Bullying is in the news again. And it prompted one writer to look back at that painful time when half the world's a scapegoat:
Writes Judith Warner, after remembering a painful few years of early-teen cruelty,
In fiction. It's what I hope my next book project will be, you see: a tween time-travel novel set in 1977, when there really was a roller rink on Waverly Place, and I was in 7th grade...The book is ostensibly all about a daughter's learning that she can't meddle in her mother's (past) life; she has to let her have bad experiences and grow up to be who she is destined to be. But it's not coincidental that, in the course of learning these lessons, my fictional daughter lives in a world completely controlled, defined and circumscribed by me.
What's as interesting as Warner's interesting piece is the reaction from readers: the comments section is filled with stories of well-remembered pain and a sense of its injustice that never goes away, even if it fades. (That headline quote comes from one of these readers.) There's something about that age, on the cusp of childhood, that's particularly vulnerable. (There's a reason they made a movie, 13, abut this very period.) Yesterday, talking about Tavi the pre-teen blogger, we editors reminisced about our own 13-year-old accomplishments and the wondrous potential of that age. In fact, it's a time I try to avoid thinking about, since it's when the cozy cocoon of childhood broke and I found myself the target of casual mockery on a daily basis. It's funny: I had not acknowledged that for years; I'd blocked 7th grade completely from my consciousness. But it's when I went from self-assured and oblivious to aware that I was unattractive and tiny and ridiculous with my piping voice and big vocabulary. I remember primarily a sense of bewildered inadequacy, a wish to go unnoticed in the halls or the lunchroom and avoid a jibe or a throwaway remark that my antagonists surely forgot as soon as I was out of sight. Most people didn't bother to be cruel, but there were enough. I'm reminded, if forced to think about that time, of the humiliating day when it all became too much and I broke down sobbing in class and was sent home, a victim. And I cease to feel like a normal-looking adult with a career and a basically-average height, and become a nonentity. This isn't even a particularly traumatic case - it's more average than not. Certainly not a horror story, and no cousin to the very real tragedies that we see week after week. But even now, thinking of those days of timing my trips through the halls so as to avoid other kids, or slipping into a seat just as class started so no one would have a chance to make fun of me, causes the base of my skull to tighten with a well-remembered tension.
Warner wishes both to spare her daughter that pain and reconnect with her younger self, and she's clearly not alone: when one looks at the adult women questioning the work of a 13-year-old girl, it's hard not to wonder if they, too, have scars dating back to that age. And wondering, per that commenter's remark, where they and so many other successful women fell on the bullying/victim spectrum.
40 Is Not The New 12 [NY Times]