WoB Talk

December 26, 2011

December 26, 2011 – January 7, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kari Maaren @ 6:37 am

Thus continues the saga of Casey’s bizarre behaviour and Marie’s oddly measured reaction to it.


Another Week of Not Ranting

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kari Maaren @ 6:33 am

It’s 10:30 p.m. on Christmas night, but since I was in Toronto two days ago and am now in BC, it feels like 1:30 a.m. on Boxing Day morning.  Also, there have been small children going mad with excitement all over the place since 5:00 a.m.  I am tired and need to skip the Rant.  Next week, however, things should return to normal.

December 19, 2011

The Joy of Marking

Filed under: Rants — Kari Maaren @ 6:27 am

I’m afraid I don’t have time for a Rant this week.  I have marked 146 exams in the past two days, and I still have about twenty essays and several hundred discussion responses to go before the mark-submission deadline on Tuesday afternoon.  Why didn’t I finish my marking earlier, you ask?  That would be the fault of the 200 essays I had to get through before I started the exams.  “I just want to cry” is probably the most coherent thing I’m capable of saying right now.  I do hope everyone else is having a great break.  Imagine me simultaneously glaring and weeping as I type that.

December 13, 2011

Site Down for Some Reason, So Here’s Monday’s Comic

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kari Maaren @ 1:10 am

The main West of Bathurst site seems to have been down since about 7:00 Toronto time.  Actually, the entire Massey site is down.  I have no idea why, and I have no power over its return, so I’ll just post today’s new banner and comic here for now.  Let us hope this is not the beginning of another Disappearing Site Nightmare.  I’m sorry the comics are so tiny (click on them to see the full-size images); Word Press is, for some reason I cannot for the life of me understand, now refusing to let me insert images directly into my posts.  It has apparently changed its format.  I really don’t get it.

The alt-text for the comic is:

Clearly, Casey has access to the same sub-space Barbara keeps in her pockets.

EDIT:  As of 2:55 p.m. Toronto time on Tuesday, December 13th, the site is back up.

December 12, 2011

Bullying Mark Two

Filed under: Rants — Kari Maaren @ 9:39 am

First of all, I would like to thank everybody who has commented, both publicly and privately, on last week’s Rant.  The subject is one that is important to me.  A lot of you have had similar experiences, some much worse than mine.  Some have been witnesses of bullying rather than victims themselves.  I have heard from nobody who claims to have been a bully, but one of the interesting–and terrifying–things about this issue is that the categories are not mutually exclusive.  In a recent Globe and Mail article, a number of kids were asked to speak of their experience; the majority of them identified themselves as belonging to at least two of the three categories of “bully,” “witness,” and “victim.”  Some claimed to be all three.

When you’re ten years old and people are hurting you, you want to hurt them back.  Sometimes, you want them to die.  But the truth of the matter is that they’re not monsters.  They’re kids.  They’re louder or physically stronger or more charismatic than you are.  Often, they’re just as scared, and of the same things:  of being singled out.  Of being laughed at.  Of being bullied themselves.

If we want to solve the problem, we need to stop treating the categories as entirely separate, and we need to stop focusing solely on the victims.  Yes, the victims certainly need our help.  They need support; they need to know that the teachers are not just “letting kids be kids.”  They need some assurance that they are not alone.  But bullying is not a natural disaster.  If we simply teach the victims to cope, we are accepting bullying as a fact of life, something that will happen no matter what.  We have to start talking to the bullies too.  Punishment isn’t enough.  Punishment doesn’t teach empathy.  It also tends to drive bullies to revenge.

Perhaps there will eventually be some way for us to change our definition of “strength.”  Our society tends to view the loudest, pushiest people as the strongest; we do not highlight the strength necessary to choose not to kick and shove one’s way into the alpha position.  In actual fact, it’s braver to refuse to taunt a classmate–thus risking scorn oneself–than it is to join in on the ridicule.

In the last couple of weeks, I have noticed two sitcom episodes that have dealt with bullying, one on The Big Bang Theory and one on Community.  They are worth looking at briefly because they offer, respectively, very conventional and rather unconventional portrayals of bullies and their victims.  There will be some spoilers below.

