Stand up to bullies by. . . being a bully?

Today was one of the fairly-frequent Bullying Awareness Events that school boards across Ontario (and presumably in other provinces) participate in. The idea was to wear pink, to celebrate the students in Nova Scotia who stood up for a bullied new student by showing up dressed in pink, the day after the new student had been bullied for wearing that colour. It’s a heartwarming story of solidarity and support and I’m very glad it happened.

I’m far less happy with the Wear Pink days that have come out of it.

The joshing in the hallway after school on Tuesday – when the principal was ensuring that everyone was in possession of one of the t-shirts she’d ordered for us, whether or not we chose to wear it – was uncomfortable. There were comments about masculinity draining away; comparisons of the colour to bubblegum, girl toys, and a certain stomach remedy that shall remain nameless; a little bit of hand-flopping of a quote-unquote fabulous nature; and general tomfoolery that had the effect of highlighting the fact that everyone there was presumably straight and such wonderful people for making this gesture. (I’m leaving aside, for the moment, the fact that their perceptions of everyone’s hetero status were incorrect.)

Then there was the reaction of the male students to being asked to wear pink. First, the request was softened to include red; then, the only boys who actually wore pink were given a jokingly wide berth in the hallways; and finally there was some pointing and laughing at the teachers who wore pink (notably, only at the male teachers.) Despite the teachable moments, the whole affair left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

The fact is, by creating an anti-bullying event that involves so much pink, we’ve effectively set up another inflexible cultural binary. Those who wore pink today were virtuous, standing up for those who were bullied, while those who did not were open to censure.

We did not challenge the association of the colour pink with femininity, gayness, or trangender issues.

We did not challenge the prevalence of the messages in our culture which encourage girls to feminize every aspect of their lives to the point where boys cannot participate on an equal footing without being accused of giving up their masculinity.

Meanwhile, boys who so much as dabble in pursuits dubbed “girly” are ostracized by their peer group. To teenage boys, nothing is worse than a boy who is not masculine – and we have not challenged that perception with this event.

I had a student a few years ago who did not fit the gender binary in grade four; he’s in grade ten now. He was sheltered, naive, and effeminate, and he got teased mercilessly. That was the first year I gave my now-standard lecture about respectful use of the word “gay” and how thou shalt not bully students on the basis of perceptions of gayness in my classroom. I wonder: if he had happened to come visit his old elementary school on Tuesday afternoon, what would he have seen? Would he have seen a bunch of basically good men, people who do their best to be welcoming and friendly and without bias, who were being asked to wear something that made them uncomfortable and were dealing with it through humour? Or would he have seen more examples of the heteronormative hyper-genderized culture that has been bullying him since before he knew what “gay” actually meant?

And if he’d seen the latter, what exactly would our wear-pink day have accomplished?


The bullies are in Parliament

I deal with a lot of schoolyard bullies in the course of my job. I’ve seen every type, from the girls who bully through social exclusion to the traditional physical intimidation bully to the one who uses the teacher to do their dirty work while coming up smelling like roses. I like to think I’ve gotten through to a few of them, convinced them that what they were doing was a bad deal and they should stop. I like to think I’ve made my classrooms a better place for my students at least some of the time.

I’d like to get my hands on the bullies in the Harper Government for a few lessons.

First target: environmental groups. Since anyone who opposes the oil sands is by definition a radical environmentalist, it makes sense to find out what these people are up to and where they’re getting their money, right? Well, of course, even if that means devoting $8 million to ferreting out their secrets. But the same doesn’t hold true for the people in favour of the pipeline. They can buy all the political goodwill they want and nobody bothers to point out that most of their funding comes from Texas. They aren’t a charity, so it doesn’t matter.

It’s like telling on your seatmate for some minor infraction until the teacher has no choice but to punish them. The best part by far is that your seatmate will look like sour grapes if he points out that you did it, too.

Second target: the CBC. So the CBC doesn’t spout enough Conservative talking points? It supports useless luxuries like the arts? It still occasionally runs op-ed pieces that aren’t filtered through the Conservative party first? It must be cut!

Third target: Elections Canada. Election fraud? What election fraud? You accuse us of fraud, we’ll cut your budget and claim it’s because you’re overly liberal and biased against us! You won’t be able to afford the type of investigation you want to do once we’re done with your budget! See also: You tell the teacher what I did to that little kid, and I’ll steal your lunch money!

Fourth Target: The First Nations Statistical Institute. This one is buried deep on a table of cuts. The First Nations Statistical Institute is basically Statistics Canada for First Nations populations. The cut totals $5 million. Their budget? $5 million. Because heaven forbid those pesky Inuit actually have real statistical information to back up their requests for help for things like adequate housing and potable water.

We used to be a nation that based decisions on sound statistical and scientific analysis. The reason our scientists so often produced such excellent work was that they were publicly funded and therefore lacked some of the conflicts of interest engendered by, for example, pharmaceutical company grants. It seems now that this government sees information as the enemy and its public dissemination as akin to treason. Of all the things which scare me about this government, its fear of science and sound analysis tops the list. On what basis are they making decisions, if not that? How will we, or for that matter anybody, hold them to account, if the information we need is never gathered or analysed or communicated?