Thursday, March 14, 2013

A place in this world

Sapphire and I have had a few very intriguing discussions lately about bullying.

As she sees it, the school bullying program is about as useful as wearing a leather jumpsuit to a French squat toilet. "All it does it tell kids that they're nowhere near as bad as the examples shown," she says.

She tells me that the examples include kids writing 'Why don't you kill yourself' in SMS messages or 'Die, bitch' on Facebook pages or pushing and shoving kids against lockers.  These produce a collective eye roll amongst the compulsory viewing audience as they're too dramatic and vastly unrepresentative of what really goes on.

When I mention the book 'Queen Bees and Wannabes' by Rosalind Wiseman that we've both read, she again shakes her head. "Even when they discuss the way girls exclude or spread rumours, we're given some standard photo from the 1990s with a really exaggerated set up of three girls talking behind their hands and pointing at a fourth girl standing sadly in the foreground," she says. "It just doesn't happen like that."

"What happens is nasty sniggering instead of genuine laughing, leaving a girl terrified about walking into class with hostile eyes on her as she passes.  How can they pinpoint that kind of almost invisible bullying?"

Sapphire just can't see the jealousy and refuses to let me explain it to her, instead now talking about a wider form of bullying which seems to be freely permitted by us all.

She is a fan of Taylor Swift, admiring not only her songs (and the fact that either writes or co-writes them all), but also her looks (she is a teenage girl, after all) and the fact that she makes mistakes but isn't stupid. "She hasn't been beaten up and gone back to the bloke who did it; she hasn't got gun tatts all over her body; hasn't posed nude or been 'caught' on instagram, hasn't made a sex tape or put up photos of herself smoking dope."

It's old news media-wise now, but I felt really disappointed to read that Tina Fey, who I really admire, and her buddy Amy Poehler (who I've yet to see in anything - that's how out of touch I am) took pot shots at Taylor during their recent hosting of the Golden Globes.

"And yet, Mum," Sapphire says, jabbing her finger in the air to emphasise the matter, "Tina Fey wrote 'Mean Girls' the movie and said that she based it on Rosalind Wiseman's book but still thinks she can make jokes about someone's personal life when it isn't true."  Fair point. 

Taylor Swift herself confirmed that when she said in this month's Vanity Fair, "If you want some big revelation, since 2010 I have dated exactly two people (Conor Kennedy and Harry Styles)..... the fact that there are slide shows of a dozen guys that I either hugged on the red carpet or met for lunch or wrote a song with, it's just kind of ridiculous."

I tell Sapphire that it reminds me of a quote attributed to Jennifer Aniston a few years ago when she described seeing her confused face splashed on the covers of some magazines with the typical headline, 'Distraught Jen's baby woes' or some-such.  She commented that she remembered that particular day because of the t-shirt she had on and realised that the paparazzi had snapped her at the precise moment she'd left her agent's office and had forgotten just where the hell she'd left her car.  Sapphire smiled at this.

Naturally, the quote that has since been over-used as a Swift-bashing quickie came up.  "Katie Couric is one of my favorite people because she said to me she heard a quote that she loved that said, 'there's a special place in hell for women who don't help other women'."  This actually originated from former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, but why would all the online and paper mags want to tell readers that when they can say that Ms Swift is a humourless whinger instead?

Later in the interview, Swift was asked if she was 'boy crazy' and I wondered how hard she had to fight to stifle the urge to punch the questioner because it is highly doubtful they would have asked the same question of same-aged blokes Nicholas Hoult or Daniel Radcliffe; or of her previous paramours Taylor Lautner, Jake Gyllenhal, John Mayer or Harry Styles. It's not a question but an insult, yet she said, "For a female to write about her feelings, and then be portrayed as some clingy, insane, desperate girlfriend in need of making you marry her and have kids with her, I think that's taking something that potentially should be celebrated - a woman writing about her feelings in a confessional way.... twisting it into something that is frankly a little sexist."

