“My life sucked when I was in high school, so how much worse would it have been if I was a girl?” That was the important question I asked myself after I finished reading Damned and Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret.
When I was a teenager, I got into heaps of trouble due to talking back at teachers, retaliating against bullies, and on some occassions I became a bully myself. The kind of bullying that I experienced and carried out fell on the masculine side of bullying. This included, but was not limited to, physical violence and intimidation.
And so due to society’s propaganda against us males being thoughtless violent brutes, I used to think bullying was only a male thing, but no, our supposedly gentle birth giving and nurturing counterparts are not exempt from this behaviour. I am speaking in generalities of course, since typically it is boys who get into fist fights, but the form of bullying girls are capable of can be as equally destructive. It’s just more subtle and harder to spot.
To understand the female psyche, and more importantly that of the teenage female psyche, I took to reading more young adult novels with female lead characters, as well as talking to my female friends, cousins, and co-workers to ask about their experiences of having been teenagers.
I learned about how feminine bullying consisted more of psychological tactics. They employ more verbal abuse through passive aggression, spreading gossip, and public humiliation, thus resulting in the destruction of their victim’s self esteem. By recognizing their victim’s personal vulnerabilities such as their body image and emotional issues, female bullies exploit those weaknesses in order to gain a sense of power.
Why would anyone want to command and demand power in such destructive ways, especially when there are healthier ways to feel and be empowered? The answer is quite simple, but also very difficult to accept. High school students are made to feel disempowered, not only by the prison like structure public high schools consist of, but also by the maltreatment they receive at home.
This is why it’s important for parents take the time to connect with their children as opposed to control them. To use their hands and their words to guide and comfort their children, not to strike or intimidate them. Otherwise, where do you think this behaviour comes from? Children are sponges. They only learn what they live, and devoid of any self awareness or intervention from peaceful people to point out the dysfunction, they will often bring their home life out into the world, particularly at school.
If you are bullied at home, you are likely to become a victim and/or perpetrator of bullying. Either you will walk down the school hallways with slumped shoulders, head bowed in hiding, and sticking close to the walls as to avoid detection, or you will attempt to regain the power you are robbed from at home by mistreating the former.
It’s not set in stone, teenagers do have the choice and capacity to act virtuously, as well as develop the self confidence and healthy support groups in order to ward off bullying–but studies have shown that maltreatment of children sets them up to exude anti-social behaviours and aggressive tendancies later in life.
So why write through a female perspective for my book? Threats of meeting another boy at the flagpole to beat the shit out of him is already such an obvious and apparent form of bullying, but bullying takes on several other forms. Society and the media will usually only touch upon the effect, but not the cause, because fundamentally…