orientation. He says the reason he likes the show is because he thinks the characters are fun and it’s nice not to have the message that “girls are supposed to act like this, and boys are supposed to act like that.”

  4. You are so right. The cure to bullying is not to make all kids (or all people) the same. The cure is to teach kids (and all people) to be more tolerant and accepting of others. Everyone is different, and that’s okay!

  5. The worst response to bullying by far is “Ignore it and it will go away.” no that is when they begin to get physical. I went to school with the same bullies from Kindergarden to grade 12. But wasn’t actually bullied until grade 2 which kept through until I graduated high school.

    Then people wonder why I put off college for so long. Uh because I didn’t want to be bullied. Despite what people think, no bullies don’t stop once you hit college, or the workplace.

    I complained to all levels of school admins, principals, councilors, etc. they all told me the same thing. Never actually did anything and so what happened? I got restraining orders against 30 of the people bullying me. Out of a school of 2500 students there were more then a handful bullying me. The schools did nothing despite having “Anti-bullying” plans in place so I took it to the police.

    Sadly with some bullies the police have to get involved, that is the only time they learn. I am still under the impression that if you want to physically harm someone because you “don’t like them” then you should go to jail. You wanna play big dog? Then you get to play with the big dogs.

  6. The problem with telling people to appease the bullies is pretty simple: bullies don’t go away when you give them your lunch money. They just come back the next day for more of your lunch money.

    Or, to put it more simply for folks like this school counselor: “How is me losing weight going to make someone else not a jackass?”

  7. And the lesson the kiddies take away from this? 1) The best way to get what you want is to gang up on someone you know society won’t protect from you and chew away at them like a school of horrible little piranhas, and 2) if you are the person being chewed on, don’t bother pursuing any form of justice; as far as society is concerned, you’re an expendable sacrifice to maintain their illusion of civilization. The people who think this is “just about a backpack” need to realize, no, it isn’t – it’s about a kid who did nothing wrong being punished to please kids who *were* in the wrong. It’s about bad behavior being rewarded and reinforced and innocent behavior being punished. It’s about validating bullying, and that is the worst possible thing schools could do.

  8. I feel for Grayson.

    Among so many incidents I remember the time in high school when a group of boys stole my hat (I was wearing my grandfather’s Homburg, which was spiffy beyond expression) and started throwing it like a Frisbee all over the library. Four guys grabbed me, ripped off my hat, hurled it all over the place, hitting several other students into the bargain, and screamed at the top of their lungs.

    Guess who got in trouble.

    That’s right, it was the girl who just walked into the room wearing a hat to do some studying quietly by herself. It was not the four guys who assaulted me, stole my property, used my property to assault other people, and made outrageous amounts of noise in the library.

    I have never forgotten nor forgiven that injustice.

    Grayson’s backpack is not the problem any more than my hat was. The problem is that other people can’t stand to see someone confident enough to express themselves and do everything in their power to destroy that confidence, that individuality.

    To suggest that Grayson give up his backpack is not merely fruitless; it is toxic. It tells him that there is something wrong with him, that it’s okay to harm people who express a harmless quirk, that he is not safe to be who he truly is.

    The worst thing is that it teaches the bullies and those who haven’t got a quirky personal style already that the bullies are right and having a personality is wrong. It reinforces the rule of conformity at all costs. It strips away our humanity.

    1. I still remember when I knelt down to get something out of my locker and another kid grabbed me by the neck and bashed my head into the wall so hard I saw stars. I reported it, like you’re supposed to. I’ve never forgotten the response I got:

      “Well, what did you do to provoke him?”

      In the school’s eyes, it’s always the victim’s fault – they’re always the ones “causing” the trouble by existing as a tasty irresistable lure poor innocent douchebags just CAN’T HELP but attack. And I hate that. I hate that more than I have the power to articulate.

    2. May I ask what the justification was for you getting in trouble for wearing a hat? Geez, a hat… like what next, socks?

      It seems that schools want to reinforce the idea that we should all behave based on a standard set of rules. I am sure kids are being bullied right now for not being the “correct” religion or having the wrong hair. I was bullied for my hair. I had very very thick red hair, which was outside of the norm (it was natural so goodness help them if they had told me to keep it at home). I was teased for my clothing b/c I wasn’t wearing the nice designers the other kids had on. And no one did anything. When I started fighting back I got in trouble. Schools pick on the poorest and most vulnerable kids. If the bullies come from privileged households they will almost never get punished.

      1. You see, Sisi, it was my fault the whole thing happened because if I hadn’t worn a hat, well, they wouldn’t have taken it and disrupted the library with it.

