Friday, December 14, 2007

Girl Bullying

While reading "Odd Girl Out", a book about how girls act aggressively toward one another, I recalled a lot of memories about my experiences in elementary and high school. As I'm sure is the case with most kids, I experienced a lot of teasing, much of it quite cruel. However, I'm pretty sure that I got teased more than other kids for various reasons.

My family was poor so my sister and I didn't get the best clothes, shoes, or accessories. We were also relatively unsophisticated compared to other kids because we lived relatively far from anyone else. Most of my peers were either "townies" who lived close to one another and in walking distance of the schools or at least in proximity to a few neighbors. They could communicate about what was popular in music, television, or in teen magazines. Most of the time, I didn't know what other kids were talking about. Keep in mind that this was about 30 years ago before the Internet leveled access to media.

Kids living in relative isolation from other kids like us tended to hear the music their parents listened to and wear the clothes their mother chose up until around their early teens. Townie kids listened to modern rock and pop and modeled their dress on whatever was in fashion magazines. My parents were relatively conservative about such things and wouldn't allow make-up or anything resembling fashionable clothes before age 16, and, in fact, frowned on things like shaving one's legs. All in all, I think my parents were both uncomfortable with anything that indicated we were making a transition from children to adults because of the hints of sexual maturity that came along with it. My sister and I were tailor-made to be the dorky kids everyone at school could delight in tormenting.

As far back as I can recall, I was the victim of malicious teasing. The worst of the bullies was a triumvirate of popular girls. One of them was the prettiest in our class. Another was very athletic and the last was a bit of a hanger-on who was a cheerleader in her later years, but probably represented the least talented and attractive of this little clique. The last girl was the one who seemed to spearhead most of the nastiest attacks and attempts to humiliate me. After reading "Odd Girl Out", I realize that this was her means of solidifying her position in this trio since the other girls had beauty and sports success on their sides. It's not unusual for less desirable (from a friendship perspective) girls to ingratiate themselves to more popular girls by amusing their girlfriends with acts of cruelty against other girls.

In "Odd Girl Out", the author talks about how unpopular girls will often do whatever it takes to get popular girls to like them in the hopes of advancing socially. She never talks about the victims of their torment who decide after being bullied that they have no interest in currying favor with the members of the elite cliques. One of my experiences shows how not everyone will sell their soul to make the popular girls like her. At the very least, I wouldn't.

When I was in 5th grade, I was in the girls' bathroom with the prettiest girl in our grade. She was spending her time primping in front of the mirror after spending her time in the toilet stall combing her hair. I know she was in there styling herself because, in the process, she managed to drop her comb in the toilet. When I came out of my stall to wash my hands, she told me to fish her comb out of the commode. She didn't ask me to do it. She told me to. I refused and she took up an exasperated posture and said, "it's only water!" To this, I retorted something along the lines of, 'if it's only water, why don't you get it,' and walked out.

At the time, being a kid and all, I didn't think about the psychology behind this. I just knew I wasn't sticking my hand in a toilet for anyone, and, if I were inclined to do so, it sure wouldn't be for some extremely vain girl who was a source of almost daily suffering for me. Thinking back on it, I'm impressed (unfavorably) by the ego that must have been behind her request. She sincerely expected a person she treated like crap to do an extremely unsavory task at her request because of her beauty and popularity because she was so accustomed to everyone doing anything they could to please her. In retrospect, I'm sure that, had I done as she'd "asked", she would have used it as a jumping point for making fun of me even more. No doubt many jokes about my willingness to play in toilet water or possibly bathe in it would have been my reward for complying.

Around our sophomore year (when we were 15), the prettiest girl in the class got pregnant. This was at the beginning of what would be a snowballing trend of high school girls getting knocked up and at a time when it was still a major embarrassment to be so young, unmarried, and pregnant. Being in this situation was bad enough considering the time period but it was worse in a heavily Christian rural town. In fact, I'm pretty sure this girl was the only one who had ever managed to put herself in this position and not decide to either drop out of school or get an abortion during the six years I was in our high school. The circumstances leading up to her predicament made up some pretty major gossip among students and much was made about whether or not she'd marry and quit school. She ended up doing neither.