The Big Bang Theory, a traditional multi-camera sitcom, offers a familiar portrait of childhood bullying.  The now adult victim, Leonard, is about as typical a Hollywood nerd as it is possible to find:  small, weak,  smart, glasses-wearing, suffering from various digestive ailments.  In the episode, he is contacted by a former bully who wants to have drinks with him.  The majority of the episode consists of Leonard describing all the things the bully and various other bullies did to him, to uproarious laughter from the studio audience.  The bullying incidents, some of which are genuinely horrifying, are played for laughs.  When the bully turns up, he is a large, crude alcoholic who is clearly not very bright.  His drinking features heavily, implying karmic retribution for the bullying.  When Leonard finally confronts him, he seems remorseful, though it later turns out that the remorse stemmed from the drinking; he has forgotten it by the morning, at which time the bullying–again played for laughs–resumes.  The B plot involves Leonard’s next-door neighbour Penny being forced by her much nerdier friends to realise that she was herself a bully in school.  She phones her former victims to try to pacify her conscience, but they all reject her overtures.  She continues to mock them (for laughs, of course) even as she apologises.

Community is a less conventional comedy, and it takes a less conventional approach.  One of the protagonists, Jeff, is bothered by some loud, obnoxious foosball players at his community college, and when he tries to get them to stop, they humiliate him in a game of foosball.  He tries to persuade his friend Shirley, who is a foosball genius but never plays, to teach him how to beat them.  Neither Jeff nor Shirley has played since childhood; both were once devoted to the game but eventually driven away from it.  In the course of their training session, they discover they have a linked past:  at twelve, Shirley was the bully who tore into ten-year-old Jeff during a game of foosball, abusing him so violently that she made him wet his pants.  He quit foosball because of the bullying; she quit because the incident made her recognise herself as a bully.  The coincidence is, of course, contrived, but it leads to a foosball-themed shouting match in which the two of them both scream out their anguish, Jeff pointing out what the bullying did to him and Shirley countering that she was trying to divert attention from her own difference.  The interesting bit is that the adult Shirley is a devoutly Christian mother of three, while Jeff is an outwardly arrogant, manipulative lawyer; in most stories, their positions as bully and victim would be reversed.  They reconcile at the end of the episode.

Community trumps The Big Bang Theory here by focusing on both bully and bullied without stereotyping either.  Both are portrayed as human beings, neither overly kind and good nor ridiculously mean and rotten.  Shirley has not been overtaken by karmic retribution, and she is not identical to her twelve-year-old self.  Jeff, despite his seeming confidence, has been haunted by the incident well into his thirties; by the end of the episode, the viewer realises that Jeff’s motivation for attacking the foosball players in the first place must have been linked, perhaps subconsciously, to his memories of Shirley’s bullying.  In The Big Bang Theory, on the other hand, everything is black and white.  The bully is a cardboard cut-out; I watched the episode only a couple of days ago, but I’ve already forgotten his name.  The bullying itself is clearly meant to be hilarious.  In Penny’s plot, Penny’s obliviousness is mocked, but the audience laughs just as loudly when she is making fun of someone’s stutter as it does when she is demonstrating her own selfishness.  Leonard’s lists of the bully’s physically violent treatment of him elicits more laughter, and the episode ends with the bully once more asserting his physical superiority by chasing both Leonard and his roommate down several flights of stairs in their own apartment building.  The episode gives us the bully as natural disaster and simultaneously provides us with the false but doubtless comforting fiction that bullies will end up as alcoholic losers (unless they are female and pretty).  Community offers no karma and, in the actual bullying scene, no laughter.  It’s still a very funny episode, but it doesn’t take the easy way out.

I’m sure I could write on this subject for another year or so, but I’d better stop now.  Please do keep thinking about this issue.  If nobody thinks about it, nothing will ever be done.

December 12 – 23, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kari Maaren @ 9:26 am

It’s almost Christmas, and that means it’s time for something CRAZY to happen.  Enjoy.


December 5, 2011

“Kids Will Be Kids”: A Refutation

Filed under: Rants — Tags: — Kari Maaren @ 2:09 am

Note:  I’m going to start posting my weekly Rants on this blog as well as on the Massey alumni Rants page.  Some people do like to comment on them, and these comments tend to confuse people who just want to talk about the comics.  I’ll continue to post the fortnightly comics threads, but these Ranty threads will be appearing on Mondays as well.

This week’s Rant is likely to be less goofy and sarcastic than usual.  I apologise for the lack of ironic humour.  However, this issue is one I’ve been thinking about a lot.  It seems to be ending up in the news quite frequently lately (I think the Toronto Star may have just done a series on it, but I’ve seen it elsewhere too).

