I worked for some years as an advocate, and give intermittent guest lectures at the local university on using feminist ideas to inform advocacy and other social services work. Because complaints of bullying, abuse and harassment formed a large part of my advocacy work, I spend a lot of time considering them in lectures. Using the power and control wheel (featured in my last post), I argued that these different ways of mistreating others have something in common: they are all forms of violence which, as Stargazer aptly puts it, weary the souls of those who are mistreated.
Despite all these great insights into bullying from feminist thinkers, I suspected that when my own children faced it, I would want to kill the bullies with my bare hands. But when my daughter M., then only five, was bullied by an older kid in her class, I couldn't look at the other girl with the anger I felt for the girls who bullied me at school some twenty years ago. The bully,
M's school take an excellent approach to bullying, and were very proactive. Both M's teacher and the principal had been monitoring the situation for some time, and keeping M's dad and I informed. They told me they would speak to I's carers, her mother and grandparents, and did so as soon as they were able. I found myself comforting M., and unsure what to do. I reassured her that she was a great kid, and much loved. We talked about why
Having done that much, I wasn't sure what to do next. I've seen anti-bullying programmes which coach bullied kids to be confident, thus making them less likely to be targeted. I find this an inadequate response: it doesn’t stop the bullying behaviour, but simply transfers it to some new victim. As a family, we talked about the situation with
My family became friendly with I's, and it turned out that her grandparents – absolutely fantastic people – were having trouble coping with
It wasn't quite as fairytale-ish as it might sound. If I had a dollar for every tantrum, expletive, or moment of
Ok – this is all a bit 'To Sir With Love'. In a lot of cases, parents/carers don’t want to hear about their kids' bad behaviour, schools don't give a toss or don't have the resources to help out like ours has, and parents of bullied kids may not know about the bullying or may quite understandably be too involved in helping their own kids through to worry about bullies. Still, I think the moral of the story is clear: bullying is not some inevitable fact of life that we all just have to get used to, and the efforts of a proactive and ethical school can do a world of good.