So back on Friday, a report came out about the sexual harassment women face on London streets (to be honest, the report could apply to the US quite easily… and probably anywhere else in the world, to… read it to see what I mean). There were responses to it all over the place. The paper that carried the report had two opinion pieces here and here. There were also radio debates, including the Vanessa Feltz show, and the breakfast show on the same station (please note… on June 1, you will no longer be able to listen to the two programs).
Indigo Jo (my source for the links above) wrote about a specific aspect of these debates. That specific aspect? A lot of (mainly men) were saying how women should just “ignore it”, because if they do, “it will go away”. According to this lie, if you ignore a bully, they won’t get the reaction they want, and thus leave you alone. Take it from someone who spent elementary, middle, and the first half of high school being bullied that this is a load of crap.
I was the victim of bullying for pretty much my entire grade-school career. And it wasn’t just teasing or harassment with words… I was physically assaulted, too… especially when I didn’t respond to the words. And when I defended myself against the physical assaults, I would get in just as much trouble as the bully… or sometimes more, if the authority figure happened to walk in on the fight right as I was throwing a punch. It didn’t help that I couldn’t, and can’t, fight, so any blows I attempted to deliver would either miss or hit so softly as to be ineffectual. Basically, I was helpless.
I went to the counselor frequently, and the “ignore it” lie was shoved down my throat. I was forced to repeat the phrase “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me” over and over again, because it was supposed to be my mantra. I was told that if I just left it alone, they’d leave me alone. I was the only one of the victims going to counseling to protest it. I explained to them that my experience was that when I ignored them, they just got worse, graduating to physical assault. Then I was told “it always gets worse before it gets better. That’s how everything works. And besides, you don’t have to ignore the physical assaults. You turn around and get a teacher. You don’t have to fight back… the bully is the coward. You are the brave one for walking away and getting an adult.”
But none of this is true. The fact is, bullies, when they’ve graduated to physical assault, will not let you turn around and walk away. They’ll run after you and pull you back in. The authority figures will tell you that you always have a choice, but the bullies will do everything in their power to take away your choice. They will make sure that you fight them no matter what. They will take away your autonomy to get that fight. And when you’re like me, more often than not weaker than the bullies, you don’t stand a chance. I was suspended on the last day of 7th grade because of a bully who wouldn’t let me go… yes, he was, too, but I was just trying to get away from him… I wasn’t trying to actually fight him.
Trying to “fit in” wouldn’t help, either. In my last year of middle school (8th grade) I tried fitting in. I started wearing what all the “cool kids” wore, acting how the “cool kids” acted, listening to what all the “cool kids” listened to… but they reacted by changing again, saying I made those clothes or that fake tattoo or that hat or that music or whatever “uncool”, and nobody could wear it or listen to it again. For my 8th grade year, I was the measuring stick for what was uncool.
And incidents like Columbine didn’t help, because the bullies would start asking me if I was going to bring guns to school and “go all Columbine” on it. I always said no, and that was the truth. I mean… yes, I was a depressed kid… I hated pretty much everyone. Boys using me as a punching bag, girls I showed just a tiny bit of interest in calling me ugly, everybody laughing at me simply for walking into a room… but the thought of actually killing anyone has never, and will never, cross my mind. But it bothered me, and still bothers me, that the bullies would use such an event to bully. It makes me glad that the bullying had mostly stopped by 9/11, but it also makes me wonder if there were, and are, bullies who use 9/11 to bully others.
“Ignore it and it will go away” is a lie. Just like the “it doesn’t matter who started it” lie and the “sticks and stones” lie, it is how lazy authority figures got out of dealing with the problem. And it needs to be stopped. Ignoring it does not work. It has never worked, and it will never work, and that is simply the way it is. And this doesn’t just apply to school bullies, but to men sexually harassing women on the street.
“Hey baby! Wanna go over to that alley and suck my cock?” is not now, nor has it ever been, a “compliment”. Whistling, catcalls, leering… I have never, in my life, met a woman who goes out of her way for this attention. This is not how civilized human beings are supposed to complement each other. I’m sorry, but these men are being bullies, picking on women. It is bullying, whether you want to admit it or not. And like all bullying, ignoring it does not make it go away, contrary to popular opinion.
“Ignore it” is a cop-out by authority figures, plain and simple. And it’s time this lie was exposed as such and people stopped using it.