Schoolyard Star Wars: nerds versus bullies
In the battle between the nerds and the bullies, a seven-year-old girl is striking back.
Katie wears glasses and likes Star Wars.
At the start of the school term, she was excited about bringing her new Star Wars backpack and matching drink bottle to show her friends.
But last week, she asked her mum to swap the drink bottle for a pink one.
In tears, she said “The first grade boys are teasing me at lunch because I have a Star Wars drink bottle. They say it’s only for boys.”
Her mum told her it’s okay to be different: “Not all girls need to drink out of pink water bottles”.
“I don’t want to be too different,” Katie lamented. “I’m already different. Nobody else in my class wears glasses or a patch, and nobody else was adopted. Now I’m even more different, because of my Star Wars water bottle.”
Katie’s mum wrote about the incident in a blog on the ChicagoNow website.
“Is this how it starts? Do kids find someone who does something differently and start to beat it out of her, first with words and sneers? Must my daughter conform to be accepted?” Carrie Goldman asked.
It went viral with more than 8,000 people commenting, Tweeting and Facebooking the story.
Many shared their own experiences of being bullied: Women who loved Sci-Fi, men who wore glasses, self-confessed nerds, geeks and freaks.
Some sent their kids to school the next day wearing Attack of the Clones t-shirts.
Others organised a “Wear Star Wars – Share Star Wars” event, donating toys to local hospitals, shelters and foster homes.
Then there were blogs from reformed bullies.
In his Wordsmiff blog Ross Hamilton wrote of his regret at bullying a schoolmate who later tried to commit suicide.
“There seems to be a degree of pack mentality among young males,” he wrote.
His words echoed those of Carrie Goldman, about the “vulnerability and insecurity” of some boys.
I was horrified by comments uttered last week by my five-year-old son.
In response to a question about what he did at pre-school that day he replied, “We chased after the girls and tried to beat them up”.
“Why on earth did you do that?” I asked.
“Because we don’t like girls,” he shrugged.
Maybe he did it to make the other boys laugh, or because he had a crush on one of the girls, or to stop the other boys teasing him (Taj is also a nerdy Star Wars fan).
The same day, I overheard a group of four-year-old girls picking on a younger girl because she “doesn’t have pretty hair”.
As Carrie Goldman wrote, bullying is a slippery slope.
We’re all part of the problem.
“We, as adults, are often fearful of those who are different. I see people tease each other for being gay or poor or overweight. I see grown-ups bullying others for holding different religious and political beliefs. I see people publicly lauding diversity and privately attacking those who are different.”
For Katie the story ends well, thanks to that great bastion of nerds – the internet.
She has since worn her Star Wars t-shirt to school, complete with matching water bottle, encouraging her mum to “Tell people about it!!!!!”
NASA sent a message via the #May TheForceBeWithKatie Twitter hashtag: “C’mon boys! Space is for girls, too!”
And Tom Kane – the voice of Yoda – invited Katie to an Attack of the Clones movie premiere.
As the great master may well have said, “Different, it is OK to be”.
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