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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Slights, Taunts, Insults–The Making Of Character

“Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me”. How often had Marley Brixton heard that old saw from her mother. “You are too thin-skinned”, her mother went on. “Too sensitive for your own good. Live and let live for a change.”

Sticks and Stones

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Of course that bit of advice went in one ear and out the other, because Marley’s mother had no idea what the girls said to her during recess or on the walk home, how insulting the whispered asides were, or how offended she was at their….indignities.

Marley unfortunately was one of kind, the worst hand any pre-teen could possibly be dealt.  With frizzy hair, wide-set eyes, and a mouth far too big for her face, she was an easy target for the straight-haired, blue-eyed, perfect teeth in-crowd. The Celestial Dealer hadn’t stopped there either.  Marley was pigeon-toed, tall for her age, and a redhead.

Adolescent claques being what they are, the abuse dealt by the Barbies, as Marley called them, was no worse than in any other school. “Girls are bitches”, said her mother, “and that is as permanent a feature as anything on God’s green earth”.

Image result for images line of barbie dolls

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That, of course, didn’t help Marley; and each day she had to run the gantlet.  The Barbies’ taunts were orchestrated.  The girls nearest to the curb ragged her about her hair.  In the next rank were the prancing monkeys who crabbed along after her, scraping their knuckles, and waddling with exaggerated knock-knees.  Then came the Ubangi, pumping their lips and puckering kisses at her. 

Every day it was the same.  There was no let up, and she had no recourse.  There was no protector in the wings, no chivalrous knight to defend her honor, no righteous girlfriend to stand up to her tormentors.  She was on her own.

“Bullies”, said her mother when Marley told her of the gantlet, the asides, and the catty comments in the halls; but she had no intention of fighting her daughter’s battles, going to the principal to demand justice under the new Inclusivity Rule.  Lord knows, she had to fight her way through her own girl gantlets and far worse.  She had been suspended for fighting with Becky Lieberman who had called her a cunt.  There was no way that Margot Brixton was going to let that little bitch get away with sexist slurs; and before it was over, she had clawed Becky’s face, pulled our clumps of her thin, unsubstantial hair, and clubbed her tits with her knapsack. 

Becky went blubbering to the principal who, seeing her raw, bleeding cheeks, disheveled hair, and unkempt uniform, yelled at Margot, pointed to the door, and told her to leave the school premises. Margot was denied Harvard because of the stain on her high school record.  Despite the efforts of her lawyer mother and father to expunge all reference to ‘the delinquency’, it remained indelible and very visible to the Admissions Office. Yet Margot had won.

Harvard logo

If she had found a way to best the Barbies of Jefferson High, beat them at their own game, and bring down the leaders of the girlie cabal, so could her daughter.

Bullies, despite the constant criticism of them, are necessary – indispensable in fact. Their abuse may be hard to take; but it is nothing compared to the humiliating practices of real-life adult bullies. Bullies toughen the hide.

It doesn’t take long for a young employee in a new job to encounter a supervisor who is in over her head, who lacks confidence, who is intimidated by the smart young things under her; and who takes out her frustration and feelings of inferiority on them.  These thugs are rarely called out for what they are let alone punished; so timid underlings quit, and the more forthcoming are consigned to back offices and ignored. Better to suffer bullying early on, learn from the experience, and be equipped to counter contemptuous abuse later on in life.

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Bullies are important for another reason – they show what one is  made of. There are those who suck up to bullies and join their ranks.  Better to bully than to be bullied, they say.  Others simply avoid them and take the back stairs, walk home a different way, neither antagonize or ingratiate, and remain in the shadows. Finally there are the Margots who stand up and fight.  Bloodied and uncowed, they show the bully and the rest of the school the importance of character, moral principle, and fortitude.

The students of Jefferson High all fell into one of these three categories, and showed their true colors by such association.  Herman Banks was always a toady, eager to curry favor and skate around the edges of moral and ethical behavior. Betsy Barton never lost her timidity and willingness to trade recognition, popularity, and acclaim for invisibility; and Don Chalmers never backed down from a fight.  Their early encounters with Bobby Parker, the bully, were the first episodes of character.  It might have taken years for them to realize, let alone accept who they were; but they all returned to their encounters with Bobby.

