Saturday, January 9, 2010

Girl Bullies and Their Lasting Impact

I'm not the first nor the only female to have been the victim of a girl-bully when I was in school.  Recently, the topic has become more open, has been written about and probably been the subject of countless talk shows that I don't watch.  I'm sure that it is a problem as old as humanity, what is new is that it is now okay to talk about it and to openly discuss the ramifications.  What amazes me is that for as long as there have been human beings there have been bullies, and they come in male and female as well as both child and adult forms, yet we have not managed to eliminate bullying at all.  We can't agree on either a cause or a solution.

While the horrors of males bullying other males are legends of private schools and public schools alike, the largely physical bullying technique is practically considered a right of passage.  The ultimate male characteristic is deemed to be brute strength, therefore it is almost a favour that the bully grants, forcing little boys to become men. This is a terrible fallacy only beginning to unravel as we realize that males have feelings too.

 Female bullying is of a completely different sort most of the time, and wounds are deep.  Female power is rarely physical, although it can be.  What most female bullies do is isolate their victims socially, prey on their sense of self worth and shame them as much as possible.  amazingly this works.  Queen Bees and Wannabees, By Rosalind Wiseman, takes on this topic and explains the psychological theories behind the behaviour of Queen Bees and their followers.  The main motivation of the followers is to not be victims themselves.  What is startling is how easy it would seemingly be for everyone to simply reject the queen.  As in a beehive, it seems the queen is destined to exist and it is only a matter of how benevolent, or not, she deigns to be.  The victim is usually a member of the queen's hive, not an outsider, but each member maintains a rank and therefore someone is always at the bottom.

As I write this I'm thinking about my own experiences, more on that later, but the movie Grease has just popped into my head.  Sandy makes friends with Frenchy on the first day of school  and is introduced to the Pink Ladies.  Rizzo, the Queen Bee is their leader, Jan holds her place as the funny one, and Marty and Frenchy are the two followers.  Jan, the funny one is a threat to nobody so she is safe.  Marty has a certain detachment which serves her well and Frenchy is kind, sweet and ditzy but seems to have no mind of her own.  She has recruited Sandy unconsciously to add a member with lower status than her own.  Every member of the group must work to keep her place and nobody wants to be on the bottom.  Sandy proves to be a fun target, although since Rizzo has enough problems of her own with being pregnant, she isn't nearly as cruel to Sandy or anyone else as are many of the Queen Bees I have heard or read about or encountered myself.

The nastiest of the QB's are intent upon making you cry alone in your pillow at night.  They inflict pain greater than any sucker punch.  Females are raised to be kind and nurturing, to believe in both girl power and sisterhood.  The Queen Bee messes with those beliefs.  Quite often she has you believing your are one of if not the closest of her friends.  This lasts for awhile ( a year or two even) and is pleasant.  Having been raised to be kind, forgiving and being instinctively loyal, her victim is devastated when that friendship is not only suddenly and inexplicably take away, but finds that cruel rumours are being spread and nobody she though was a friend is standing up for her.  All terrified that they could be next, the other girls sit on the fence singing their legs with false bravado and glance nervously over at QB.  Oh it's something yo two have to work out between you.  They say repeatedly.  It isn't really our business.

The current anti-bullying strategies being taught in elementary schools encourages children to stand up to bullies and defuse the situation by showing support for the victim and no fear of the bully.  The strategy is to invite the victim to come away and be with you, leaving the bully rejected and alone.  It probably works in the obvious situations, but children aren't equipped with the psychoanalytical skills to detect a female bully disguised as a Queen Bee.  As a teacher, I see it begin in grade three, when girls discover the power of saying, "You're not my friend anymore."

My first experience came in grade nine, an emotionally precarious time as it is.  The daughter of a good friend experienced  almost identical abuse in grade six.  Living in a culture that likes to sexualize little girls and encourages the so called "tweens" to act like teens, (What happened to just being kids-now they are tweens?)  I'm not really surprised at this.  My tormentor had been my best friend for two years, since her first day as a new student in my grade seven class.  She chose me, being the more outgoing of the two of us.  I don't ever want to imply that I was a naive innocent, but in general I did not participate in being unkind to students of lower status than myself.  My worst crime was to have ignored them, in part for fear of my own status sinking lower and in all honesty simply not being attracted to them as potential kindred spirits.  The were likely to come from poor and possibly dysfunctional homes, something with which I did not relate.  As usual, I am inclined to digress.

