Bullied – What Every Parent, Teacher and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear
Author, Carrie Goldman
Reviewed by Stacey Turis
After author Carrie Goldman’s daughter, Katie was bullied at school for carrying a Star Wars water bottle, Goldman posted about the experience on her blog. In her words, “it was the post that launched a thousand Geeks.” The post went viral and a colorful (and quite large) cast of characters came out in support of this little Jedi that was simply doing her own thing. This attention and “cyber-support” motivated Goldman to research bullying in our culture. She presents her findings in the wildly-interesting book, Bullied.
Bullying brings to mind a bigger kid picking on a smaller one. Maybe the smaller kid has a lisp. Maybe he wears glasses. Maybe there isn’t one particular thing that would obviously stand out as a reason to be picked on, but everyone knows who the bully is and everyone stays away from him. According to Goldman, what on the outside appears to be a mere school yard issue, really goes much deeper and broader into the working mechanics of our current society.
If you ask a victim of bullying why they feel they’re being attacked, their response normally is that they just don’t fit in. Unfortunately in this day and age the amount of ways to not fit in are compounded by a host of different sociological factors such as gender-specific marketing; including toys and packaging, sexual preference, culture, and media presentation just to name a few.
According to Goldman, “Children learn exclusion from the media, what with the superficial importance placed on looks, clothes, accessories, and brands.” According to me, they also learn to talk like little smart asses. A perfect example; I’m a huge fan of iCarly. I think it’s a smart, funny and well-written show, but never in my wildest dreams did I consider the fact that every smart-ass comment I laughed at was making an impression on my young daughter. Before I knew it, she was the smart-ass whipping zingers left and right.
According to the author, my assessment is right on. “Twenty years ago, girls were largely idealized as nice and sweet, and popular television shows emphasized the idea that girls don’t rock the boat. That was the heyday of shows like My Little Pony, Care Bears and Strawberry Shortcake. As some girls began to rebel against the rigid stereotype of the unassertive female, a revised category of girl characters emerged, but now the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction. Sugar and Spice gave way to sassy and saucy. Mimicking the trend in television shows, the toy industry introduced edgier dolls.”
Edgier dolls! Ah ha! Let’s talk about my daughter’s fascination with Monster High Dolls. I liked the Monster High dolls when they came out because they were original and included back-stories we all know and love (the Monster High kids were spawned from the likes of Dracula, Wolf man, Creature from the Blue Lagoon, etc.). I also felt like they were good tools for teaching diversity and acceptance. Unfortunately (or fortunately) I was never privy to the webisodes used to market the dolls. According to the author, “The young girls who watch Monster High are led to believe that teenagers in high school should look like skinny, sexy supermodels preparing to strut down the catwalk during Fashion Week in Paris. There are real consequences to the girls who watch these programs, as evidenced by the American Psychological Association’s Sexualization of Girls, which found that three of the most common mental-health problems among girls – eating disorders, depression or depressed mood, and low self-esteem – are linked to the sexualization of girls and women in the media.” Correct me if I’m wrong, but this looks like a lose-lose to me. The girls that buy in to these marketing efforts are at risk for mental health problems and the girls that don’t are at risk for exclusion. Basically, through media, marketing and merchandising, we’re breeding mean girls and low self-esteem.
While we’re discussing the sexualization of girls, let’s get on the topic of the masculinization of boys. I may have just made that word up, but the theory is real. We’ve all heard the idiocy of “real men don’t cry.” I’m not sure whose theory that was, but it is really screwing up our guys. The perfectly natural and very human acts of boys and men sharing feelings and releasing emotions are discouraged in our “be tough” society. Apparently, if you’re a sensitive guy that doesn’t enjoy the act of blowing things up or other seemingly macho activities, you’re at risk for being called “gay” (which is sad to me to be considered an insult).
Goldman writes, ““Homophobic Bullying inhibits all boys’ ability to connect with one another in deep, meaningful ways, and they suffer terribly as a result. Boys feel as if they can no longer trust their closest friends and they cease to talk about their feelings and emotions. They become lonely and isolated, not because they lack social and emotional skills, but because society discourages them from accessing and using these skills. Boys are afraid to be labeled ‘gay’ and thus subscribe to these extreme stereotypes, which is part of their attraction to ultramasculine music and media.”
All of the above is what the heterosexual male goes through. Just imagine the pain that a homosexual male has to endure from his peers. Sometimes it’s too much for a kid to bear and not living is the only way they see out of the situation. When a person takes their own life due to the effects of bullying, it is called “Bullycide”. Bullycide is a very real risk for LGBT kids. According to Goldman, “Nine out of ten LGBT students report experiencing bullying in their school; LGBT teenagers are four to seven times likelier to attempt suicide. LGBT children who are rejected by their families are eight times likelier to attempt suicide and at much higher risk of winding up homeless and living on the streets.”
The pain and trauma from bullying is real. It’s also so incredibly invasive and damaging; it can actually change the physiology of the brain. Goldman explains, “Studies investigating the neuroscience of bullying have found that bully victims experience anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress, difficulty concentrating, headaches and stomach pain as a result of being bullied…studies have shown that parts of the cortical pain network are also activated when a person is socially excluded. This goes not just for adults but for children as well. The brain of a child as young as thirteen has been shown to react to social pain as if the child were being physically injured.”
Reading Bullied has really made an impact on the way I interpret the things happening currently in our society. I realize now that there are threads of commonality weaving their way through issues that are seemingly unrelated and something has to be done. I leave you with my favorite quote (and will be added to my favorite quotes page) from the book. “To the princess boys and the Star Wars girls, the non-conformists, the marginalized, the ignored and the outcasts, the hidden Jedis of the universe, over and over I offer up these words to you: You are not alone.”
Bottom Line: Bullied is a smart, how-to read that will change the way you view the background and dynamics of our society. Bravo to Goldman for advocating acceptance as a way to navigate through those dynamics.
Carrie Goldman is the author of the critically-acclaimed book Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher, and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear (Harper Collins, 2012). She also writes an internationally-followed blog called Portrait of an Adoption for ChicagoNow, the online community hosted by the Chicago Tribune.
Goldman writes about issues related to parenting, adoption, bullying and contemporary culture. She has been featured on the Huffington Post, Babble.com, CircleofMoms.com, Mamapedia.com, and other top parenting sites.
In addition to writing, Goldman is an accomplished oil painter. Her award-winning landscapes and portraits have been featured in exhibits and shows around the country.
Goldman received her B.S. from Northwestern University and her M.B.A. from the Kellogg School of Management. She lives in Illinois with her husband and three young daughters.
You can find her on Twitter here.