Herman found ways to insinuate and ingratiate himself with prospective investors and clients. There was no need for principle or rectitude if one was canny enough to sense weakness and be willing to compromise if needs be. Betsy Barton grew up unnoticed and unremarkable.  The deal she had struck with Bobby Parker was an all-inclusive and permanent one.  She made her way slowly and carefully, a ‘nice girl’ and faithful wife, but always looking over her shoulder.  She was risk-averse as an adult, over-protective and sheltering as a parent, and a complaisant lover as a wife.

Don Chalmers joined the military as an officer, won two Bronze Stars for bravery and heroism in combat, and was the revered mayor of his small prairie town in Minnesota for four terms.

All three children ineluctably acted the way they did.  They were born either timid , evasive, or courageous. Their early years simply consolidated their character. Run-ins with Bobby Parker were the first proofs or examples of those inbuilt, hardwired traits of personality and character.  .

Catty, bitchy girls, are different.  They bully in concert.  They swarm and surround. They travel in packs.  Their goal is the cull, not the victory. Surviving them requires less fortitude and more indifference.  “Pay no attention to them”, said Marley’s mother. “They will soon lose interest”.

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Their interest did indeed fade; but other hungry girl-packs formed to take their place.  The original center always held, and although some girls graduated and others left the neighborhood, supply always exceeded demand. There were always more than enough bitches to go around.

Like bullies, these girls were good for the school and the students. Because of their particular type of cliquish assembly, they demonstrated gender differences.  Girls have always been more socially adept, more attuned to subtlety, and far more sensitive to personality, looks, and behavior than boys; and when combined with adolescent angst, a compelling need to belong, and the mentality of the pack, they could be brutal to The Other. Girls learned about themselves and boys wised up quickly.

Boys’ braggadocio, simplemindedness (“Cunt, faggot, pussy”), and concern for their own swagger and posturing, never coalesced into disassembling packs like girls. Two or three boys were enough to rough someone up, but male ego was at stake rather than the hunt, the cull, and the kill.  Boys were easy to understand and easy to avoid.

School administrators, principals, and teachers have been trained to practice zero tolerance for bullying and intimidation.  Rules on language, behavior, and the impropriety of innuendo, slight, and even indifference are posted everywhere.  Inclusivity is the new status quo.  The weak must be protected, the strong tethered, and the abusive removed.

Image result for signs in schools No Bullying

None of this does any good, of course. Children are simply too smart, too inventive, too socially aware, and too cruel for artificial, engineered rules to take hold. Who said that childhood was a bed of roses?  On the contrary, it is the earliest battleground in the war for social superiority, dominance, and authority.  A smooth ride that ends abruptly in the violent, brutal, and no-holds-barred world of adult society profits no one.

Political idealists insist that we are all good people, and policies of diversity and inclusivity according to which there are no weak or strong but only difference are the best in the long run.  They do indeed prepare students for the real world by sending them out with high self-esteem and a sense of respect and compassion for others.

This is nonsense. Every knackered idealist returning home at the end of the day, has to admit that he was ill-prepared for battle. The rule of tooth-and-claw was never posted, and it is the only one that matters.

Marley Brixton was an Ugly Duckling.  As she matured, all the ungainly features of adolescence developed into distinctly attractive if not beautiful ones. More importantly, thanks in large part to her mother, she learned how to deal with other women.  Once bitchiness was correlated with sexual competition, it became less threatening; and as she developed into an alluring young women, the cattiness and defensive aggressiveness of girl-packs made less and less difference.

Other girls were not so lucky. Their deck could never be reshuffled, and the hand they were dealt was it for life. Depending on personality and character, they emerged from the school experience either hardened at bitter or newly savvy and cynical about life in the raw.  In all cases, however, the bullying/girl-pack experience was beneficial and necessary. Laissez-faire is always the better policy.

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