Posts Tagged ‘relational aggression’
Again the headlines scream “…driven to Suicide..” , …hangs himself after bullies tease…” and sadly, it appears that we are reading the same articles we read only a few short months ago—with one important difference. Adults in authority knew what was going on, and had taken measures to keep young Joel Morales safe. According to one media source, relatives had even filed a police report, and Joel had been transferred to a different school. If this was not effective, what can be done?
Parents, teachers, and authorities are at a loss—but bullying is hardly the first social issue to be rather impervious to the efforts to change “normal” behavior. Think of alcohol abuse—how intractable it still seems, yet how effective AA and Mothers Against Drunk Driving became. The School Assemblies they spoke at are the only ones many parents today remember— parents who are now able to reach out to all manner of support when they discover their own children are abusing substances.
Think back even further, when wife-battering was put on the social agenda in the 1970’s. This physical abuse was—and still is–hidden and denied, because its victims fear retribution.—something often expressed by victims of (and bystanders to) bullying. Even though this fear persists, victims of battering have more options today than they did only a generation ago–and more than do victims of bullying today.
While drunk driving and spousal battering can still be pointed to, what has changed are the norms of society. The responses of others around the inebriated or the abused. Social support in all guises—formal laws and shelters to informal support groups–for victims, perpetrators, and others who are affected abound, and are readily available. More importantly, there are enough individuals who do not believe drunk driving or wife battering are cool, or even acceptable, and it is this informal network of support that has created safe spaces and modified behaviors. There are bystanders who are able to intervene—without fear of retribution. And it is changes in the day to day responses of bystanders that will slowly change the formidable issues that now characterize bullying. Culture is outraged—and this is the first crucial step. Outcry is being made, and the swell from below will change norms—but it will take time.
Teens (especially teen girls)…and their daily dramas….and the shocked remorse when the upshot is a suicide. We have begun ‘fixing’ the problem by affixing blame: it is ‘the bullies.’ We further assuage our consciences by becoming active in the outcry against the tolerance of relationally aggressive behaviors—especially at schools.
But still, people silently wonder—suicide? How could it have gotten that bad? I was (am) bullied. It seems it could only have gotten that bad if there was no support structure for the victim….But s/he could have gone to the guidance counselor, or to any of her teachers, or to me…I would have helped, so…… suicide? I Don’t Really Understand. Why didn’t she just…..
Gone to ‘helpful’ adults And What? asked them to step in and mediate, knowing all along that they might be able to address specific instances, but what of the daily nuances, what of the whole, what of the cumulative effect of the bullying, on top of all the other ‘stuff’ going on: on top of_____, as well as ______, and _____, and homework and parents and hormones?
It is a tangled web , as Hannah Baker explains in this extraordinary book.
Before she commits suicide. Read it.
Remember Kara Kowalski? Maybe not. 2005 was almost 7 years ago, and sadly, so many instances of cyberbullying like hers have been in the news since then. Kara, a cheerleader and reigning “Queen of Charm” at Musselman HS, created a MySpace page called S.A.S.H. and invited a number of her friends to check it out. In her deposition, Kara claimed that S.A.S.H. stood for Students Against Sluts Herpes, but her peers said otherwise. What it really stood for was Students Against Shay’s Herpes, Shay being a fellow student who was pictured on the page. Students posted photos, photoshopped them, left derogatory messages, and were, in general, demeaning and hateful. Kowalski , found guilty by the school officials of creating a ‘hate website’ which was against school anti-bullying policies, was suspended for 5 days, kicked off the cheerleading squad, and (ironically) prevented from crowning the next “Queen of Charm.”
Kowalski sued the school, claiming they violated her free speech and due process rights, and claiming the school had no authority to punish her, as she had created the website from her home.
She lost her case, and just this summer, lost her appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. This has not deterred her. She is now seeking Supreme Court Review—and, sooner rather than later, the Supreme Court is going to need to revisit the issue of student’s freedom of speech, which they ruled on in Tinker vs. Des Moines in 1969 (see my earlier blogs on cyberbullying).