        Never mind they could have done the same thing with a backpack, a notebook, a pencil, or one of the library books. Never mind that there was nothing in the school rules against wearing a hat. Never mind that I was literally assaulted in front of her eyes, the librarian gave me the big lecture on misbehavior and ignored the four miscreants who were the actual problem.

        I have wondered a few times over the years if she was scared of the bullies because there were four of them and they were pretty big guys… and it still took four of them to assault one tiny, rather timid girl in the library.

        1. When I think about my own experiences and hear that I wasn’t alone I really get why people homeschool. Who would want their child to go through that level of abuse.

          Plus, in the “real world” if someone takes your property and commits an act of violence they are committing a crime. In school they are “just being kids/boys” whatever…. grrrrrr.

        2. The fact that so many teachers, as well as other staff in education, are responding so poorly makes me think the system needs some major improvements. If this many adults have no common sense or don’t give a shit, then they need to be taught. How will these children learn if their parents, and even their teachers, never teach them?

        3. When I was in swimming lessons, the other kids would trip me and hold me under water to drown me. At other times, they would push me from the ledge (a height of 2-3m). In all cases the instructor would get after me for disrupting the class.

          And when I was shoved off the ledge, the teacher wouldn’t come to my rescue. I was 6 when I stopped going to swimming.

  9. I agree, Amara- The term ‘bullying’ trivializes what basically amounts to criminal behavior. Give the school a legit chance to address the problem, and if they fail in their responsibility, pursue legal protection. It’s a child’s right to be educated in a non-hostile environment…fat, thin, LGBT, straight, male, female, whatever.

    1. You know what? That is EXACTLY what we need to be doing. Stop calling it “bullying” and call it what it really is – assault. Verbal assault, physical assault, mental assault.

      And I can’t understand how people don’t get this: leaving the backpack at home isn’t going to change anything. Once the bullies have started, they will find *something* to pick on you for. The backpack is a convenient excuse, nothing more.

  10. I wish I could say, “I couldn’t believe what was in front of my eyes when I read about Grayson and his backpack,” but sadly I knew exactly where the story was going. In so many ways, we haven’t moved on as a society and we are no more accepting of individuals daring to be different than we were when I was a child, which wasn’t yesterday, or even last week. We’re far less likely to wade in and tell bullies that their behaviour is unacceptable, and as for schools being able to enforce a meaningful punishment for bullying … certainly here in the UK teachers’ hands are tied behind their backs with red tape. I have a son with autism who had to be taken out of mainstream education and taught in a special needs facility because he couldn’t be kept physically safe from some of the other children who targeted him because of his differences, and I could feel the frustration of the school staff at this situation.

    The world needs people who dare to push the boundaries of conformity. I wish young Grayson well.

    I work in health care, and am finding it an illuminating experience to examine my practice, and that of other clinicians I work with, and local and national health polices, through a HEAS filter. I’m having to ask myself many times every day, “Is there a good evidence base for suggesting that this person might benefit more from doing something differently than from continuing to do what they’re doing, allowing that they have an absolute right NOT to make statistically ‘better’ choices? Or is it just a case of wanting to do something because doctors hate doing nothing? Or is it actually … bullying?”

  11. I know! It’s like when people go and say “I’ll kick your ass so you can live your best life already and love yourself yesterday!” They mean well, but hey, it’s violent. And you can’t love yourself through violence, at least not in a sustainable way. Great post. ❤

  12. I am sad to say that nothing has changed in the last 20 years. In sixth grade, I was bullied mercilessly by a girl in my class and her b group of friends. They used to do classy things like walk behind me and say, “Boom, boom, boom” each time I took a step. When I told the teacher about it, I was told, “Now Fe, she’s a girl with a lot of problems.”. Her response was so shocking to me that I didn’t even tell my mother until a year ago. It still make me angry that 12 year old me was less important that “a girl with a lot of problems”. Why would the teacher/school protect her but not me? After reading about Grayson’s backpack, it has finally occurred to me that what that horrible, horrible teacher was really protecting was the status quo.

    1. Hell, it hasn’t changed in a lot longer than that. I graduated high school 31 years ago, and was bullied throughout. I was told that I needed to “toughen up” and “stop being so weird.” And then they wondered why I got high or drunk so often.

  13. My cousin posted Grayson’s story on Facebook a couple days ago, and both of us were so mad on the poor kid’s behalf. Then my aunt, her mother, joined in with “No, the school is right! Kids just don’t have the mental development to deal with a boy wearing girly things, of course they’re going to bully him!” Pure BS. Being a kid does not give you an excuse to be an asshole. At that age they know that bullying is wrong, they just don’t care. They know that their parents don’t care, and the teachers either don’t care or have their hands tied by the administration.