I have an unfortunate habit of reacting to social situations with impulsive and bitter references to Bad Things That Happened to Me in High School.  When I do so, my acquaintances tend to respond by telling me to get over it.  High school was a long time ago; why am I still complaining about stuff that happened to me when I was fourteen?  I should grow up and move on with my life.  Theoretically, these people are correct.  I’m thirty-six, not fourteen.  I was in high school decades ago.  There is no logical reason I should still be harping on that time of my life, which is over and done with.  My references to the “unfairness” of high school doubtless come across as self-centred and pointless.

The fact that I can analyse my own behaviour like this is actually a symptom of what I am about to tell you.

I was bullied–viciously, unrelentingly, mercilessly–between the ages of eight and sixteen.  I expect that in realistic terms, the bullying began in a minor way in kindergarten and didn’t truly end until I graduated from high school, but I have a crystal-clear memory of what I think of as the beginning of the terror:  the moment in grade 3 when one of my classmates discovered that my last name sounded quite a bit like “moron.”  In grades 11 and 12, on the other hand, I was still ostracised somewhat, but I also managed to find some similarly ostracised friends, and we formed our own nerdy little defensive group of outcasts.  It was in between these two periods that my life became a living hell, and no, I do not use that term lightly.

“Kids will be kids,” adults say indulgently.  Of course there’s some bullying, but it’s harmless; it’s just children squabbling amongst themselves.  Adults who talk like this were rarely ever bullied themselves.  Being the class pariah is terrifying.  There is no other word for it.  The pariah is despised.  She is ugly, fat, stinky, clumsy, nerdy, stuck-up.  She spits when she talks, and that’s hilarious.  She is blamed for every fart, every belch.  Her clothes are wrong.  Her opinions are stupid.  She has no right to speak; she has no right to play.  If she has a friend, that friend must be weaned away from her.  She must be singled out.  She must be made to see how worthless she is, how incredibly lame her achievements are.  Anyone who treats her kindly must be ostracised too.

I wasn’t the only kid in my cohort who was treated like a worthless piece of garbage by the others; there were a number of us low on the totem pole.  We weren’t friends.  A couple of girls who were mocked for being poor stuck together, but because they were sticking together and therefore counted as a group, they saw themselves as superior to me.  I was rejected even by the other nerds.

I did play with some other kids in my neighbourhood; they tolerated me but didn’t really like me.  None of the members of this loose neighbourhood gang were in my class at school.  I had one “best” friend between grades five and seven.  Let’s call her Amelia.  She wasn’t academically gifted, but she was nice; we used to play together almost every day.  In grade seven, when the bullying was at its height, one of the boys made a loud, crude joke about me in front of the class, and Amelia laughed.  That was the end of my single real childhood friendship.  Looking back now, I realise that Amelia’s reaction was probably spontaneous and that she may not even have thought about how it might have affected me.  At the time, as a lonely twelve-year-old who spent every day in an atmosphere of hostility and mockery, I saw Amelia’s laughter as the worst sort of betrayal.

The bullying took many forms, most emotional rather than physical.  I couldn’t open my mouth without being mocked.  Everything I said was proof that I had no right to exist.  I was “Kari Moron,” the ugly, fat, smelly nerd.  I wasn’t athletic, which made the boys laugh at me.  I wasn’t pretty, which made the girls laugh at me.  My parents told me that junior high school would be better because all the bullies would have something else to occupy them and would lose interest in me.  In fact, the bullies made friends with other bullies and graduated from name-calling to physical intimidation.  One boy walked past me in class and violently punched me in the arm.  A group of boys followed me home from school, throwing rocks at me, aiming for my bum, since that was “funny.”  A boy grabbed the front of my shirt, yanked it open–breaking my necklace in the process–and shoved a handful of holly leaves down my front.  A couple of girls took me aside in class and described in detail what was wrong with me and how I could fix it.  A group of girls sat in front of my locker and refused to move.  I occasionally felt in physical danger from my classmates, the people I was expected to interact with on a daily basis.  A lot of this stuff may seem relatively trivial, but imagine enduring it day after day for eight years.

There were periods when I cried every day.  I hated going to school; I told my parents I wanted to stay home.  Contemplating another day as the class punching bag made me feel nauseous.  There was nothing I could do to stop it.  My parents advised me to “ignore” the bullying.  Any bullied child will tell you that ignoring the abuse just makes it worse.  So does fighting back.  If your classmates want to bully you, they will bully you.  Complaining to a teacher is one of the stupidest things you can do.  Snitches do not prosper in elementary or high school.  I occasionally had to beg my parents not to phone the parents of the children who had been tormenting me.  In retrospect, I suppose I was just enabling the bullying, but I was also afraid of what the bullies would do to me if their parents punished them.