Julie Hilden, writing for CounterPunch, is hoping she does not get it. Hilden discusses the complexities in the case, most notably the fact that legal remedies already exist to address Shay’s rights, a fact which fritters away her need for school authorities to intervene on her behalf, and the blurring of lines distinguishing a bullying case from a First Amendment case. While Hilden’s arguments are convincing, Kowalski’s behavior was heinous, and surely bullying behaviors which the courts will need to address will be complicated, and involve Freedom of Speech issues. AND, for precisely that reason, the court will need to sift the complex set of factors which are involved in this claim, and determine which to prioritize in setting legal precedent. That would seem to be half the battle in such cases—‘seem to be’ from the perspective of a concerned citizen, not a lawyer. Refresh your memory of the case Would you want your school to be able to sanction Kowalski if she created a MySpace page about your daughter, turning her into a social pariah at school? Would it be reasonable to claim such a page would interfere with her ability to learn? (Are my pandering, emotional appeals going to be left to dangle off a legal chessboard? Should they be?)
My daughters put a book into my hands several months ago, and I finally sat down and read it.
And recommend it to adults, as well as young people (girls in particular) over the age of 8 or 9.
Amy Goldman Koss’’s “The Girls” is the closest read to ‘what really happens’ that I have come across. Not only is each chapter told from a different group member’s point of view, the ‘situation’ around which the plot evolves is not a big, blown out, ‘that would never happen in my life’ event.
In keeping with girls’ reliance on their social network, the aggression is covert, simultaneously allowing for the maintenance and destruction of relationships.
Put differently: girls rely on their social network as a means of competition (that is, it is a tool for social advancement) while valuing that network as an end in itself (an important resource to be competed for). While the network may be colonized in the service of cruelty, the aggression remains subtle and insidious, ripples on a pond with far reaching affects, while underlying relationships remain intact.
In “The Girls” there was no confrontation, no fight, and only one overtly nasty incident .
Instead, a more likely scenario, centering around the nuances of inclusion and exclusion, was played out. And, it was done in a way which accurately depicts how all members of a group constantly jockey for position, and consequently need to process friendship struggles―as bystanders as well as victims―on an ongoing basis. The book does a wonderful job portraying the ambivalence of bystanders, suggesting their potential to negotiate, if not withstand, the bullying.
Watch this: STEREOTYPES
This popular video illustrates the passive-aggressive nature of many instances of bullying and relationally aggressive behavior. While the clearly stated refrain is about “loving stereotypes”, the content of the song highlights negative characteristics associated with differing cultures and nationalities, and directly solicits affirmation of them through shared laughter. We bond over our mutual recognition of the differences between these Others and us―differences with negative, often sexual connotations. This only further ingrains and perpetuates the stereotypes, but via a guise that can withstand criticism: “I was only joking” “stop taking everything so seriously” “listen to the lyrics―the song is about coming together despite these characteristics (e.g. character flaws)” . As long as we smile and are nice, what is the problem with denigrating these Others to the world, eliciting the laughter of tens of thousands of visitors to this site, reminding them of how different They are from Us, then (to add insult to injury) say the whole thing doesn’t mean anything. Shame and Ridicule are public entertainment, all in good fun. Harmless.
But all along policing social boundaries―-reminding us of where the lines of inclusion (“us”) are, and how important it is to keep those boundaries fresh in everyone’s mind. Remember, even if they are nice, They are different from Us.
The ‘stockade’– medieval punishment by public shaming. Situated in the middle of town, these devices ‘locked in’ individuals found guilty of a crime, exposing them to scorn, contempt, and even assault by passers-by.
Such practices have long been outlawed as ‘cruel and unusual punishment’
But Dunce caps and sitting ‘bad students ‘ in the corner were common well into the last century.
And public shaming is once again making a comeback.
Court-approved shaming sentences, sometimes called Scarlet Letter punishments, have been documented in numerous states. Richard Willing, in USA Today article, provides some examples:
• In Maryland, Texas, Georgia and California, shoplifters have been required to stand outside stores with signs announcing their crimes.
• In Escambia County, Fla., and in Ohio, drunken drivers are issued special license plates that identify them to fellow motorists.
• In Houston and Corpus Christi, Texas, convicted sex offenders have been ordered to place signs on their front lawns that warn away children.
• In Pennsylvania last year, the driver of a car that caused a fatal accident was forced to carry a picture of the victim.
In addition, convicted drug dealers have required to take out advertisements in local newspapers, detailing their purchasing, selling, and usage of drugs. Shawn Gementera, a convicted mail thief sentenced to wear a large sign publicizing his crime, appealed his sentence and lost.
This trend is interesting for several reasons, not the least of which is that public humiliation and shaming is the weapon of choice in bullying incidents in school. And much violence that we see is a reaction to shaming and bulling. So…we are using humiliation as a legal punishment while, at the same time, we are mandating anti-bullying initiatives in our schools in order to reduce the incidence of this behavior…
How to think about this?