I attended a small conference on gender and sexuality last week at the University of Birmingham (UK). There, one of the keynotes, Professor Ann Phoenix from the University of London, made an interesting point: There is no increase in bullying! I couldn't agree more.
In her presentation, Prof. Phoenix talked about young people and how they view masculinity and what she calls consumption, in his context media, advertising, family dynamics and other forms of communication.
She spoke of common youth issues like how boys and girls view their bodies and, interestingly, how they thought kids from the opposite gender "should" behave. The discussion included a number of other topics from bullying to sex to marginalized groups, such as LGBT youth.
Prof. Phoenix's observations that gay kids have a difficult time navigating their way through school social circles were spot on. She seemed, however, to cautiously admit that bullying was present in school but not increasing.
At the end of her talk, a member of the audience asked a pointed question: Is bullying on the decline?
No, I do not believe bullying is declining, she replied. But I don't believe bullying is increasing either. Before the gasps of the feminist and LGBT guests that filled the room could be vocalized, she added with slight animation: "Bullying in our schools is so pervasive that there's no where for it to increase to."
As a gay man, I was encouraged by the idea that someone else "got it"; that bullying is not a new phenomenon, but a school yard custom older than lunchroom mystery meat. It's only now (thankfully) that bullying has reached the national conversation. To many of us adult gay men, being bullied in school sits like a stain in our memories of a time thankfully passed.
Being called a fag or gay, getting beat up, intimidated or pushed around was something that no one understood or cared to acknowledge. Like the principal or parent that says racism doesn't exist, too many adults back then and now refuse to realize that there is a problem—a big problem called bullying that's tipping our youth over the edge.
It's so common, like Prof. Pheonix says, that the epidemic called bullying has spread into every lunchroom and playground. If we don't act now, the only path left is more tragedy.
One of what seems like daily reports of bullying gone wrong, is the story of Darnell "Dynasty" Young. The 17-year-old gay Indiana teen was expelled from his high school for bringing a stun gun to school to protect himself from bullies.
Young's mom gave him the gun after the teen mentioned threats against him. She said school officials didn't do enough to protect her son. As feared, on April 16 Young fired the gun into the air to scare off six boys who threatened to beat him up. He was expelled from school until the beginning of 2013.
School officials say Young broke school policy by bringing a weapon to school, but what of the weapons the six boys carried? Their fists and voices carried the same danger to Young's life as his gun did to theirs. Why don't school zero-tolerance policies extend to bullying?
Schools are quick to tell the cameras and concerned parents that they take bullying seriously, but their words are as empty as the words of the bullies are strong. The fact is, school officials know little about the social dynamics before their very eyes, or don't care to know. They brush aside complaints as "boys being boys" or "girls trying to find their way," but our youth are far more sophisticated than that.
There's always been a struggle for power or importance in school social circles and what's perceived as disadvantage is the only currency to power. Our youth knows, based on adult dynamics, that certain groups are more marginalized than others and that certain words carry sting. These words and actions wield power on playgrounds, sometimes by those trying to avoid being bullied themselves.
The idea that this continues is as appalling as the thought of some sort of play yard combat or social war, of which our LGBT youth is badly losing.