Bullying is wrong with imperfect victims.

I keep seeing this meme floating around the Interwebs:

Now I’ll tell you why this thing bugs me.

That boy you punched in the hall today? He’s going to soldier on, finish school and put your bullshit behind him.

That girl you called a slut in class today? She enjoys sex with her boyfriend, and sometimes with boys (or perhaps girls) with whom she isn’t in a committed relationship.

That boy you called lame? He just has lousy social skills.

That girl you pushed down the other day? Has a perfectly stable, safe home life.

That girl you called fat? She eats normally and has a slow metabolism.

The old man with the ugly scars? He did something idiotic with gasoline and a lit match, back when he was young and impulsive much like you are now.

The boy you made fun of for crying? He’s sensitive and awkward.

So, is it okay to bully them, now? Really? All you have to do is make sure your assumptions are correct, and then it’s open season on anyone who appears vulnerable?

Do people have to be perfect victims, or helpless to withstand negative attention, to be worthy of common decency?

How about this? If you’re against bullying, then stand up for the safety and dignity of the less-than-perfect victims. If bullying is wrong, then there should be no gaping loopholes.

24 thoughts on “Bullying is wrong with imperfect victims.

    • Let’s come up with some more!

      “That guy you pummeled in the hallway because he’s gay? He really is gay.”

      “The girl you’re threatening to attack because she’s an atheist? Is actually an atheist.”

      “The boy you’re always harassing because he’s a geek? He speaks Elvish and has memorized all three original Star Wars movies.”

      “The girl you keep calling an ugly redhead? Sure enough, actually a redhead.”

      “The sixteen-year-old girl with a baby? Conceived through consensual sex at a party with a boy whose last name she never learned.”

      And they still deserve better than your abuse.

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  2. Playing devil’s advocate here, the original quote may fail in correctly stating that bullying is wrong no matter the victim, but it may be useful in kickstarting empathy in people who aren’t expressing it by appealing to something they can recognize.

    • That may be the case. Nevertheless, I find it disturbing how they are so quick to establish an “innocent” class of bullying victims, which implies another, less-than-ideal class of victims who are undeserving of protection.

      • I get that. I’m going mainly from my own experience, where sometimes it took the most heavy-handed example to make somebody recognize the problem in their thinking. Sometimes to do this it requires playing within a person’s general prejudices to effect a specific change.

  3. I got bullied in high school. Now I’m a Harvard graduate, a senior executive in a fair-sized company, and the commodore* of a yacht club. But I still haven’t recovered from the bullying.

    *Or as I prefer to call the title, commode door.

    • I was bullied all through elementary and much of middle school. I haven’t achieved as much as you, but I have a solid handle on my life and have developed a strong set of psychological armor. The scars are still there, however.

      • I had an interesting experience when one of my bullies contacted me some years ago through one of those ‘friends reunited’ website. He’s a guy who I’d kinda wanted to be friends with at school–he was in his own way charming and funny–but nonetheless had given me the occasional rough time.

        Anyway, it turns out he’s now a copper and he’s asking for absolution. He was guilty about what he’d done.

        I was taken aback and gave it, in part because he was the least worst of all the bullies and also because, y’know, you forgive, don’t you? But that was a strange experience all the same. I’m pleased he had the wisdom to at least face up to what he’d done. I wish it were true for more of them.

      • I don’t really have a hard time forgiving the bullies. They were just dumb kids like me who didn’t know what the fuck they were doing any more than I did. And honestly, as an adult who now lives in a completely different city far from any of them, it’s hard to feel terribly threatened by people whose only real power over me was based on the fact that I had to be around them every day. As long as they’ve grown up and learned to be better people since then, I’ve got no beef with them any more.

        The ones I can’t forgive are the adults whose job it was to protect me, who failed over and over and over to do so, and who then told me that the problem was my short temper (i.e. my willingness to stand up for myself), rather than telling the bullies that their problem was that they were acting like a bunch of fucking assholes. I believed them for *years*, because believing adults is what you do when you’re a kid. The only saving grace was that I couldn’t stop standing up for myself no matter how hard I tried to be “good”, and no matter how ashamed I was made to feel for it later. A classmate of mine believed those same adults so fervently, when they acted like she was the cause of her bullying rather than the bullies, that she eventually tried to kill herself. I was the lucky one — I was born “bad”. By the standards of this silly meme, I deserved it.

      • @Anne, I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately: Bullying isn’t really an issue of horrible children. Below a certain age, kids basically fail at self-awareness and are naturally insecure. Establishing social hierarchies is pretty much inevitable when you force a large number of children together, and in a poorly controlled environment, bullying is how those hierarchies are maintained.

        The problem, indeed, is with adults who are supposed to be responsible for those children, and stand idly by when those children make life miserable for the ones at the bottom of the ladder. They focus on telling the bullied kids to change, rather than dealing with the ones who are actually doing something wrong.

      • Yeah, I agree with you, Alyson. The thing that’s harder to understand is how the adults justify that behavior to themselves.

        In my case, because I wasn’t the “perfect victim”, their excuse was that *I* was indeed the problem because I had a tendency to hit people (rather inexpertly) when they wouldn’t leave me the fuck alone. See, they were just using words, and, as that lying old rhyme says, words can never hurt you. Lashing out clumsily at these assholes with my childish fists was clearly the much worse transgression than incessant bullying, because Hitting People Is Always Wrong.

        I don’t know what the fuck they thought the excuse was in my classmate’s case, though. She always seemed pretty innocent to me. The only thing I can think of is that because she had some kind of learning disabilities or something, maybe they thought they were “helping” her by focusing on her problems rather than on the problems of the people who bullied her.

  4. Another thing that is wrong with this that the vast majority of those who do repost it won’t do anything more than that.

  5. Hi Alyson,

    Great post.

    But I wish you’d gone a little further in how you described the “fat girl”. How about this?:

    “That girl you called fat? She likes food, eats more than most, doesn’t subscribe to the dominant ideals of beauty, and isn’t trying to look pretty for your viewing pleasure. She still deserves to be treated like a human being.”

    • Yeah, I could’ve said more.

      Compared to the fat-shaming implied in “she’s starving herself,” to say she just has slow metabolism seemed radical.

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  7. Another way that this fails is that, though it kinda varies with the ‘kind’ of bullying, bullies can be really quite evil. “The boy you punched in the hall today. Committed suicide a few minutes ago.” If they were bullying him for his (perceived) homosexuality, guess what? They almost certainly find that hilarious. They WANT to cause pain.

    • It really makes bullying sound like a bunch of little quick, one-off incidents, doesn’t it? There is real persistence, pervasiveness and emotional sadism involved in most schoolyard bullying which this meme conveniently elides.

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