Update March 21, 2014: Thanks to the public outcry, Grayson Bruce will be heading back to school with his My Little Pony backpack. After he was bullied over the bag, his Asheville, N.C. school previously told him the solution was to leave it at home. Grayson's mom Noreen also plans to work with the district to organize a parent council that'll help the school community better address bullying.
When dealing with bullies, lesson No. 1 is you don't punish the victim. But Buncombe County Schools in Asheville, N.C., seems to have completely missed that memo. Now one of the district's students, nine-year-old Grayson Bruce, is feeling the consequence of the adults in charge refusing to create a safe and welcoming school environment.
Bruce is a huge My Little Pony fan—who wouldn't be a fan of a toy that comes with the tagline "Friendship is magic?" When it came time to choose a new lunchbox for school, he picked a Rainbow Dash bag from the My Little Pony product line.
Some of Bruce's classmates thought his colorful lunchbox was only for girls, and they decided to let him know it in the worst possible way. Bruce told local ABC affiliate WLOS that when he showed up to school with his adorable bag his classmates began "punching me, pushing me down, calling me horrible names—stuff that really shouldn't happen."
Nearly 160,000 children miss school every day because of fear of being bullied, and documentaries such as Bully have turned the spotlight on the consequences—lower grades at best, depression and suicide at worst—that are the result of bullying. So you'd think the school would have the sense to punish the bullies and use the incident as an opportunity to ensure that its culture was one that fostered inclusion and empathy.
Nope. Instead the school advised Bruce to leave the bag at home because it was a "trigger for bullying."
Bruce's mom, Noreen, rightfully disagreed. "Saying a lunchbox is a trigger for bullying is like saying a short skirt is a trigger for rape," she said. "It's flawed logic; it doesn't make any sense."
In a statement the school district told WLOS that "an initial step was taken to immediately address a situation that had created a disruption in the classroom. Buncombe County Schools takes bullying very seriously, and we will continue to take steps to resolve this issue."
The community of adult My Little Pony fans, the "Bronies," has rallied behind Bruce. It even has started a Facebook page to show its support, shine a light on bullying's pervasiveness, and "empower children to be who they are." Nearly 18,000 people have "liked" the page in the past week.
Despite the support, Bruce still can't take his favorite lunchbox to school. And the kids in his school still think some toys are for boys and some are for girls.
Those kids learned those gendered attitudes from somewhere—and "somewhere" isn't just the dinner table.
Head on over to the My Little Pony website. You'll see that it explicitly encourages visitors to “find great toys for girls with all the My Little Pony characters" and "have fun with all these wonderful pony girl toys from Hasbro."
If the Bronies who rallied behind Bruce put pressure on Hasbro, perhaps the company will change its tune. After all, look at what happened with Lego's response to complaints about the lack of representation of female play figures. Now girls and boys can play with Lego scientists that are female.
As for the district, for the sake of Bruce, let's hope the attention it is getting forces it to come to its senses and do the right thing: squash the bullying, teach the kids diversity and empathy skills, and let the boy come to school with his My Little Pony bag.