Actually, No, Violence Is Not The Answer

The person here at ninebullets.net claims that the whole “wear purple to show solidarity” thing is stupid. I agree that it doesn’t work as a response to bullying; purple shirts worn on the 20th of October don’t have magic powers that stop people from getting bullied. However, that doesn’t seem to be the reason why people wore purple shirts yesterday. It was symbolic. It was in solidarity. Perhaps it was more for the people wearing the shirts than for the people being bullied — a way to make some kind of statement that bullying is wrong, even if the people being bullied don’t see that message.

Did wearing purple yesterday make any kind of difference? I don’t know. What I do know is that it cannot stand alone — if people are serious about combating bullying, there needs to be concrete action that goes beyond symbolism and solidarity (perhaps like the Make It Better Project). However, the person at ninebullets.net goes too far when he argues that people being bullied should fight back against their bullies:

You have a bully? Punch them. They might kick your ass but trust me, the bruises will heal and any physical damage incurred will be offset by a sense of pride and self-respect.

He further argues that people can’t do anything to end bullying because it’s a just part of growing up:

Wearing a shirt serves as a useless response to something that’s, in all actuality, an innate part of growing up. That’s right, I said it, bullies have been around as long as kids have been. Does that make it right? No, but reality is a motherfcuker sometimes and as long as there are weak and scared little children on this earth there will be bullies.

I have so many problems with what he’s saying I almost don’t know where to begin. First of all, he individualizes this, making it a matter of individual bullies, instead of a part of a systemic violence of homophobia and gender regulation. Secondly, he makes the bullying the victims’ faults — they’re being bullied because they’re too “weak and scared” to stand up for themselves. And lastly, he makes violence the only correct answer, the way to have “pride and self-respect.”

I disagree. Bullying is not just a matter of individuals being mean to other individuals, unaffected by anything else. It’s not just a matter of the “weak and strong” being naturally targeted by others. It’s not an innate part of growing up — I’m not even sure what that means. One can absolutely grow up without being bullied; it’s not as though that’s essential to growing up. I don’t believe that bullying is inevitable.

Bullying exists partly because society allows it — cultural ideas that “kids will be kids” or “boys will be boys,” societal acceptance of strictly regulated gender norms. Societal messages of gender regulation make teasing boys for not dressing/acting masculine enough and making fun of girls for not being sufficiently feminine seem to be acceptable. Bullying is tied into gender roles and portrayals of LGBTQ characters on  TV (and the lack there of) and LGBTQ representation in the media. It’s tied into the various religious, social, and political beliefs that transgressing gender norms and roles or veering for the heteronormative standard is wrong. Kids aren’t just born bullies and then grow up, completely uninfluenced by anyone or anything, as bullies.

The person’s idea that people are bullied because they’re “weak and scared” makes it seem that it’s their fault for being bullied: if they were stronger, if they stood up for themselves, they wouldn’t be bullied. That’s completely unfair, as well as just being inaccurate. We all deserve to live a life free of bullying; we shouldn’t have to somehow work for it or prove that we deserve it. Bullying isn’t like mortality — we can change it. Just saying “hey, it sucks, and it’s not right, but that’s life” implies that we don’t need to do anything to change it because we can’t do anything.

And lastly, violence is not the answer. Bullying is not merely a matter of “kids being kids.” I will admit that there may be bullies who would give up if a kid fought back; however, that doesn’t mean all bullies would. That doesn’t mean more violence will end this cycle. That doesn’t mean that the bullied kids somehow deserve to be bullied if they don’t fight back.

“Punch them.” What kind of advice is that? Sure, maybe it will make a few people feel better. But that doesn’t mean it will stop the bullying, and it doesn’t do anything about the larger problem. And, what if the person in question doesn’t feel safe attacking their bully? It could just make it worse. What if the person in question simply doesn’t want to hit anyone? If someone won’t, or can’t, physically or even verbally fight back against their bully, that shouldn’t reflect poorly on them. One shouldn’t need to fight in order to have “a sense of pride and self-respect.”

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