Monday, November 19, 2007

Is It Just Me? -- Eve

Lately I’ve had my fill of YA books dealing with high school bullies. And although I’ve enjoyed every one of these books, the whole “bully” thing is becoming a little played for me. Don’t get me wrong, my MG novel that I just finished features heroism, death, gang life, and what else? A bully, of course! We Americans loves us some bullies.

But, and here’s the big “BUT”… I honestly don’t remember any bullies in my high school. Is it just me? Am I delusional? I mean, we had our partiers, our stoners, our rah-rah’s, our band geeks, our drama-ramas, our sports stars, our Dungeons and Dragons nerds, our wannabe rock stars and rap stars and models, and a few real gang bangers. And I pretty much had a few friends in each group, so I sort of floated around. (Okay, mostly I was Reese Witherspoon in Election…Type A, peppy rah-rah, student government nerd, took everything too seriously, studied waaayyy too much, never partied, etc, etc. But, I digress.)

My point is, by the time high school rolled around, we were kind of over the whole “too cool” phase of adolescence. Nobody was shoving kids into lockers or trash-canning dorks or giving swirlies in the boys’ bathroom. Don’t get me wrong, we weren’t angels…we just got all that stuff out of our systems in Junior High. Our HS was 10th-12th grade, so maybe not having Freshmen around to bully was part of it. But, I remember people in my HS being pretty tolerant of each other. Even back in the day, pre-Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, pre-coming out coolness of Lance Bass, Ellen, and Portia deRossi, kids came out of the closet at my HS and nobody blinked. Even the conservative kids just kind of shrugged and went on about their business.

The only true bullying I endured as a kid was in 4th through 7th grades. One day in the 4th grade, I was punched in the stomach and kicked into the street by a group of kids. The leader, who shall remain nameless, (because you know who you are, Woodrow) kicked my ass because he heard some kids made fun of his name, and he thought I was among them, when actually it was another girl (you know who you are, Kecia) who had blond hair and he got us mixed up. And in 7th grade Jackie B. tried to beat me up after school for sticking up for my friend, Kirsten, who J had called a “slut.” She chickened out when she remembered who my sister was…not a bully, but she was tough, and you wouldn’t want to meet her in a dark alley after you messed with her little sister! But, beyond about age 14, kids in my neighborhood seemed to focus on sports or academics or drugs or whatever their interests were. And bullying wasn’t really cool anymore. It was just sort of juvenile.

Is anyone else with me? Do kids outgrow the bullying phase by high school? Or is the bullying just more covert, more psychological and cunning rather than physical, so we don’t notice it as much? Or maybe I was just clueless!

- Eve


Katie said...

Eve - I am cracking up at your memory of all this stuff! You have got it down sister! No wonder I can't write YA - I have forgotten most of these moments much less all of the wonderful stereotypes you have recalled.

I think bullying is no longer like Biff torturing Marty McFLy in Back to the Future....In our schools, where I sometimes substitute teach, it seems to be mostly girls - and much more psychological....which is psycho-scary if you ask me. I'd rather have me some Biffs than those mean girls.

Anywho....thanks for taking me back. And since I have been reading grown-up books lately, I am not sure about all the bullying stuff in kid lit. - but I trust ya that it's over used.

p.s. now granted.... I am a new blog commenter....(that sounds weird) but what the heck is word verification for??

Anne Marie said...

Eve, I've thought about this, too. I don't remember much bullying. There was a ninth-grader who was badly mistreated/bullied by a guy and his friends, but other than that I don't remember much overt bullying.

But maybe I was clueless.

Danette V. said...

I must be clueless too. I loved High School and don't remember any bullying stuff.

I do remember 7th grade being tough. Um ... Owww!


Lisa C. said...

Delurking to comment... :-)

In my experience, high school couldn't hold a candle to middle school in terms of sheer misery. But there was still definitely bullying, albeit more frequently verbal than physical.

Stoners were harassed by preps. Nerds were harassed by everyone. I remember being verbally harassed by some girls in 10th grade gym for no apparent reason. When I got to college, I had friends who were harassed by my dorm mates for, I don't know, wearing black? Playing role playing games? Not drinking enough?

As for kids coming out and no one batting an eye? Hopefully now it would be different (I know my old high school has a GSA now), but in the early-mid nineties, no one came out in my high school. Ever.

I do think that as one grows older and enters the wider community (whether it's high school, college, or "real life"), one can find a niche and surround oneself with like-minded people, insulating oneself from the bulliers. But they're still out there, and all it takes is stepping out of your "scene" into theirs to find them again.

Don Tate II said...

You made me think on this. You're right, I went to a pretty rough high school, and I don't remember bullies. There were some pretty scary characters by reputations established long ago, but no one that was outright bullying anyone. I remember one kid who worried me (bully tendencies), who sort of forced his way into my group of friends. I wished he would go away, and to my shock, he suddenly died, with no cause being reported. That haunted me for years, wondering if I'd wished him away.

Anonymous said...

I suppose if it doesn't happen to us, it's easy to feel like there weren't "any bullies" in high school.

As a high school teacher in the Midwest, I guarantee that it happens every single day. Maybe it doesn't happen as we see in the movies, but is that a fair measure for reality?

We also have a problem with some students doing more than blinking at the gay students.

