I probably don’t stand up nearly enough and shout about the injustice of bullying, something i experienced for the majority of my junior schooling. Not just simple taunting, but physical bullying, bullying aimed to humiliate me and exclude me and bullying that simply wasn’t handled well enough by any of the people who were supposed to take care of me.
Bullying, the fear of bullying, was my main reason for keeping Fran out of school; i really didn’t want her to be subjected to the unrelenting campaign that i experienced, intended to make be feel different and worthless and unwanted. I’ve never been good at standing up for myself, though i have got tougher over the years, but it is still a weak spot that people can – and do – exploit. Some people can sniff out that characteristic from a mile away and even now, they can still spot it in me. I wanted to be sure my child was strong enough, that her skin was thick enough, that she had the words and the clarity (quite literally as well as figuratively) to defend herself before she had to deal with it. i wanted to know that she was able to say “and your point is….?” before she had to deal with the idiocy and smallmindedness of others on her own. You might call it hiding her away; i call it good parenting. I learned the hard way that if you are undermined from early enough, you don’t develop a thick skin by default. Some people handle it, some don’t. i didn’t.
So this quote, on the BBC today, fills me with some comfort –
Education select committee chairman
We need more people to be making this clear; you do not need to be knocked about and roughed up to learn how to defend yourself; what you need is an inner strength that makes you strong enough to shrug and turn away, unscathed by the comments. Simply being slugged on a daily basis doesn’t teach someone to box; it might teach them to run away fast, but that isn’t necessarily a great character trait either. Being laughed at daily doesn’t turn someone into a comedian unless they were already talented at that; it turns them into a person who believes themselves to be an object of derision – if they are clever, talented, they might well learn to turn it back into humour, but being laughed at daily sure didn’t turn me into Victoria Wood. I’m not a great believer in the “it made me tough/made me funny” hard luck turned good stories; i think those people were always going to come shining through and the kids who hang themselves in despair at daily torture were never going to rise above it, their sense of failure only made greater by feeling they should be able to overcome it.
When i was perhaps 7, my mum held up her hands and said “practise hitting me, then you can hit her back” – but i knew there was no point, i wasn’t capable of doing it, however much i practised. I was too afraid, i knew i would be the one who ended up in trouble, i knew i would just antagonise them enough to get hurt worse. Being in school for 14 years didn’t teach me any of those “learn to deal with it” skills; i learned them as a mum and a woman and really not much before. Even now, i have to step back at times and force myself not to go on the defensive.
When Ffran was 4, a boy laughed at her speech and her chin dropped. 2 years later the Rainbows made her feel uncomfortable and she trusted me enough to tell me and be sure i would sort it out. You can’t sort things out at 6, that is why people have a mummy. Now, at nearly 9, it rarely happens, but when it does she is simply sensible enough to explain once and then if they can’t get over it, she can make a value judgement and decide if she wants to be with that person. I’ve never seen her turn tail from something because someone makes her feel bad, she’s never left a group because she can’t handle the people there. All that progress without a school in sight to toughen her up and teach her ‘real life’.
A while ago, i looked up the name of my bully on Google; she is now a lawyer.Â I sincerely hope she works for the good guys.