Friday, October 12, 2012

On Bullies

October is Anti-bullying month. I didn't know that until today when a post by Cassandra Clare went up. But bullying is something that appalls and disgusts me on a level that very little else does.

Today Cassandra Clare posted an amazing response to the cyber bullying that's been directed at her. While, I wasn't aware that things were as bad as they are (I'm not on Tumblr) I was incredibly saddened to find that I wasn't surprised.

I don't understand bullying, I never have. I just don't see why. There are very few occasions where the  actions of another, whether it be writing a book, or wearing strange clothes, has a significant negative impact on your daily life. I don't have the fullest schedule, but even I don't think I have enough time, with everything else I try to do, to devote time to torturing another person. It baffles me a little that people find this a worthwhile pass time.

I have been incredibly fortunate in my online experience of not being bullied. I'm not big enough in the book blogging world to have drawn much attention. Not to mention they're generally an awesome group of people. There's always been a little part of me that thinks that I hold back a little in trying to promote my blog, in order to avoid such attention.

As I said, I have been incredibly fortunate in my online life. But I've not been so fortunate in my school life.

My Middle school, and parts of my high school career was spent avoiding other kids who had taken it into their heads to torment me. I was that kid who didn't initially care. It never initially occurred to me that other people would care what I wore. Why should it matter to them at all? So, I painted designs on my face with eyeliner and twisted glow sticks (usually already burned out) into my hair. Wore capris that I had attached flares to the bottom of, flared that could be taken off and changed. I wore post-its on my forehead counting down the days until the Harry Potter books and movies were released.  It didn't matter why, I did these things. I just did. I wanted to and there was no reason why I shouldn't.




This is me in my high school senior panorama picture.
(I do have purple and green eyeliner designs under my one eye)

But the other students didn't seem to agree.  It was particularly bad in middle school. There were the traditional torments of spitballs, and attempted pants-ing. Then there were more creative and ridiculous things like boys who would put their hands in their pants, fondle themselves and then rub my head on the bus. (Who even thinks to do that to someone? I mean, really?) They threw things and spread rumors. I got phone calls and notes.

I could take it for awhile, and I did because I knew that they didn't understand that I was okay with who I was. I didn't have to accepted and liked by them. But it begins to wear you down. It hit the point that I couldn't hide it any more. I came home upset or crying. Moms tend to notice things like that. I never wanted her to do anything about it. As a kid, I knew that nothing good would come of it. There wasn't really anything the school could do. A lot of this stuff hadn't been subtle and they hadn't done anything yet.

I remember one specific occasion in eighth grade when I printed out a whole bunch of random quotes. Silly ones and uplifting ones and taped them to my clothes. A friend of mine was having a bad week and I wanted to cheer her up, so I gave her a new one every time I saw her in the hall. As to be expected, the same kids chose to target me. They took some of them (that didn't bother me so much), taped new ones on. Yelled and shoved and were generally asshats. The teachers took note.

And I was pulled aside and told to remove them because I was a distraction to the other students. I wasn't wearing flashing lights, or making noise. I was wearing slips of paper. The other students choice to bully me was distracting them from their school work.

It hit the point where I would get dressed for school and get these concerned looks from Mum. Her asking me if I was prepared to face the other kids if I wore certain things or did my hair in a certain way. I understood why she was worried but it still upset me that it ever got to that point.

So, I tried to dampen myself down. After all, it was my fault, wasn't it? I was asking to be teased, to be bullied by wearing these things. That's what the school told me. Some days I didn't care, others I was just too tired to deal with the backlash. I was still the odd girl, in petticoats and a Pretty Pretty Princess crown some days. But I never really stopped being a target. Even on my most "normal" days in jeans and hoodies, there were things written about me on the chalk board, or notes slipped into lockers.

In college I stopped caring about that. I wore cat ears for two years around my college campus. To some people that's all I was, the girl with the cat ears. When I stopped wearing them some people didn't even know who I was (I sat in a class once where someone said the girl with the cat ears had transferred). And I was okay with that. I didn't care anymore.

