I finally watched Amanda Todd’s video yesterday. It inspired me to write down some thoughts, after almost two months away from this blog.
Amanda was a fifteen year old girl who committed suicide this week after being tormented online and in person. This week we have been hearing about the cost of bullying, and about how she had been bullied, and how that seemed to have contributed to her death. When I read the video, it struck me that the word “bullying” may not be a good word for this situation. Or perhaps, for any situation where it gets used.
The National Post wrote a blog about this: http://news.nationalpost.com/2012/10/12/amanda-todd-suicide-2012/ In it, the writer describes how her ordeal started:
amanda todd facebook 2012
On the papers, the teen explains that as a Grade 7 student, she was lured by an unidentified male to expose her breasts via webcam.
One year later, Todd said she got a message from him on Facebook, though she didn’t know how he knew her name or where to find her.
Todd’s notes said the man ordered her to “put on a show for me,” or he would send around the webcam pictures. Todd said he knew her address, her school, her friends and her family
The article goes on to describe how she had to change schools and move in order to get away from this person. It describes how she was beaten up by classmates and shunned. This is not bullying. This is taking advantage of a young girl. This was predation, exploitation, harassment and stalking, among other things. We need to call it what it was. Bullying seems like a schoolyard shenanagans. This goes way beyond shenanagans.
One writer, Krissy Darch (http://www.vancouverobserver.com/blogs/feminista/why-isnt-anyone-talking-about-misogyny-involved-amanda-todds-life-and-death) wonders why no one is talking about the misogyny in Amanda’s life and death.
Feminist scholar and writer, and former BC high school teacher Fazeela Jiwa posted: “Why isn’t anyone talking about the sexism and misogyny involved in Amanda Todd’s life and death? ‘Bullying’ is important, yes, but it is a vague term that glosses over the structural reasons for why it happens, like race/gender/class/ability. If we don’t start talking about the specifics of power structures in high schools, every ‘bullying’ campaign will be a waste of time.”
Amanda was called a slut, and shamed for her behaviour. WTF? Her abusers are the ones who should be ashamed.
So, all this week there has been a lot of information and discussion about bullying. To me bullying is shoving and pushing in the school yard. It is the big kid stealing the little kid’s lunches. It is the stuff that everyone has to deal with to some degree. Arguably, it is the stuff that makes us stronger. Sadly, what some kids, and even adults, now have to deal with goes way beyond bullying.
I often wonder whether school bullying programs actually work. Do they really change things, or just cause some of the behaviours to go underground, or online? What would happen if we recognized some of the behaviours as assaults or as stalking? We need to call the behaviours what they are, and not soften them with the term “bullying”.
We also need to give our kids the tools to protect themselves, or to seek help when they are creeped out by requests from others that could lead to sexual exploitation. When I read Amanda’s story, I was struck by how alone she seemed. What made it difficult for her to seek help? My guess is she felt ashamed for her choices, and that she had been intimidated by the person who encouraged her to show her breasts, and then went on to stalk and torment her.
I am going to rethink how I use this language and how I use the term bully. I encourage you to do the same. Call out the bad behaviour. Name it what it is. Clearly and directly. Not with the softened name of bullying.
The way to work with a bully is to take the ball and go home. First time, every time. When there’s no ball, there’s no game. Bullies hate that. So they’ll either behave so they can play with you or they’ll go bully someone else. ~Seth Godin