I hope you really heard and understood that, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, but your answers suggest not.

Poehler's first remark about the comment was flippant. "Aw, I feel bad if she was upset. I am a feminist, and she is a young and talented girl. That being said, I do agree I am going to hell. But for other reasons. Mostly boring tax stuff."  Not good enough, Ms Poehler: you should have just apologised and tried to remember how you felt and acted between the ages of fifteen and twenty three and not brushed it off with an easy gag.  The photos found in your yearbook above suggest not just that you lived in the time of bouffant fringes but that you were also a cheerleader, so perhaps being in the cool crowd means that you really don't understand what bullying is.

And Tina Fey? "I did not see that one coming.  It was a joke.  It was a light hearted joke."  Uh-huh and that's the kind of bullying that Sapphire is worried about. The 'can't you take a joke?', the 'it wasn't meant to be taken personally' and the 'stop being a drama queen' that is some of the most subtle and damaging form of female bullying and I'm glad that my thirteen year old can see it and name it.

Here's Ms Fey on the far right of the photograph below.  I'm sure that she may not have always found the hilarity in someone commenting about her personal life - or lack thereof - when this was taken.

These cheap digs at people who are damned by the media if they try to defend themselves carries on to girls who see it, laugh at it and consider it their right to do it as well. "My friends all make comments about what a slut Taylor Swift is, Mum, and how all she does is write songs about her ex-boyfriends, but none of them own any of her albums or have listened to anything other than her singles," Sapphire points out. "She writes about a lot of issues."

All I can do is hope that Sapph understands that insults and nastiness are often used to hide insecurity, envy and laziness.  Yes, laziness. Why bother to work hard, or try something different or stick your neck out when it's simpler to knock other people down?

The fallout of such behaviour and results also severely obscures the respect that is felt by a much larger group of other people.  If Neil Young is happy to describe Swift as a 'great writer' - "I like listening to her...and watching her respond to all the attacks. I like the way she's defining herself so I keep my eye on it," and Dolly Parton says she is "extremely impressed with her, especially in her song writing .... the depth of her. She's got the qualities that could last a long time," and Stevie Nicks says that Taylor writes "songs that make the whole world sing, like Neil Diamond or Elton John and .... reminds me of me in a lot of ways. Swift's 'Today was a fairytale' has "stayed in my heart forever," then there are a lot of really good people out there too.  

So, Sapphire, take comfort too that Alicia Keys, Kelly Clarkson, Lady Gaga, Lena Dunham and Ryan Adams also think that she's worth praising instead of attacking.  Having the highest selling first week album in a decade for 'Red' aint too shabby either.

Bullying is easy. It takes little thought, makes the person feel better about themselves and costs nothing.  It's just a damn shame that negative comments seem to have more power than positive ones.  Let your actions do the talking, my darling daughter, and I'll share with my readers the lyrics to one of your favourite Taylor Swift songs:

The Best Day

I'm five years old
It's getting cold
I've got my big coat on
I hear your laugh
And look up smiling at you
I run and run
Past the pumpkin patch
And the tractor rides
Look now -- the sky is gold
I hug your legs and fall asleep
On the way home
I don't know why all the trees change in the fall
I know you're not scared of anything at all
Don't know if Snow White's house is near or far away
But I know I had the best day
With you today
I'm thirteen now
And don't know how my friends
Could be so mean
I come home crying and you hold me tight and grab the keys
And we drive and drive
Until we've found a town
Far enough away
And we talk and window-shop
Until I've forgotten all their names
I don't know who I'm gonna talk to
Now at school
I know I'm laughing on the car ride home with you
Don't know how long it's gonna take to feel okay
But I know I had the best day
With you today
I have an excellent father
His strength is making me stronger
God smiles on my little brother
Inside and out
He's better than I am
I grew up in a pretty house
And I had space to run
And I had the best days with you
There is a video
I found from back when I was three
You set up a paint set in the kitchen
And you're talking to me
It's the age of princesses and pirate ships
And the seven dwarfs
Daddy's smart
And you're the prettiest lady in the whole wide world
Now I know why all the trees change in the fall
I know you were on my side
Even when I was wrong
And I love you for giving me your eyes
Staying back and watching me shine
And I didn't know if you knew
So I'm taking this chance to say
That I had the best day
With you today

I can see why you like it, dear Sapph.


