At the end of 2017 something really special happened. Girls and women all over the world stood up and shouted at the top of their lungs, “Me too!”. They said, “Me too, I’ve stayed quiet when I’ve been spoken to in a way that makes my skin crawl!”, Me too, I’ve been objectified in my workplace or school”, “Me too, I’ve been touched without consent”. Together, they said, “ME TOO! I’m sick and tired of this, I’ve had enough and I’m ready to stand up to my bullies.”
Last year was a really powerful year and not just for women. It was a powerful year for anyone who has ever been mistreated by someone else and felt they couldn’t come forward because they were too afraid of what might happen to them. That best case scenario, they’d not be believed or be labelled a ‘square’ or a ‘dobber’ and worst case, they would be bullied mercilessly, shamed or have their dreams destroyed.
‘Me too’ and all the campaigns that have come since then have done an amazing thing, they’ve opened our eyes up to the fact that we can say something, we can come forward, we don’t have to put up with feeling small, insignificant, afraid or objectified in any way. And while it really was the start of something incredible, let’s take a minute and be really honest with ourselves here… ‘Me too’ didn’t fix everything. There is no magical cure to bullying and harassment and abuse. There’s no campaign strong enough to stop it all in one go.
So while ‘Me too’ really was special and has started a movement, for those of us who still dread seeing that girl at school, hate being around our boss at our part-time job, or have to deal with a parent who puts us down, ‘Me too’ maybe just wasn’t enough.
We talk about bullying a lot. About school yard bullying, and social media bullying and cool kids who pick on less cool kids. But bullying and harassment comes in so many forms, some of them are far away from the school quad.
Bullying or harassment can be in the form of a boss or manager who narrows in on just you and specifically gives you a hard time even though you perform as well as everyone else. It can be a dance teacher who constantly shames you about being a bit taller or heavier than other students. It can be mum who makes you feel stupid and insignificant if you can’t get straight A’s like your brother, even though you do your best.
So… what can you do to deal with bullying and harassment no matter what form it comes in and who it comes from?
- Make sure your bully is aware of what they’re doing
Not all bullies are Regina George from Mean Girls. They aren’t all that perfect blonde, tanned girl in school who picks on you to make themselves look bigger and better.
Sometimes, people who are bullying and harassing you are doing it much more subtly or in a way that doesn’t seem like bullying but still makes you feel terrible, afraid or dread seeing them. Think of mum always mentioning when you’ve put on a bit of weight or grown ‘bigger’, or your English teacher who compares you to your older sister who was much more of a superstar student than you, and always makes note of this in front of the rest of the class.
Sometimes certain people make you feel bad about yourself repetitively without even knowing they are doing it. It’s not that they are bad people or intentionally cruel, they just don’t see the damage their passing comments can make.
In these cases, it’s important to assess the situation, take a deep breath and let them know what’s really happening. Sitting down with mum and having a simple convo about what she says, how it makes you feel and how often it happens can have the effect of opening up her eyes to something she isn’t aware with. Being honest can also be a really good way to improve your relationship with this person and create more open communication.
- Stand up to bullies by understanding them
Again, like not all bullies are the same (or bully in the same way or to the same level), not all ways of approaching a bully are the same. Sometimes a bully is just a bully and that’s where tip three comes in handy. Sometimes though, they have a reason for bullying that probably isn’t personal to you, you just happen to be an easy target for them.
Think about the girl in your class who picks on another girl’s physical appearance — could she just be expressing the dissatisfaction she feels with her own body? Or the scrawnier guy who hangs with the jocks and remarks about how unco an unpopular kid is. Maybe he’s just worried about his spot in the jock group. A lot of the time, people who make ugly comments can be insecure and lack confidence, but try to seem confident by lashing out at others.
Of course, this is no excuse for being an asshole, but it can give you a hint for how to deal with them.
If you think this might be the case, have a think about the person who is making comments about you and what could be motivating those comments. Could she be insecure about how she looks or how smart she is? Could she have problems at home and is jealous of your seemingly more supportive family? Could she be uncomfortable with her superficial friendships and intimidated by how genuinely close you are with your friends?
Standing up to bullies like this has a few options. Now, you could take the route most mums will tell you to, and confront the girl quietly and privately when you’ve figured out why she does what she does. You could talk to her and let her know you know why she lashes out at you, and offer her support. And while that may work, it may also make her even more secure that you know what bothers her about herself.
A second option is to subtly help her build her confidence in the area she is lacking and in this way become a supporter of her. She will (even if subconsciously at first) appreciate the support and the lift and may come to view you as less of a threat or even as an ally. Perhaps you could invite her to family things, or complement her makeup, or ask advice on friendship; these little acts of warmth might just change how she sees you.
- Seek back up
There are a lot of different ways to stand up to bullies, and of course, sometimes it’s so severe it can really affect your mood, self-esteem and how much you want to get out of the house. In those cases, it’s really important you find someone to talk with about what’s happening.
While that person can certainly be a close friend or person your own age, an older friend, brother or sister or adult can give you a completely different perspective, help you see things a different way, and provide advice you or your friend may not think of.
While ‘Me too’ may not have covered what you need yet, the concept behind it: standing up and letting people know what’s going on, is really important. If you are being bullied or harassed, it’s not your fault — it is NEVER your fault, and you should never feel embarrassed, ashamed or scared to tell someone about it and get some help.