    We tell kids to be themselves, that it’s good to be an individual. Then adults turn around and say ‘Oh, if someone is bullying you for being different, then you shouldn’t be so different!’ Mixed messages, much?

  14. When I was bullied at school they did something about it. The main bully got suspended and would have been expelled had she continued to bully me. That made her friends back off (even got an apology from one of them).

    A decent, consistent policy will help all the children (including the bullies) reach their full potential.

  15. Reblogged this on Sly Fawkes and commented:
    Being bullied for being fat? Well, just lose weight, and you’ll get in with the in crowd, Fatty!
    Bullied for being gay? Well, just stop acting so, you know, gay, and you’ll be Mr. or Ms. Popular!
    I mean, come on, it’s easy! Sheesh! All you have to do is conform, and you’ll be a-okay!
    (Notification of sarcasm, for those lacking a Sarcasm Detector Chip.)

  16. Amen! if I were that mom I would be very tempted to get all my friends and their children together and get the most objectionable back packs, lots of my little pony and hello kitty and what all and march them straight to the principal’s office and tell them what for. Come on, people, we don’t come out of a mold all the same, for crying out loud!

  17. I graduated from high school nearly 47 years ago & went through those years of school as the only visibly disabled kid in school. They couldn’t tell me to stop being disabled, so I was told to be tough & patient, that things would be better later on. And, as I recall, anyone who had a beloved possession taken away or who was ridiculed for bringing something ‘different’ to school was told to leave it at home in order to avoid making trouble. I was told to always be nice, be quiet & try to fade into the woodwork, as well as encouraged to lose a little weight or dress more like the other kids (even harder than permanent weight loss at the time, as we were very poor, living on social security disability benefits, & I was living with two abusive alcoholics who made sure that there was virtually no money for new clothing anyway.) Blaming the victim, encouraging the victim to change in order to avoid bullying, has been around for generations. That includes telling those of us who have lived in abusive situations to be good, be quiet, don’t make waves, don’t do anything to aggravate the abuser, &, in my generation, DO NOT EVER TELL ANYONE WHAT HAPPENS AT HOME. No one should have to deal with this & no one should have to pretend to be less or other than his or her true self in order to be accepted or even stay safe.

  18. Thanks for writing about this so beautifully. The idea of weight loss as a solution to bullying comes out regularly in those reality tv weight loss shows I don’t watch anymore and it always confused me – especially among kids, because the one thing that teachers would stand up for is the students who did well in school. No teacher ever told a straight A student to stop learning so well to stop being shoved in lockers. But a fat kid should lose weight to stop being called names? A backpack is the problem rather than the nasty words?

    Not so logical.

    One thing being bullied as a child showed me though was that adults had no more idea how to handle it than kids do. I would watch caring teachers and parents be at an utter loss on how to help me. And now, as an adult, I’ve figured out that adults face bullying as much as children do. This is not a childhood problem. It does not end there. There are no grown up answers because grown ups don’t have a clue how to actually deal with it.

    I think so many of the anti bullying and Be Yourself campaigns are sincere attempts to change the status quo. We know that bullying is harmful and counterproductive, but in the end the enforcement just doesn’t happen. People just don’t seem to have the skills and courage to manage it. We seem to fall very quickly into the mob mentality and either blame the victim, or swing really far in the other direction and bully the bully en masse. Neither really solve the problem.

  19. So, the poll question on today is asking whether or not Grayson should have to leave his MLP backpack at home. 82% say NO! A ridiculous question.

  20. This was the common response to bullying in my school. Kids calling you fat? Stop being fat! Making fun of you for being gay? Then be straight! It’s your fault for being different. My school had a blame the victim mentality. Basically if one kid was being mean to one kid, then they would punish only the bully. But if one kid was “provoking” a group of bullies by being different, then obviously the one kid is the problem. I think it was partly because they didn’t want to deal with the parents who would have shown up to defend their kids’ rights to bully if their kids had been punished.

  21. You’re tall? Become shorter!
    You’re clever? Become stupid!

    The people who are responsible haven’t got the foggiest how to stop bullying, and are afraid of being caught clueless, so they say stupid things instead, so they feel that they have some clue or power.

    And the bullies know who has no friends or allies.

