The Difference Between Bullying And Violence

Illustration for article titled The Difference Between Bullying And Violence

Did an epidemic of "mean girls" cause high-schooler Phoebe Prince's suicide? Write Mike Males and Meda-Chesney Lind, "this panic is a hoax." But we're not sure they understand what "mean" means.

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Males and Lind make a convincing case that girls aren't getting more violent. In a Times op-ed, they write,

We have examined every major index of crime on which the authorities rely. None show a recent increase in girls' violence; in fact, every reliable measure shows that violence by girls has been plummeting for years. Major offenses like murder and robbery by girls are at their lowest levels in four decades. Fights, weapons possession, assaults and violent injuries by and toward girls have been plunging for at least a decade.

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After marshaling the relevant statistics to prove these points, they conclude,

Why, in an era when slandering a group of people based on the misdeeds of a few has rightly become taboo, does it remain acceptable to use isolated incidents to berate modern teenagers, particularly girls, as "mean" and "violent" and "bullies"? That is, why are we bullying girls?

A fair question — except that nobody's saying bullies attacked Prince (with the exception, apparently, of a thrown beverage container). The girls charged in connection with her suicide are accused of "verbal harassment and threatened physical abuse" (emphasis mine). So when the mother of one of the suspects asserted that her daughter "did not physically assault" Prince, her statement was a bit beside the point, as are Males's and Lind's statistics on violence. Both arguments sound a little like the arguments bullies themselves often make: "but I didn't hit her!"

This is not to assume guilt on the part of the girls charged, or to invalidate Males's and Lind's point that hysteria over "mean girls" can be unhelpful. And we should also remember that boys as well as girls are charged in connection with Prince's death — bullies come in both genders. But as Sady Doyle points out on Broadsheet, what's often so problematic about bullying is that it doesn't involve physical violence, and is thus harder to track, prevent, and punish. This doesn't mean we should construe Prince's death as part of some sort of bullying epidemic — it's likely that kids today are no worse than they ever were, though the Internet does offer new avenues for cruelty. But we should take Prince's death as a sad but necessary opportunity to stop bullying — and we shouldn't confuse real efforts to do so with "bullying girls."

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The Myth Of Mean Girls [NYT]
Suspect's Mother: ‘My Daughter Never Fought With' Phoebe Prince [Boston Herald]
Mean Girls Aren't A Myth [Broadsheet]

Earlier: Bullies Charged In Teen's Suicide, But Questions Remain

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DISCUSSION

tiredfairy
tiredfairy

I always feel a little awkward talking about my bullying experience because, unlike most people's, it was led by a boy and perpetuated mostly by other boys. While girls didn't like me, I wasn't nearly as effected or targeted as directly by them. Or maybe, in comparison, it just didn't bother me so much. I was just mostly excluded by then. So I don't have the experience of gendered bullying in quite the same way. Although I was definitely targeted because I was not, for my town at least, a "conventional" girl.

16 years later and it's still really painful to talk about. But I feel like silence just makes this stuff easier to perpetuate.

Most of the bullying I experienced was emotional/pyschological. There was some physical intimidation, sexual harassment both verbal and physical, and other things like being spit on and pushed. But those were more rare.

For the most part, however, what it was was daily, hourly, in every class, in the hallway, walking home from school, and at home...non-stop psychological and emotional abuse. It lasted for 2 years in middle school, 7th-8th grade. And continued on in HS to a more "mild" degree. I was, without exaggeration, the school pariah. And it never stopped. The ringleader was in a lot of my classes and would always sit near me. And then he would sit there and whisper things at me. Telling me how disgusting I was. How worthless. Ugly, fat, stupid. He would pick apart my clothes, my body, my face.

He would tell me no one would ever love me, that I was too grotesque to live. He told people I was a slut, a witch, a demon worshipper (I was raised agnostic/Buddhist) He did this in front of teachers who did nothing. He got his friends to follow me around school. I got spit on from buses, by kids younger than me that I didn't even know. I never felt safe. I was 13 years old and it, to this day, has deeply defined what I think about myself.

That's bullying. It's not someone just disliking you or saying they don't like your shoes. It can be more or less severe, but that's the kind of thing we're talking about. The kind of thing that we'd call abuse if a parent did it, or a spouse.

I lost all my friends because they were too afraid to be around me because they were being threatened by the same bullies, that if they didn't stop being friends with me they'd bother them too. I was completely isolated and alone. I have no idea how I struggled through that. Because I really don't think there's any way to explain what it feels like to be -hated- like that, by so many people, just because you didn't fit in. Just because you liked art and movies and were not blond. The biggest crime I committed was not fitting into a neat little box for girls. And I paid for it every day.

These days it's all kind of a blur of awful. It sounds like a novel. And I don't talk much about it because it's humiliating and difficult to explain.

It's taken me a very long time to stop blaming myself for it, to stop feeling ashamed for how profoundly it shaped my life. And I feel lucky that, as much I became deeply self-loathing, and later developed an ED, I somehow got through it and had enough self-preservation not to go to any extreme. But I understand how it could. I understand how helpless and hopeless you can feel.

It's never your fault. There is nothing anyone has ever done to "deserve" bullying. It's serious. And we need to stop pretending that it isn't.