28 December, 2006

Ch 1. Bullying in grade school

Posted in Personal Ramblings, Survivors and Survival at 9:44 pm by HughRistik

“Shake on it?”

I couldn’t believe it. Danny was offering me a truce. Maybe he would leave me alone for the rest of the day. I took his hand and shook. And then—smack!—I was on the ground. Danny and John were laughing and high-fiving each other. While I was shaking Danny’s hand, John had run up from behind and tripped me. They had planned it.

When I was younger, I had a bunch of friends, and we played at each others’ houses. One of them had been Danny. Once grade school started, it all changed. I turned out to be relatively unathletic, and I was too good at school for my own good. Nobody wanted to play board games with me, even if I offered to let them win. I became interested in solitary, intellectual pursuits. Then the constant bullying and teasing started.

The worst was on the playground, during sports and games. In the early grades, tripping was called “pizza delivery.” Playing soccer meant spending half the game on the ground from Danny, John, and Tyler tripping me. The teacher put a stop to it eventually—after a couple weeks. Another favorite playground pastime was wrestling, which the teacher didn’t really succeed in discouraging until probably 7th grade. I was one of the smallest kids in the class, so the bigger boys would always push me down or trip me. I was never punched or seriously injured, but I often came home with bruises.

I realize in retrospect that not all of the teasing was malicious, but a lot of it was, and I had trouble telling the difference. That is because I couldn’t understand the motive to tease someone or pick on them. I tend to be very gullible and trusting by default. That’s why I shook Danny’s hand. Yet it was Danny and John that the girls chased around the playground.

I got teased for being small, having freckles, being a know-it-all, and my English accent. My parents are English, though I have lived my whole life in California, so I had a slight accent when I was younger. “You’re English, Hugh… want some tea and crumpets?” was a constant refrain, in the snooty accent that many Americans think is English. Fucking tea and crumpets. Seriously, why are Americans so obsessed with English people liking them? I actually like crumpets, but I am not a big fan of tea.

What made the bullying and teasing worse was the structure of the school. It was a very small school, so there was only one class in each grade. Mine was about 14-18 students throughout the grades. We had the same teacher from 1st-8th grade. This setup meant that I was with the same group of people virtually all day, every day. If people were being nasty to me, I couldn’t get away from them. I could go off alone, and sometimes I did, but then I was lonely.

Around 3rd or 4th grade, I started to withdraw from other people. I had always been serious and somewhat quiet, but I started becoming shy. I never felt good feelings around people, and instead felt anxious and off-balance. Instead of socializing, I delved deeper into my solitary interests. I became more unique, more intellectual than others, and consequently more different. They couldn’t relate to me, and I couldn’t relate to them. I didn’t have any friends over to play more than a few times for the rest of grade school.

By 6th grade, Danny left. I still don’t know what was up with that kid and why he was so violent. He would walk up to you and fake-punch at you. He had way too much testosterone or something. By 7th and 8th grade, the physical bullying had mainly stopped. During a couple grades, the were other boys in the class that were smaller than me, and they took some of the heat off me. But the damage was done. I had no social skills. People excluded me, or I excluded myself. I had a stutter, which was exacerbated by people interrupting my soft voice. I couldn’t make eye contact with people. My face was frozen into a mask, so I could never properly smile for school photos.

The plus side was that I got very good at my interests (music and art) and I started making money drawing portraits in 8th grade. Some of my classmates admired me for these abilities, especially the girls. However, admiration on its own did not create friendship, and may have been a barrier to it. At least the admiration did help me save some vestiges of self-esteem.

Anyway, this is how I grew up with no real friends and no social support. The story is somewhat depressing for now, and will go on that way for a little while, but it does get better. It’s relatively easy for me to talk about (at least this part of it), because I have mainly gotten over it.