Optimistic Existentialist said...

I am so glad that there is more awareness about this issue these days. Great post.

MedicatedMoo said...

Thanks, OpEx. I'm feeling rather lucky to see my daughter think through these issues so thoroughly.

Pandora Behr said...

Excellent post.


wilbo43 said...

I am once again wrong. I mentioned he other day to some friends that I didn't think there was much bullying in Swiss schools, at least I can't remember any from my school days there. Maybe i was the bully!! Hard to believe.

franzy said...

I don't know about this one, Kath.
I agree about the insidiousness of a bullying culture, in which we all need to be aware on the deepest level and about what it is and how it affects people.

But performers discussing one another's art ... well, I'm not sure that should change. I can see how their (Poehler and Fey's) jokes contribute to the atmosphere of nastiness. BUT, intentional or not, they also contribute to discussions about it. Like the ones you're having with Sapph now. I just don't think you can predict the paths that art will travel well enough to define its true value.

Elephant's Child said...

I am not sure that luck has a great deal to do with the reasons that Sapphire thought this (and other) issues through. Perhaps you and Love Chunks might have had just a little to do with bringing up a girl who doesn't take the easy option and does think.
And I also really like 'The Best Day'. Magical bulwark and support against the sadder days in life.

Alexia said...

Super post. After reading this I found the song on Youtube - the lyrics are great and I'm planning to use them as a resource for a talk I have to give next week on self-esteem in teenagers. Thank you both for your help :)

MedicatedMoo said...

Thanks Pandora.

Wilbo43, I don't think it matters what country, what type of school or what time in history. Bullying occurs.

Franzy, I don't think it's as simple as 'performers discussing one another's art' in Poehler and Fey's case. It was a lazy joke aimed at a twenty three year old with the facts completely wrong and neither of them have been mature enough to admit it or apologise properly.

E-Child, she said to me this morning, "Mum, when we fight it really hurts because you're more than just my Mum." My heart aches in response!

Thank you so much, Alexia - let me know how it goes!

Helen said...

I think people always find a reason to judge, and exclude because it makes them feel special. Most people don't notice the bullying because they learn to take things at face value. The sensitive ones get hurt, all the time, because they do feel the stares and the giggles and the whispers. But the sensitivity that hurts so much is also what makes someone able to empathise and understand and be there for others, and eventually to be there for themselves.

And that makes an exceptional friend, and an amazing person.

I was bullied at school, the the extent that I skipped the 10-year reunion because the idea of going made me physically ill. but I'm strong now, and I'm happy now and I like to think I got a lot of my life-lessons all in one go, so I'm way ahead of other people who have to struggle through them as they get older.

FruitCake said...

Tina Fey a feminist? Like Germaine? And her comment about the Prime Minister's big bum?
How wonderful that Sapphire is not so much an "ist" as a thinker.

River said...

This is a great post with many truths in it. I'm so glad Sapphire is able to see the insidious underhand type of bullying for what it is (it's a joke...) and I'm glad she is able to talk to you and LC about these issues.
I don't like Tina Fey, I read her book Bossypants because so many blogs raved about it, so I wanted to see what the fuss was about. I thought it was rubbishy and deleted it from my kindle immediately I'd finished reading.
I have to confess I've not heard any of Taylor Swift's music, but I shall search it out and listen.

MedicatedMoo said...

Helen, I'm sorry to hear that you were bullied at school but have no doubt that you were - and are - way, way ahead of your bullies in terms of sensitivity, awareness, empathy and kindness.