When I was a very little girl, I was happy and outgoing, probably almost obnoxiously so; I wasn’t afraid to insert my opinion into any conversation.  I even remember having a crush on a boy and actually telling him to his face that I liked him.  Adults tended to describe me as “precocious.”

By the time I graduated from high school, I was seething with internal rage that I didn’t quite dare express aloud; when it escaped, I was ashamed, immediately assuming that I was in the wrong.  I had no self-esteem or self-confidence.  I knew I was a failure.  Even when I was good at things, I knew these things were essentially worthless.  I would never have dreamed of telling a boy I liked him; I would have expected to be laughed at and publicly humiliated if I had.  I hated almost everything about myself.  I thought of myself as grubby and ugly and insignificant.  I was aware that my opinions were always wrong, that my ideas were always stupid, that I didn’t really deserve to win at anything.  I did become resentful when I felt I had been treated unfairly, but the resentment was always accompanied by the thought:  “But was it really unfair?  Maybe it wasn’t.  Maybe you’re wrong again.”  I knew my natural state was to be wrong about things.

I can look back on this time of my life and see why I felt the way I felt.  What I can’t do is stop it from affecting the way I feel now.

I still feel like a failure.  I still feel as if my thoughts are worth less than everybody else’s.  When I express my opinion aloud, I expect it to be rejected; I expect everyone to be wondering at my presumption.  Even now, as I write this Rant, I am worried that its readers will roll their eyes and assume that Kari is just being Kari again.  I tend to get clingy with my friends; when they draw away from me, I take it as personally as I did the day someone made a joke about me in elementary school, and my “best friend” laughed.  I have never been in a relationship.  I would never in a million years announce to a guy that I had a crush on him.  I still feel ugly.  I’m incapable of small talk or of interacting comfortably with strangers, especially strangers I see as being superior to me (which would cover almost everyone).  I become angry very easily, and I react badly to the anger in public, then assume any confrontation is almost entirely my own fault; I also assume that everyone else is blaming me as well.  I expect not to succeed.  I approach the world so negatively that everybody sees me as a pessimist.  In reality, the pessimism is my way of steeling myself against the inevitable disappointment.

I am never going to “get over it.”

It’s hard to “get over” eight years of being told by the people you see every day that you don’t matter.  It makes you who you are.  Maybe it shouldn’t.  Maybe kids really will just be kids; maybe the fact that it still bothers me genuinely means that I am weak.  Maybe if I were a better person, I wouldn’t let my appalling childhood shape me like this.

Or maybe that appalling childhood is something I need to accept, not so that I can forget it but so that I can acknowledge that it is part of me.  Many people seem to be willing to admit to the influence of the past only when that past is a happy one or involves positive aspects such as a personal, individual triumph over a bully.  Many others will even now be thinking that my experience wasn’t that bad.  I didn’t grow up in a dictatorship.  I didn’t see family members tortured or killed.  I had rights and privileges; I had enough to eat.  I had a loving family and a place to live.  I had an education and teachers who cared about me.  This is all true.  But you can’t take a happy little girl and spend eight years telling her she is a waste of space, then expect her to remain a happy little girl.  If you dismiss her experience because she never got over it, you are implying that you could have withstood similar abuse without effect.  I would invite you to try.

Kids will be kids; that doesn’t mean kids will be reasonable or kind, and it doesn’t mean their “play” is harmless.  It also doesn’t mean that their victims will ever “get over it.”  For better or for worse, the bullying made me me.  I’m not trying to excuse my own bad behaviour or claim I shouldn’t take responsibility for being cowardly and, occasionally, anti-social; I just want you to know how hard some things are to overcome.  I can’t even say that the current me is any worse a person than a non-bullied me would have been.  She’s certainly a different one, and most likely a much sadder and more bitter one.  She is undoubtedly less well adjusted and more difficult to get along with.  But she is probably also more empathetic, more willing to see the point of view of the underdog, even if she doesn’t always show this side of herself to her acquaintances.  She is a better critical thinker, since she approaches everything from at least two perspectives simultaneously.  When she takes refuge in sarcasm, she does feel bad about it; in fact, she feels a bit like a bully herself.  She hates this aspect of her personality more than all the others combined.

And she does very much hope that children–or adults–who find it necessary to mock the “weird kids” in order to make themselves feel better will put themselves, for just an instant, in the shoes of the girl sitting alone in the corner because she is “different” somehow.

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