  22. It’s like rape is women’s fault, and Hitler was just a bully, not a genocidal maniac.

    To the commenter above who pointed out that adults are clueless to address the issue the same as kids, you are right. I’ve been figuring this out on my own for decades now. And this whole “don’t rock the boat” mentality creates conformity, not individuality. Communism anyone? Also sounds like your average Middle Eastern diktat.

    1. I’ve experienced this in the workplace too. Someone bullied me while the supervisor (two of them, actually) sat there and didn’t say a WORD. So when I defended myself, who gets lectured? Me. Talk about a herd mentality. So much for humans being different, eh?

      1. I’m reminded of the old fisherman’s parable about how crabs in a bucket need no lid – if one tries to escape, the others’ll all pitch in to hold it in place. Not being a crab fisherman, I don’t know if that’s actually how crabs behave, but it seems to hold true enough for humans.

  23. That is simply appalling. It is amazing how often in this society the victims are the one blamed for being victimized, The bullies go free. But that is what is being taught on television and especially in the survivor or reality shows, Mean is in and compassion is out. Mean is strong and kindness is weak. We have to flip the script back to caring/ compassion and co-create a better society. I am so sorry for all the victims that are victimized twice, once by the bully and again by society. Thank you as usual for this eye-opening for this post, Ragen!

  24. I’ve ben bullied myself, and had a lot of friends who have been bullied in the past. I’ve noticed something very interesting in the pattern of how school staff handles it.
    I myself, for example, was bullied for being a straight A student. Response? “Just don’t care, they are just jealous of you.”

    My friend was being bullied for being lesbian. Response? “It’s not right, but it’s natural that they react. Try not to talk about it.”

    Then I had a guy friend who was bullied for being short, another who was bullied because of his glasses, a third one who was bullied because of his size (I live in Finland, and the size bigotry is not nearly as bad as it is in the U.Sl, although it certainly occurs. I’d actually like to write another entry on why I think that is). Response? “OH MY GOD THE BOY NEEDS HELP, WE HAVE TO CALL IN THE PSYCHOLOGIST AND HAVE THE BULLIES SCOLDED BY THE HEADMASTER, HOMEROOM TEACHER AND STUDENT COUNCILOR!!!”

    It seems to me, especially because size here is an absolute no-no to bully over, but apparently not in he U.S, that the adults secretly think it’s okay to bully someone for being gay or being annoyingly intelligent, and therefore don’t do anything. They only wake up to the fact that it’s “unfair” when it’s an attribute that isn’t charged in their opinion (like how tall you are, whether you need glasses, and in here, size).

  25. I do remember one teacher, Mr P, who tried to handle a similar problem in my school. One day, in class, he explained in his calm and friendly way that he had found out about a boy who was being bulllied. He asked all pupils how the problem could be solved. First, most students said that it was the victim’s fault somehow. Mr P did not shame anyone. He just asked more questions, thereby forcing the class to reconsider the situation. Till the end of that year, the boy in question was not bullied again. I do not know what happened later, because my family moved and I went to another school the following year. Unfortunately, there are few teachers like Mr P. When I was bullied in my new school, the teachers watched and did nothing.

  26. One of the teachers I complained to was a bit unorthodox, when I told the teacher I’d been prodded during the film we were watching (the lights were out so the teacher couldn’t see what was happening) she went to the boy in question and prodded him several times in the side asking him how he liked it in front of the class. It didn’t make the majority of the kids any nicer to me, but there were no more incidents like that and that boy avoided me after that.

    It also meant there was no formal reprimand on his school record (not that that meant so much back then).

    I don’t think it was an ideal way to handle it, but the teacher listened, didn’t try to blame me, didn’t try to silence me and demonstrated to the boy why it was unacceptable by making him experience some of what he’d done to me. From what I saw later on he was never particularly nice, but it did stop him physically picking on others (in public at least).

    I have been very lucky in my school teachers, they took bullying seriously and did not try to victim blame, I’ve had much worse responses from trainers at Job Clubs where I’m meant to ignore all abuse but be really really polite to a disruptive wanker who’s not only interrupting my online testing but breaking the rules. These were grown men who’d obviously never been taught that their behaviour was unacceptable and the trainers just reinforced that giving me a formal verbal warning for being rude to one guy while telling me another was harmless (he was telling everyone I was annoyed because we’d had a lovers quarrel – as if).

    The guy harassing me was getting to a level where everyone would stare at his behaviour and he wasn’t put off but I was just meant to ignore him – this went on for a couple of months without him being given any warnings. I was rude once to someone being disruptive while breaking the rules and I get a formal verbal warning – I was dreadfully unamused.

    If we don’t teach bullies that bullying is unacceptable then they wont stop.

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