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
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.