This girl's situation completely broke her group apart. Her friends distanced themselves from her and she had to endure the daily embarrassment of a swelling belly and having to wear maternity clothes. People were nice to her face, but it was all really forced. I'm sure that if a less popular girl had gotten pregnant at 15, she would have been treated far worse. At that time, I can recall nothing but relief that her situation had smashed apart a group which caused me a lot of distress for so long. I didn't really experience any schaudenfreude, but I also felt zero compassion or empathy for her situation. I simply didn't care about the difficulty she faced.

I'd like to think that karma settled a score for me, but I know karma doesn't work this way and the consequences of being sexually irresponsible as a teenager had nothing to do with me or the suffering said teenager and her cronies put me through.

4 comments:

tornados28 said...

Yes, psychological bullying can be horrible. Still, bullying that I was occasionally subject to when I was young for boys were threats of physical harm. This type of psychological bullying is terrifying.

ターナー said...

In 8th grade, I thought Dennis Rodman was a boxer. End of my freshman year, I couldn't understand why so many of my classmates knew the lyrics to American Pie - it was inconceivable for me to understand that kind of attention to things besides homework existed.

Needless to say, I could write a book (and probably will) on being out of the loop and ostracized for it.

When I hear stories about some of these school shootings caused by bullying and teasing (practically numb to it by now), I wish I were more surprised than I actually am... I understand the reasoning behind it, though of course I exercised a little more restraint. It will never stop. Never. Never.

You place a teenager, immature, incapable of seeing things beyond his years due to no one's fault but time, and see what happens when his self-worth and confidence are destroyed piece-by-piece.

There's no place for individualism in high school. For those who think so, I'm sorry, you can argue any way you like, but there isn't; normal and mainstream is what you have to be to just be tolerated in high school. Individualism can wait until the latter half of senior year or college, not before.

Naturally, I have lingering issues.

Shari said...

tornados28: I sometimes wonder which is worse - physical or psychological. I imagine both leave scars but I'm also guessing those from psychological torment may lurk under the surface in less detectable ways.

Turner: You're not the only one with issues! While writing that post, I had to constantly try to talk myself out of the feeling that I hoped all of my tormentors grew up and lived miserable lives. I don't wish they were dead or ill, but just that their spouses didn't love them and cheated on them...something long and drawn out which ate away at their self-esteem like the pain they inflicted on me.

I have had similar thoughts about school shootings. I can so easily see where the victims would be compelled to become so angry that they'd choose to go postal. Just as was the case when I was teased, I wonder where the adults are when these things are happening and feel that teachers and parents should do better about intervening before it gets so bad. In "Odd Girl Out", it shows how most adults will buy pathetic excuses. One girl gets slammed into repeatedly by other girls while walking in the hall and when the girls are called on their abusive behavior, they claim it's an accident and the teachers buy it.

I absolutely agree with you that it will never stop and I have no reservations about school uniforms being used because of my experiences. While it wouldn't remove all fuel for torment, it'd at least remove one source.

I often wonder if people who were ostracized and treated badly at school are more attracted to places like Japan. This is a shaky theory of mine at best (as it's only based on my experiences and random musings), but I sometimes think that, if you're shut out all the time when you're growing up, you feel more comfortable being shut out in Japan. The only difference is that the reasons you are treated differently here are impersonal and objective rather than intensely personal and subjective. You get the psychological comfort of being the odd one out but not feeling bad about it because you know it's nothing personal or malicious.

This notion of mine is rooted in the same type of behavior that you see with abused kids growing up to marry abusing spouses. If you are raised in a dysfunctional dynamic, you may continue to seek it out as it's the only one you know and are conditioned to. Mind you, I could be totally wrong!

Thanks to both of you for commenting.

Tami said...

I ran across your blog online and thought I'd get in touch. I appreciate you writing about your experiences. It's important to bring them to public attention so others can find validation in knowing they are not alone. You mentioned the book "Odd Girl Out," and I thought you might be interested in my book. I recently published a research-backed memoir about how I spiritually overcame female bullying/relational aggression. It's titled Flying Grounded: My Spiritual Triumph Over Female Bullying, and, if you're interested, you can find it at http://www.iuniverse.com/bookstore/book_detail.asp?isbn=0-595-45839-4 or barnesandnoble.com or amazon.com.

Thanks again for sharing!