The vacation fund for Karen Klein, the 68-year-old grandmother who was harassed and threatened by boys on the school bus she was monitoring has just hit half a million dollars. It's great that kind souls, feeling like they want to do something, have stepped up and made financial donations. But let's get real: We're to blame. We're the reason she was taunted and teased. We created this environment.
Over and over again, the boys on the bus called Klein a "fat ass." At one point, Klein, clearly shaken, told the boys she was crying. One of them responded, "She probably misses her box of Twinkies."
That's terrible, people said. But only because the kids were saying it to Klein's face.
The truth is, Americans love to mock people. Especially women. Especially overweight women.
Perez Hilton became an internet sensation calling women fat; sites like like People of Walmart and The Skinny exist solely to critique and mock people's bodies. Tabloid weeklies zoom in on cellulite, scold female celebrities for being too fat (and also for being too thin.) Donald Trump called Rosie O'Donnell a "fat pig" and went on to enjoy a lucrative career on NBC.
Many people want to blame the parents of the kids on the bus. But we're the ones to blame. We have created an atmosphere in which respected designer Karl Lagerfeld can say that award-winning songstress Adele is "too fat" and face zero consequences. We foster a fat-phobic society, with no tolerance, patience or compassion for the overweight.
In an interview with CNN's Anderson Cooper, Karen Klein was told that one of the kids, Josh, had apologized. "Of course he's going to say anything," Klein sighed. She didn't seem to want to accept the apology. "I just don't think I would believe anything Josh can say." Klein hopes that the kids are kept off of the bus for a year, forbidden to play any sports for a year, and she also said: "Somebody mentioned community service, and I thought that was a pretty good idea, too."
Klein was incredulous about the vacation fund: "I can't believe it," she said. "That much? I don't know, I just don't feel like it'll come to me anyway, so I don't think too much about it. It's a nice gesture, but I just don't know if it's for real or not." Who could blame her? Our society punishes women like her: Older, not thin, not rich. Folks may say that they donated money because they were horrified by the boys' behavior. But there's got to be some people who opened up their wallets because they felt guilty. Because those boys didn't say anything that hasn't been said about millions of other women, including Britney Spears, Jessica Simpson and Lindsay Lohan. Those boys don't exist in a vacuum. Those boys are us.