5 Things to Keep in Mind About Bullying

The world needs to know that condoning it is criminal.
A teleprompter used by U.S. President Barack Obama is pictured among participants at a White House event to prevent bullying. (Photo: Jason Reed/Reuters)
Apr 27, 2011
Allan MacDonell is TakePart’s News + Opinion editor, with a focus on social justice.

1) When two middle-school girls die in a sleepover suicide pact, things have gone way, way too far. Eighth graders Paige Moravetz and Haylee Fentress from southwestern Minnesota hanged themselves at a Friday night sleepover at Fentress’s home. Family members depicted both girls as feeling ostracized and bullied at Marshall Middle School. Bullycide—a suicide linked to bullying—is now common. It has hatched a cottage industry of support books and online hubs, plus a YouTube channel. Both Paige and Haylee left suicides notes. Haylee's asked for a funeral with “everything pink and princess and butterflies."

2) Violence in the home breeds violence at school. When adults hit kids, it seems like a pretty safe deal for the adults. Children rarely possess the physical or the emotional wherewithal to strike back at a grown man or woman, especially if that grown man or woman is the child’s parent. But there are consequences. Some children who grow up under the lash develop an urge to strike out. Other abused kids are identifiable by a tendency to flinch. It seems reasonable that emotionally wounded toughs will intuitively seek out and attack meeker children who have been conditioned at home to accept abuse. Verifying that theory, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducted a study of bullies and their victims in conjunction with the state of Massachusetts—where 15-year-old Phoebe Prince of South Hadley committed suicide in 2010, and 11-year-old Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover of Springfield killed himself in 2009, both after being bullied. The CDC report concluded that bullies and bullied kids experience a high degree of violence in the home.

3) Emma Watson was not bullied at Brown, despite what the Daily Beast might say. The female lead of the Harry Potter movie franchise was, until recently, a student at Brown University. Watson’s matriculation there was, according to the Daily Beast, “less than magical.” Reportedly, snippy fellow students chimed “Score three for Gryffindor!” whenever 21-year-old Watson spoke up in class. For enduring these jests, the Daily Beast labeled Watson a victim of bullying. Did the Beast editors miss the story about Paige Moravetz and Haylee Fentress? Emma Watson is an adult with $32 million in the bank. She has privilege and resources, reserves of experience, years of positive reinforcement, and options. Victims of bullying tend to be alone and unable to put distance between themselves and their tormentors. These children see little if any hope of their situation ever improving. Bumpy as Watson’s time at Brown may have been (“mercilessly taunted” is the Daily Beast’s depiction, not the actress’s), equating it with the relentless and unendurable isolation of bullying is a disservice to every kid who cringes on his or her way to the schoolyard.

4) Lady Gaga may have problems that deserve respect and empathy, but being bullied is no longer among them. As a 24-year-old entertainment phenomenon, Lady Gaga is free to promote her career and artistic integrity in any manner she sees fit. However, a video released to tout Gaga’s May 7 concert movie on HBO seems to fall somewhere between self-indulgent self-parody and exploitation of a battered and marginalized market segment. The enforced loneliness of the playground outcast may in fact be a formative component of the Gaga identity. However, Gaga is now the center of a universe created to prop up Gaga. Supportive stylists, makeup artists, managers, lawyers, agents, collaborators, security personnel, drivers and skilled sycophants surround her. If she desires expert professional help with her emotional distress, one wave of the checkbook will summon that help. Claiming the covers of Vogue, NME, Billboard, Rolling Stone, FHM, Cosmopolitan, Vanity Fair, Glamour  and Elle, Lady Gaga has the power to let the beleaguered young “others” who adore her know that life glorious and exultant will be theirs—if they can hold on for just a few more years. The former Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta’s commitment to her audience is a big part of her appeal: witness her partnership with the Robin Hood Foundation in distributing $1 million to organizations that benefit “disconnected youth.” Surely, Gaga didn’t intend to put her fans in the position where they’re inspired to send their idol an “It Gets Better” video.

5) Bullying—there’s a market for it, and maybe a solution too.  MTV’s Bully Beatdown capitalized on the understandable urge of a downtrodden kid to fight bullying with more effective bullying. The show had elements of vicarious release to recommend it, but—through three seasons—has resulted in little quantifiable long-term alleviation of the problem. A new documentary, The Bully Project, is taking a different approach. The Weinstein Company—purveyors of The King’s Speech, Blue Valentine, Scream, Spy Kids and Scary Moviehas acquired all rights to the movie from Emmy and Sundance award-winning filmmaker Lee Hirsch. Hirsch’s film takes “an intimate look at how bullying has touched the lives of five kids and their families.” Noting that 18 million American kids will be bullied throughout the school year, The Bully Project website promises, “a grassroots movement to build stronger communities where empathy and respect rule.” Director Lee Hirsch told CNN: “Let’s teach our kids to stand up. That’s one of our goals for the film is that people feel that ‘I could be the person... to make that difference.’ ”

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