Bullying is Not Cool
Saad Adnan Khan
Photos: Kazi Tahsin Agaz Apurbo
Huddled in a circle, we spoke about being vulnerable. This was back in 2011, when I had taken part in a leadership programme called 'LeaderShape,' in Illinois, USA. It was a one week leadership programme, and I think it was the second or the third day. We were asked to sit in our family clusters and talk about being vulnerable: the one time we were or felt that we were oppressed. We were also asked to talk about when we had oppressed someone else. The coordinator of our group took the lead and shared how she used to be bullied in high school because of her stammer, which has deeply affected her. At present, she sometimes gets nervous and starts to stutter slightly when she has to speak in front of a large crowd. Two of my African-American family members shared their experience of facing racism. My Chinese American family member shared how he joined his white American classmates to bully other Chinese classmates and make jokes about penis size. I shared my experience of being bullied too, how I used to be called a 'girl,' 'fag,' 'homo' because I didn't fit in the conventional image of masculinity, and apparently I wasn't a very 'manly' boy.
Bullying is a criminal activity, it is harassment inside classrooms.
I once wrote an article to explore the gender and sexuality politics in the high school classroom and took my experience of being bullied as the entry point to understand that politics. Boys are expected to be 'masculine': someone who should be physically buff, who shows interest in alcohol, drugs, violence and stunts, who shows instant sexual interest in women, and who should cringe at the slightest hint of sensitivity because that would be considered 'gay' (as if that's anything wrong) or 'not manly.' Similarly, a girl who is not feminine is bullied too. Of course, a tomboy can be lauded for being a rebel (I guess girls are in a better situation than boys in this matter), but at the end of the day, a girl who doesn't put on make-up, who doesn't have a boyfriend, who doesn't wax her legs and arms, doesn't do her eyebrows, will be made fun of, will be laughed at. It is frustrating to see that classrooms (that are supposed to be educational, inspirational and enlightening) still haven't gotten over the 'normal' idea of gender and sexuality norms. Teachers in Egalia pre-school in Stockholm, Sweden, avoid using gendered pronouns 'him' (han) and 'her' (hon), and instead use 'friends,' or 'hen,' a genderless pronoun borrowed from Finnish. At Egalia, boys are given the freedom to dress up and play with dolls if they want to. Books, toys, games are presented in a gender neutral manner.
In high schools, anyone who is a little different, gets bullied, anyone who is 'funny' looking, gets bullied: fat kid, skinny kid, pimply kid, a 'feminine' boy, a 'masculine' girl. Bullying can have severe repercussions- lack of self-confidence and self-esteem, self-loathing, missing out on classes, poor grades, becoming socially inept and also committing suicide. The bullied kid will always think that there is something wrong with him or her, and thus, would try to fix himself/herself, to fit in. I find that unacceptable.
Bullying is a criminal activity, it is harassment inside classrooms, in front of the very eyes of classmates and teachers, and still it goes unnoticed, unaddressed. What do teachers do? They ask the bullied kid to take up a fight. How is that a sustainable solution? High school teachers can't be indifferent and inactive. They have to work with different imaginations. They can't think that bullying is a 'normal' part of growing up. The kids who bully are never confronted, their parents are never notified of such criminal behaviour. Parents are only notified if their kids are not doing well in studies, and not when they are failing in becoming sensitive, mature, well-informed people.
Bullying, in the simplest sense, is about power and privilege. You see what's happening? Kids are taught to be intolerant, less creative and less kind. Bullying and harassment gets normalised. What can be the political, social, economic implication of such action and behaviour? Let's sit down and think for a while.
If I bring this up, many tell me that this is an 'American' problem. How can this be an 'American' problem, when I, being a Bangladeshi, was bullied in a Bangladeshi classroom? My private experience should mean something, right? I still cringe and get upset when I think of the way I used to be bullied. There are countless other kids and teenagers who go through this. This needs addressing, confronting, counseling and talking. Not shying away!
(The writer is a Reporter, Star Campus, currently doing a Master's in Gender Studies: Intersectionality and Change at Linköping University, Sweden.)