My new friend had many qualities I admired or enjoyed but it is curious to me that there was much about her I didn't like yet I wouldn't admit it to myself.  For one thing, it was a small town and a small elementary school so the pool of selection was shallow.  For another, I was a believer in making the best of whatever friendship you had and in believing  the best of people.  In time it became clear to me that I longed for a friendship with her older sister, to whom she was often quite cruel.  A two year age difference at that time was somewhat of an obstacle to friendship, specially since I was in Junior High and she was in Senior High.   I clung to my friendship with Heather (yes, that is her real name) and the two of us began to make other friends in the slightly larger pool of Junior HIgh.  We were somewhat inseparable and many people knew us as Heather and Shawna but did not even know which of us was which.  I'm sure that was a little irritating to both of us.

In grade nine things changed.  By October she was beginning to snub me.  She was becoming popular and could easily draw a crowd.  I could be mid sentence in a conversation with people from our group and if she walked in the room all focus just turned to her.  It's funny to look back and realize that I had suppressed feelings of dislike for her and I'm sure some jealous of the attention she got because I didn't think she deserved it.  I was slowly forming the opinion that she was not a very nice person.  I had nowhere else to go unless I had the courage to strike out on my own.  This was my group of friends and if they were smitten with her I would just have to ride along.  Soon she was barely speaking to me and someone else informed that me that she was now best friends with Linda.  It may seem so trite now, but at that age it was my whole world.

By Christmas she was telling people that I was a slut.  Based on what, I don't know.  While nobody actually believed it, they also did not take her to task for saying it and continued to admire her.  The rumours weren't being spread about them, after all.  At one point I confronted her, not as a strong and confident person, but as a weak and groveling one.

 "I don't understand", I said. "You know I wouldn't deliberately do anything to hurt you so there must be some kind of misunderstanding.  Can't we talk about it?"  She looked at me coldly, I still remember the look.

"You disgust me."  She said.  "There is nothing to talk about."

After that I tried to go my own way, eventually found another friend to spend time with and I thought I was over it, although certainly still bitter.  My parents later told (years later) that I was so affected by this that they were planning to send me to a different High School the following year instead of the one my Junior High naturally fed into.  It turned out to be unnecessary since Heather moved away.  Not so far away, however, that she couldn't maintain her friendships with my peers somewhat.  She occasionally returned to town for a visit.

By the time I was in grade twelve, Heather was keeping up a friendship with a very nice, very shy girl named Melanie.  Melanie herself told me that she didn't like what Heather had done to me and was pushing her to apologize.  Somewhere in the Spring, while Heather was visiting and had come to school with Melanie, she approached me and said, "I want to apoligize for everything I did to you."

I replied, "That's nice but I don't accept your apology."  I even managed to say it nonchalantly and while walking away from her.  I didn't want her apology; by then it meant nothing to me and I didn't believe in its sincerity.  I might have believed in my nonchalance at the time, but I was not free of her because my memory would not let go.  For years I replayed the whole thing in my mind.  I had fantasies of getting the opportunity to tell her family how evil she really was. I continued to be hurt because of the easy way mutual friends dismissed it all as kids being stupid.  Maybe you were stupid, I thought.  Maybe you can be called stupid for not seeing her for what she really was and for practically abetting if not actually aiding it.  I harboured a hatred for her I'm not sure that I'm completely rid of, although I have gotten past the fantasies of telling her family.  I tend to believe that people don't change much, which leaves me believing her to be a cruel person by nature.  It disturbs me that she is, to the best of my knowledge, a pediatric nurse.

In my Buddhist practice she is a significant source of challenge.  How to forgive her, feel compassion for whatever pain she suffers(ed) in life that drives her cruelty.  I haven't forgiven her yet, nearly thirty years later.  I have moved on in the sense that I believe all experiences to methods of learning.  I've moved on in that I don't think about it more that a couple of times a year.  I am not able to forgive, only to pity.  But perhaps I should ask you, dear reader, to pity me.  I fell for this cruel type of person more than once in my life.  Yes, only a few years ago I was entangled with the adult version.  That is a much longer story, but actually has left no scars.  It is even funny now, although it wasn't at the time.  Perhaps that story is ready to be told too, but it is so convoluted it would take me some time to sort it out.

In the meantime, I want to remind you of the title I mentioned at the beginning of this post.  Queen Bees and Wannabees.   There are other books which also deal with this subject, but if you have a daughter and you want to arm her against this sort of experience, read this book and share it with her by the time she is eight.  Please.


carla fox said...

I just stumbled across your blog and this post. I believe there are no coincidences. I'm in a bit of a hurry now, but just had to say that this happened to me. Sadly, I was in my 50's when it happened! I guess we're never too old to be taken in by an insincere friend...especially when we have doubts about our own worth. A HUGE lesson, and one that I'm still processing. I'm going to come back and reach this more thoroughly later....that's for the post.

The Blasphemous Fiendess said...

Carla, I mentioned in this post that I I had another experience, this time with an adult friendship. I was in my late thirties and my "friend" in her late forties. It was so nasty and complicated I haven't even figured out how to concisely write about it yet. If you need to talk about your situation please stay in touch.

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