Fruitcake - I love your second sentence: 'How wonderful that Sapphire is not so much an "ist" as a thinker.'

River, I bought the hard copy of 'Bossypants' due to the hype too and was really disappointed with the lack of any depth or insight in it. Still, I will be honest and say that I love her (and the rest of the characters) in 30 Rock.

diane b said...

Bullying is the most shocking mental abuse. I heard on news tonight that 80% of suicides last year were due to bullying. It is great that you and Sapph can discuss these things and that she has a mature attitude towards it. Hopefully that will be her weapon against it.There needs to be a lot of work done in schools on how to avoid becoming a victim as well as how to deal with bullying.

MedicatedMoo said...

Thankfully, Dianeb, Sapphire is already able to combat any bullying directed at her. Mostly. Talking about it does help a lot though.

nuttynoton said...

I know of bullying of a different Kind, is it because women are more sensitive than us blokes that it seems to be more subtle? Most bullying is down to envy and jealousy in my view, you have to be strong and not let them win, which meansm you need support of true friends and family. Hopefully this has made me more aware with 2 teenage daughters

MedicatedMoo said...

nutty I think that when jealousy and insecurity is involved it often tends to some form of bullying. Girls can often be more subtle about it but whether it's physical or mental, it all hurts.

I always hated the saying: 'Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me' because it is simply not true.

Jackie K said...

Wow, so bullying is the big topic in schools everywhere it seems, not just anglo-speaking ones. This is a huge topic in school at the moment, and it's certainly good that it's getting discussed and teachers are trying to address it. But Sapphire is right, the grown-ups always get it a bit wrong, and miss what's really going on. I don't want to sound defeatist and I hate that old attitude of "it's just part of childhood/life", but sometimes I wonder if it isn't after all, a part of childhood that we can't prevent entirely. Hence the big focus here at the moment is on teaching kids "resilience" but who knows if it works. It must help a bit I suppose.
I'm a bit disappointed in Tina Fey and Amy Poehler; they have millions of fans, most of whom probably think Taylor Swift is lame, so it was an easy shot and will also just perpetuate her misery from these unfair criticisms. I think Taylor Swift is an excellent role model for young girls, and very talented. And she puts her heart and art out there, and she has kept going - all pretty gutsy for a 23 year old (or anyone).

MedicatedMoo said...

JackieK, I'm relieved that Taylor Swift is out there - along with singers like Adele too, so that girls get an idea that they don't all have to behave like Rhianna and Keisha et al....

Resilience is a good thing to be taught, too. Maybe I could sign up for some lessons as well!

franzy said...

I'm not saying that I agree with what Poehler and Fey said, how they said it, or any of that. But in wanting them to apologise, you're wanting them to take responsibility for something that offends you (and, frankly, offends me too - it offends us, let's say).

I just think that we're all responsible for what we allow to affect us. I don't think they should have to apologise. They are using their public personae to create an image, an image which you and I both enjoyed (Liz Lemon and Leslie Knope). Now, that image has been changed because of how we feel about their public comments. And those comments, I think, also help us, and Sapphire too, understand what creates the image, and also what it's made from.

We might identify with Liz and Leslie, but having those images challenged by Tina and Amy, I think can actually help us to re-examine what it is we truly identify with in those characters. It's not nice to have your heroes turn into mean girls, but it can also show you where the boundaries are, and maybe even help you examine your own boundaries.

You're right: their crime wasn't misogyny, it was unoriginality. And, as talented artists, they should have done better. But when you ask an artist to apologise for not living up to your expectations, then you are changing the contract.

MedicatedMoo said...

Franzy, I'm not concerned about how Fey and Poehler are 'challenging images' that they've created (Liz Lemon is one of my all-time favourites) and they sure as hell shouldn't have to say sorry to *me* but they should, as a common form of human decency, apologise to Ms Swift.

If you deliberately and publicly set out to humiliate someone and
a) get your facts wrong; and
b) find out that the person concerned was hurt;
then apologise. Easy and fair.