But then there was a new way to bully. I wore a lot of Twilight shirts and I write YA literature. That made me a new kind of target and this form of bullying hurt infinitely more than the last. It's the kind of bullying where they have decided that you are not worth it. You are not worth anything. It's not that you're different, it's that you and your opinions aren't valid. I was a creative writing and literature major but I liked Twilight so I had no opinion that was worth anyone's time. My responses were ignored in workshops, or critques were dismissed.

My senior year the new editors of the school literary magazine informed us that they would not be accepting any genre fiction, with an unspoken emphasis on YA. There was a fairly sizable chunk of us that were interested in writing that. We were, understandably I feel, upset by this news. We tried to start our own literary magazine and were shot down at every turn. When we were finally okayed we were reduced to being allowed a chap book that we couldn't have professionally printed and could only accept genre literature. This was an issue that I took very poorly (resulting in my stepping down from the board of the magazine because I couldn't keep a cool head around the other magazine staff).

Suddenly there were rumors again. Rumors that we (ie. me) were accused of spreading about the other magazine. Things got ugly again. And this time it was about something that I cared about far more than what I wore. It boiled down to being told that what we wanted to do with our lives wasn't worth it. It wasn't worth being even considered for publication.

It was the beginning of my battle with the lack of respect that YA is generally shown. I didn't realize how common it was at the time. But it made writing workshops and classes and school in general very hard when school is hard enough. After all this was supposed to be the institution that was teaching me to be a better writer. Instead I had people who told me to consider writing different things, or that they knew I liked Twilight so they assumed that my piece wasn't their kind of thing so they didn't bother to read it.

As long an rambling as my story was I wanted to share it. I think Cassandra Clare makes a fantastic point when she says that she learned that silence isn't always the best path. I ignored it in high school and middle school and it never got better. I fought for it in college and while the fight was terrible and draining, I needed them to know that I was serious about it. And I think it comes down to knowing when it's time to fight back. Knowing when people are taking things too far. No bullying is okay. Ever. Negativity in life is inevitable but there is a think, broad, line between critiquing someone's work, even harshly, and bullying them.

Bullying is a conscious decision. Especially in the literary world. A writer is not their work and vice versa.

I've never been threatened or hated on the scale that Cassandra Clare seems to be, but there are so many forms that bullying takes. So many ways for people to show that they don't see other people has human. That because of what you wear, or what you like, or what you write that you don't have a valid opinion. That your feelings don't matter. That you don't matter.

I'm not saying that everyone has to like the same thing, that's what makes our society as colorful as it is, but the different perspectives can, often, open you to things you might not have realized or seen before.

People are never one outward thing. They aren't one trait, one sentence, one action. People are so multifaceted. You are never going to please everyone, no matter how many sides of yourself you show.

You are never going to be able to dissuade people really bent on hating you. You can respond, or ignore them, or fight back and it often won't matter as far as they are concerned. My actions in college might not have had any impact on the people who refused to see that genre and/or YA can be good, and means something, but I was proud of how I stood up (I mean, I wish I could have been a little calmer). But I'm glad that I made it known that it wasn't okay with me.

And that's all that you can hope for in the face of being bullied, is that you respond in whatever way it is that makes you proud of yourself. You are worth it. You are worth every inch of space you take up, every minute of someone's time.

There will always be people making you feel like you aren't, making you feel like a bad person, a waste. That's easy. It's harder to have faith in who you are and what you're doing.

As I said, I don't have experience with bullying on the same scale as Cassandra Clare. And I think she should be so beyond proud of herself for how she responded. It takes real courage to put yourself out there as she's done and to do it graciously. She is beyond amazing.

And as dramatic is this may all sound, it takes courage but anyone can be amazing. You don't have to be a best-selling author, or have the bullying get to threats as bad as the ones directed at Ms. Clare (not that I'm trying to belittle what's happening to her) to be amazing for facing your bullies in whatever way is best for you.

Never let them beat you down. Their actions aren't worth it, but you are.

Melodramatically, but sincerely, yours,

A.M.Y-A

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