You may have noticed that this post is titled Ch 1. I’ve decided that posts that are mostly about my personal experience will be organized into chapters that will be in more-or-less chronological order. Then I can write more conceptual posts in between, that will talk more about ideas and some of the conclusions I have drawn from my experiences.

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14 Comments

  1. Daran said,

    Well that was a painful read. And way too close to my own experiences. 😦

    Although I was born and raised in England, my parents moved every couple of years, so I never acquired the appropriate regional accent, instead I spoke BBC English, near enough, which probably sounded to the other kids much like your generic English-like accent did to Californian kids.

  2. NYMOM said,

    “…Well that was a painful read…”

    I second the emotion here.

    How horrible.

  3. toysoldier said,

    That was difficult to read. I am sorry you went through that.

  4. HughRistik said,

    Thanks for the sympathy, everyone. The next few chapters in this story will also be depressing (I’m going to do some more conceptual posts first, though). After that, things stop going down and start going up.

  5. NYMOM said,

    Well Happy New Year to all anyway…

    Hopefully 2007 will be better for everyone!!!!

  6. […] “oppression” ever since I started hearing the term. When I was growing up and getting bullied, I was hearing how girls have all the problems. It seemed that just about anything bad that […]

  7. […] DaRain Man: Autobiographical Post About Being Bullied Despite being on an anti-feminist blog, this post is excellent, and describes a very real harm done to boys in our society. […]

  8. curiousgyrl said,

    Bullying is a very serious problem that needs to be better dealt with by adults who supervise and parent childrem. While I myself was a ‘geek’ and a ‘teachers’ pet’ in school, and one with horrible fashion sense and HUGE glasses at that, I was never much bullied. In fact, I had to face the painful realization as an adolescent that I had actually spent a lot of my childhood bullying my younger brother, cousin, and my younger neighborhood friends to some extent.

    I have talked about this with my brother since and apologized–he says it wasnt that bad, but I still cringe when I think about the ways i used physical and more often social/emotional strategies to intimidate and control him. My mom even tells me that as a toddler in a double stroller with my same-age cousin I would yell at him to “stop talking” and hit him wiht my bottle until he did. I think she kind of thinks its cute, but to me its horrifying in retrospect that I was allowed to do that.

    My cousin is actually the person who showed me what was wrong with my behavior when I was a young teen– i was taunting, tickling, pinching ( i was a classical musician with fingers strong enough to draw blood and a willingness to use them), trying to get him to do something or other, and he suddenly stopped pleading and told me calmly that i had to take my hands off of him.

    It was either that that stopped me, or, less flatteringly to my intellect and sensitivity, the day my “little” brother accidentally threw me across the room duing a much more good natured bout of jostling for the remote.

    Both of them are fairly well-adjusted and non-woman hating people today, no thanks, probably, to me.

    This, along, wiht some other details of my family culture (my grandmother once told the same cousin that “its not his fault, she just doesnt like boys” ) and my close relationships to these two men (who were both also very violently bullied as young boys by schoolmates–one had his arm broken by male “friends,” the other had rocks poured down his throat by young “christians” who were offended by his atheism in two exemplary instances) which make the reality of the gendered oppression of boys and men readily apparent to me.

    I also wonder, Daran, what you think about this–both of thes guys who were smart and sensitive and very “verbal” had teachers suggest that they might be autistic/aspie because they were nerds who had social difficulties.

    I think that while aspies can go undiagnosed, and teachers should be on the look-out, that these two are not aspies and that this unofficial diagnosis was a way of blaminig them for social problems which had much more to do with general acceptance by adult authority figures of violence by other children against nerdy/sensitive/smart dudes. even the parents who didnt like it figured it was pretty much inevitable.

  9. curiousgyrl said,

    Also, one final note; my experience also makes it pretty clear to me that size and strength arent everything when it comes to bullying. Even before pubery and sexual dimorphism turned the tables in my relationships with my male relatives, I was *always* smaller than them and pretty much everyone my age.