Word verification: mhtter!

cynjay said...

Middle school was definitely the worst. I think in HS, you are old enough to sense reality: you can usually drive so you can get away faster, and you often have a job to worry about.

That won't stop fiction writers though. How many orphans, dead fathers and American kids are in boarding schools in real life?

(who is guilty of one of the above in her latest MS)

Colorado Writer said...

Because I have three boys, we talk about bullies and why kids are mean (low self-esteem, sad homelife, etc.)

I remember how painful jr. high was for me. I was a dork, short, scrawny, ugly, wore the wrong clothes, had thick glasses, braces--the works. There were the mean girls who picked on me, who tripped me, laughed in my direction, etc.

My teen tells me that most of the bullying he endures is a random shove during passing period, name-calling, an ear flick, teasing about clothes, etc. He gets worked up once in a while after a harrowing bus ride home. He's learned to ignore the rough kids and stay close to the wall.

My kindie reports random punching by older kids on the bus. I told him to sit up front with the bus driver.

I think bullies exist into adulthood. I've got a friend whose husband teases my husband to the point of embarrassment whenever we are in a social situation. The same guy teaches his little kid to punch my kids and stuff.

Who doesn't have the boss or manager or co-worker who is pure evil?

Overdone theme? Probably, but still totally relevant to kids.

Katie said...

Bully update from my neck of the woods:

freaky! my neighbor and best friend (also mother of 3 boys) JUST came over to vent her frustration with the bullying of her middle child!! weird....

He is in 3rd grade. So I agree with those of you that have said that the physical slamming into lockers and stomach punching DOES occur - but in younger grades.

colorado writer....I hate that mean husband!

Disco Mermaids said...

I agree that bullying lessens when you leave middle school, but it doesn't simply evaporate. At my school, while there weren't daily fights, they did happen. And it's even worse today than when I was in school. Because now, if someone videos the butt kickin', you might find it on YouTube that night.

With the suicide rate rising (it's particularly strong among gay teens), I just can't imagine that bullying doesn't play a part in it.

- Jay

P.S. Junior year, got slammed against a locker. Thankfully, it didn't hurt...but it sure sounded like it did.

Jen said...

Maybe we have to define bullying. Maybe it changes between middle school and high school.

While physical fights and abuse were rare in my high school world, gossip and social shunning certainly existed. Do we consider ostracizing someone bullying? How about whispering personal info--real or fabricated--behind someone's back?

Some adults engage in that behavior. Maybe bullying becomes less overt as we age, settling into casual gossip and scoffing.

Disco Mermaids said...

I would say yes, that bullying in high school has become more complex and psychological in nature because of the mere fact that they are older and more mature. So wedgies would seem silly.

I think Jen is right, that you'd have to define bully to figure out if it's still occurring. To me, I think it means intimidation or threats that occur over some time. Not just a one time throw-a-fist kind of thing. So I think bullying definitely still occurs in high school, maybe even more than ever.

My high school experience was probably closer to Lisa C's. Rather miserable. There were fights and harrassing. No gay students came out. I wish it had been different and perhaps there is a bit more tolerance and acceptance going on in high schools now. But I think we still have a long way to go.

So if these teen books you're reading have high schoolers giving each other wedgies, you'd better tell me what books they are so we can have a giggle together!!


Disco Mermaids said...

WOW! Such great comments. I have the urge to reply to every single one of them, but do you guys really have the time to read my verbose commentary during Thanksgiving week??

Poor Don Tate! That is really interesting/sad. I can identify with the feelings because I had a similar experience in college. I always (and still) wondered if I "wished him away."

I agree that bullying still happens as we age (even in adulthood, in the form of date-rapists, evil bosses, and sometimes politicians!)...but the key is that the bullying manifests much differently.

Also, I had the good fortune of attending a high school where most of us had grown up together since elementary school, and we had a pretty solid history together. So, even if you didn't like somebody, chances are you used to be friends with him/her at some point in time. And most our families knew each other really well, so in general, bullying was just sort of unacceptable to our parents. Maybe the parent-involvement was key??

And, Anonymous Midwest're absolutely right. Since I was never the target of bullying, it was hard for me to see it. I also think that sometimes girls are worse than boys in that they are more cunning/deceptive/psychologically mean. Those emotional scars last longer than the physical damage of getting your ass beat.

The few kid-bullies I taught in the first grade are now teen and adult bullies (who also tended to have bully-parents). Perhaps it's genetic.

Thanks for the great discussion!!


Rita said...

I totally agree with you--and I'm always thrown by depictions of high school, too. Not that there wasn't bullying--it just wasn't the junior high kind.

I also always insist there weren't the kind of cliques that people always insist on (the band geeks, the cheerleaders, the nerds?) because everyone in my class liked each other. But people say that just means I was popular.


Also: WHOA to Don Tate's comment.

My most vivid recollections of bullying (what happened to me, my friends; what we sometimes did to each other) were from daycare, esp. in the very young years. (Under 4th grade.) Lots o' stomach punching for me, on account of my not bending to the biggest bully's will, no matter what daycare we were at (they were all the same, though I came to recognize that big-girl bullying was very different from big-guy bullying). They made everything that followed (upper grade school, middle school, high school, workplace politics) seem like a walk in the park.