Girls or boys, young or old, karma gets bullies in the end
My daughter came home from her school camp on Friday and when I asked who was in her cabin, she said, ‘two really nice girls and some mean girls. We tried talking to them but they completely ignored us.’
Aaagh! Mean girls! Sugar and spice laced with arsenic.
Bullying of all descriptions is abhorrent. Last week’s viral footage of bullied Sydney boy, Casey Heynes, ground-slamming his young taunter in the playground, polarised those who saw it. Many were appalled at the potential lethality of the act and at the outpouring of support for Casey that followed it. They jousted with those for whom it seemed that watching Casey deliver brutal come-uppance to his bully was almost voyeuristically cathartic.
Since this exploded in the international media, the bully has apologised, claiming that he himself is a victim of bullying. It’s a sorry story all round, as bullying stories always are.
Nearly thirty years after my own experience of being bullied in the playground, the video brought back memories, despite vastly different contexts. Female bullying tends to be insidious and manipulative and cyberspace can be a modern accelerant for the poison. Often, girls attack like stealth bombers, in ways that can’t be captured for YouTube.
When it happened to me at twelve, I was one-third of an intense, tight-knit friendship with what transpired to be two serial Mean Girls. I discovered the hard way that their tactic was pretty simple. Monopolise then dump. Become so tight-knit - to the exclusion of all other friendships - that when the dumping comes, the ‘dumpee’ will find herself standing in a black hole of complete isolation.
They chose their moment for maximum effect. It was on the first morning of a five-day school trip away from home. The night before (and in the months prior), everything had been all ‘Anne of Green Gables and Diana Barry’ between us. We were kindred spirits. Bosom buddies.
The next morning, the friendship didn’t exist.
Getting on that bus as a sixth-grader and realising that I had no-one to sit with was terrifying. Their sport was to watch me flounder. They’d set it up well: we’d stopped hanging around with other people – we didn’t ‘need them’ because our friendship was so perfect.
If it wasn’t for the fact that there are truly lovely people in the world, and it took about three minutes for one of them to offer me the seat beside her, their plan would have been executed perfectly. I was heartbroken, lonely, scared and confused. What had I done?
My bullies played their precision-timed game, time and again with different people over the next few years – they would embrace a target, isolate her and dump her. Several of their victims wound up in psychologists’ offices because of it.
Meanwhile, at high school, I discovered a new tribe and it took a while for me to learn to trust them. These were the thirteen-year-olds who saw each other through first crushes, trigonometry tests and technical queries about tampons.
We stood beside each other when we met the wrong boys and the right boys. Later, we became wives, ex-wives, parents, step-parents. We lost parents. We lost babies. We lost jobs. We suffered infertility, we took leaps of faith in our careers, and now – perhaps in our biggest challenge to date – we’re parenting daughters who are about to hop on the same treadmill.
Mean girls these women are not. Strong female friendship is a remarkable gift. And when women turn sour, it’s true that hell hath no fury…
When I announced at work a few years ago that my now ex-husband and I had separated, a female colleague who, for reasons known only to her, despised all younger women in the office, looked me squarely in the eye and said, ‘this will destroy your children.’
I looked at her in stunned silence, the words replaying in my head like a playground taunt: ‘This’ll destroy your child-ren, na-na, na-na-naaa!’
It was unfathomably cruel, and I was by no means the only recipient of her venom. She infamously slandered an engaged friend, claiming he’d had a fling with his fiance while his late wife was dying of cancer. Unbecoming though it is to say so, the woman was a Prize Cow. She’d cleverly played on my greatest fear – that I might lose my children, the way she’d driven her own adult children away with her bitterness.
I ran into her again, years after I’d successfully navigated happy, well-adjusted daughters through an amicable divorce, with the help of my ever-supportive ‘tribe’. Nothing much had changed in her life. She was still grasping for opportunities to figuratively slam the next woman into the concrete.
It felt so old. So boring. So juvenile. And I realised something I wish I’d known in school.
There’s a thing far worse than having the occasional brush with a bully or a Mean Girl.
That’s being one – with no escape from yourself.
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