  10. HughRistik said,

    Thanks for dropping by, curiousgyrl.

    While I myself was a ‘geek’ and a ‘teachers’ pet’ in school, and one with horrible fashion sense and HUGE glasses at that, I was never much bullied.

    If you had been male with those traits, you probably would have been bullied.

    i was a classical musician with fingers strong enough to draw blood and a willingness to use them

    Oh, what instrument? Violin? I played violin and piano.

    Also, one final note; my experience also makes it pretty clear to me that size and strength arent everything when it comes to bullying.

    That’s true; aggressiveness and other personality traits are also important, especially for girls, I think, because female social status is less dependent on size.

    I also wonder, Daran, what you think about this–both of thes guys who were smart and sensitive and very “verbal” had teachers suggest that they might be autistic/aspie because they were nerds who had social difficulties.

    I think that while aspies can go undiagnosed, and teachers should be on the look-out, that these two are not aspies and that this unofficial diagnosis was a way of blaminig them for social problems which had much more to do with general acceptance by adult authority figures of violence by other children against nerdy/sensitive/smart dudes.

    Interesting. I can’t answer for Daran, but I think the main reason that I ended up messed up was because of mistreatment and social isolation, not because I had full-blown Asperger’s (although I do have some Asperger’s traits). I think there is a subset of guys with nerdy/sensitive/shy personalities and social difficulties who may look like they have Asperger’s, but really don’t, and their social deficits are due to their environment.

    In the late 80’s, a psychologist named Gilmartin studied men who were severely shy in heterosexual interaction, and he found that most of them had been bullied as children. They also had interests that were more stereotypically feminine. He also found that they tended to be introverts who were prone to anxiety. Many men in his sample were very messed up, experiencing depression, having violent fantasies, and sometimes even getting into trouble for staring at or stalking women who they were too shy to talk to.

    Yet Gilmartin maintained that most of the pathology of these men was due to a culture and environment that punished them for being inadequately masculine and sent them into a downward spiral socially. He argued that part of the problem of bullying was structural, because of the institutionalization of rough-and-tumble play and sports in schools, which becomes a license for bigger, more aggressive boys to terrorize the smaller, more sensitive boys. In a different environment, Gilmartin thought that these boys could develop to be perfectly well-adjusted.

  11. toysoldier said,

    I also wonder, Daran, what you think about this–both of thes guys who were smart and sensitive and very “verbal” had teachers suggest that they might be autistic/aspie because they were nerds who had social difficulties.

    While this was not directed at me, I thought I might be as well, though I clearly lack the level of verbal mastery and intellect that is often required. One thing to note is that the behaviors exhibits by aspies/autistic children are similar to behaviors exhibited by people who are shy, abused or just socially awkward. It is hard to pin down any particular mental condition* based solely on a person’s actions because so many of those behaviors exist in other conditions.

    * there was no offense meant by the term, but I was unable to think of something better.

  12. NYMOM said,

    “because of the institutionalization of rough-and-tumble play and sports in schools, which becomes a license for bigger, more aggressive boys to terrorize the smaller, more sensitive boys.”

    I agree with this as well which is why I’m totally against pushing the whole sports culture off on women. If it’s bad for men, it’s bad for women as well and for all the same reasons. It fosters agression in a world where agresssion is simply not at useful a trait as it once was…and there’s no need to push it on either boys or girls. Children should be taught to play cooperatively not trying to push the smaller, more sensitive kids around…Each kid has their own strength and should be rewarded for whatever that is wheher it be running faster then others or playing a musical instrument.

  13. curiousgyrl said,

    As for me not being bullied, I am really not sure why. Other nerdy girls were bullied a lot around me, though less physically less than boys.

    piano and harp, thoughm on the instruments.

  14. […] is a repost of an article originally posted at DaRain Man. Comments older than Wednesdau 10 January 2007 were originally posted there. See this post for […]


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