On Bullying

Fat shaming and thin shaming are repugnant.  Ridiculing someone for the way they look is a very low thing to do.  Simply, no one should be ridiculed because of how they look.  There are entire websites devoted to mocking those who look different, or act different.  A common area of abuse is aimed at Walmart shoppers.  Many images show people dressed in flamboyant outfits, or men wearing traditionally womens clothes, and these images are posted with the sole intent to mock.  So what if a 60 year old guy wants to go out in a denim mini skirt, pink high heels and a sombrero.  I say fair play to him.  I have a pretty groovy top hat, but I cant bring myself to wear it outside of the house because I know the types of reactions I’ll get, so if someone has the brass cahonies  to step out wearing a leopard print spandex that’s two sizes too small and they are comfortable and happy like that, let them.  Go for it.

Bullying is still extremely common, there are regular reports of teens committing suicide through bullying.  No one should be made to feel their life needs to end because of others words and actions.  I was bullied at school; I still have a problem with my jaw from where a bully punched me.  The reason?  Just because he felt like it.

Usually a response to bullying, especially online, the excuse is “it’s the internet, what do you expect?” and that people should grow a thicker skin.  Why is it the victims that need to change in all this?  Why should I grow a thicker skin just so you can be abusive?  Even the existence of the phrase “What do you expect, it’s the internet” is troubling.  Why should we assume abuse is what we’re going to get, nay even expect to get, just because we’re on the internet?  Being on the internet doesn’t somehow justify or excuse it. “What do you expect…” is just another level of bullying itself akin to “slut shaming” and victim blaming.  It is a way for the bully to remove any responsibility they have in the situation and place the blame squarely at the feet of the victim.

And bullying isn’t restricted to stealing someones lunch money.  Bullying doesn’t exist in this bubble where direct violence and threats are required.  With bullying there are several things at work- one is to ridicule a person for little more than ones own enjoyment, another is to do with power.  A bully is a dominant individual in the bully/bullied relationship, usually instilling fear and self hatred in the victim.  Bullies make an example of their prey, a very animalistic method of showing dominance within groups.  Another is to highlight someone who is different and goes against the “norm”.

The internet has opened up another level of bullying- global abuse.  Memes regularly feature real people, usually snagged from random photos or stock images.  The random personal pictures are the worst.  The man known to the internet as “Scumbag Steve” is not too happy about his status as a scumbag, recognised the world over as the epitome of douchbaggery.  Not all people who become memes are angry or upset, some have embraced their new found celebrity, but because some people like it doesn’t make the process of taking innocent enough, personal pictures and turning them into figures of fun any more acceptable.  Think about that when the next Bad Luck Brian comes along (fortunately current BLB is one of those who has accepted his fame though.)

Right now there is backlash against fat shaming.  Many who do it say that they are trying to encourage the victims to lose weight, but this is just an attempt to justify the bullying and turn the abuser into a victim themselves.  “Hey, I’m just trying to help, get off my back”.

There have been attempts to combat this, with many talking about pride in their curves and that “real women have curves”.  This seemingly innocent enough defence however has the knock on effect of implying that those without curves are not “real women” (And it’s nearly always women isn’t it?).  Women who are underweight get stick for being too skinny.  We want, mainly women (But lets not pretend for one second it is exclusive), to adhere to some impossible standard that is only achievable for the majority through Photoshop.  The women in magazines that we see as examples of perfect beauty have been artificially altered and in reality they look alarmingly, well, normal.  Skin blotches, cellulite, bags under the eyes, spots.  Because very few people are naturally in line with our idea of perfection.  Now of course we should be encouraging healthy lifestyles, but that isn’t achieved by telling someone she needs to eat a cheeseburger, or he needs to go for a run.  Its about educating people at a young age about healthy lifestyles and exercise- PE at schools is laughable.  It stands for Physical Education but there is little educative value in spending 60 minutes, once a week, playing tennis or football.  PE should spend more time actually addressing the relevance of good diets and explaining why that 60 minute kick around is a good thing to do.  As it stands, when I was at school my entire Physical Education involved getting picked last for something that at the time I didn’t understand was actually a good thing for me- because it was never explained just why exercise was necessary.  Though I still find the benefit of dancing to Saturday Night questionable.

I’ve heard it said that bullying breeds character, though I’m not sure what character it builds.  I was a wreck for years, if I see my old school bullies in the street even today  I go in to a panic.  I only came out of my shell and relaxed when I was away from them.

But bullying isn’t the sole domain of school playgrounds or the dodgier parts of the Internet.  Ridiculing or demonising or generally ostracising people for character traits or an appearance they may not be able to control continues in the adult world.  Except here its much sneakier- the Christian idea of “Love the sinner, hate the sin” is about as close to school yard thuggery as you can get when it is applied the way it so frequently is- against homosexuals.  Saying gay people are sinners is no different to telling a thin person to eat a cheeseburger or telling Mark Marksonsen that his mum is so ugly she should compete in Crufts.  And the response that so frequently goes along with it is “But I don’t hate gay people” “But I’m just trying to save souls” and “You’re oppressing my religious beliefs”.  You’re being a bully, which I’m pretty sure Jesus would have been against.

I’m just trying to save souls… I’m just trying to encourage her to lose weight… give me your lunch money.  And don’t get me started on the Sarah Jessica Parker is a horse meme.

Oftentimes bullying might be dressed up as “banter”.  There are Facebook groups called “Spotted” which are used for anonymous members of the spotted group- usually a town or a university- to make comments about other people and things in that group.  This has lead to instances of bullying behaviour.  I’m at a university, and for it exists a Spotted page (these are unofficially and not associated with the Uni itself).  One of the more commonly posted anonymous statements refer to the drama students, of which I’m one.  Usually they are complaining about the noise we make in the library, which if true is kind of a fair criticism to be honest.  But then there are less savoury comments, there have been many alluding to trying to shag a drama student as if it were some sort of game- a right of passage, reducing hardworking and dedicated people to nothing more than sex toys.  And it goes further, one recent post- now deleted- was bordering on encouraging rape: that drunk drama students are fair game and easy and everyone should try and bag one.  I know as well from speaking to people in the Students Union organisation at the Uni that they are aware of the page and the person I spoke to directly also found the post in question troublesome and misogynistic- as did most of the commentors on the post, which is excellent.  But defending “Spotted” (whether its at my uni or another, or for a town or city) as just banter or having a laugh ignores that these types of pages can be seen by prospective students- I wouldn’t want to go to a university where I thought I would be shunned and ridiculed.  But also as a current student it is hardly the type of “banter” one wants to be subjected to, or have their classmates subjected to.

The final area is one of the worst- Free Speech.  Using the excuse of free speech to excuse bullying behaviour, that by criticising the bully you are somehow trampling on free speech.  Lets get this straight (again, for the umpteenth time)- free speech does not protect you from others responses.  It is not a get out of jail free card to allow you to continue being abusive.  It stops the government silencing you.  That is all.  If you take to twitter and spout abusive racism or sexism or homophobia and you get fired for it you have not had your free speech trampled on or even revoked- you can continue to post hate filled bile to your hearts content, but your employer doesn’t have to have you associated with them.  You can tell the thin girl to eat a cheeseburger if you like and I can tell you you’re being abusive and that your behaviour is unacceptable.  That’s the thing about free speech, I have it too.



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