Wednesday, April 8, 2009

CyberBullying, Feminism, Mean Girls, Queen Bees and Boys

"Remember the days of the old school yard? We used to..."


The memory of my school days is rising up my throat, threatening to choke me. I've just finished watching 4 Corners on Cyberbullying. Today, two young boys (10 and 11) have just been charged with attempted murder of two younger boys in the UK. Today, my daughter tells me she's the 2nd most hated girl in her year and she never has anyone to sit with at lunchtime. I hate to think what's happening for the most hated girl... but i've seen her. And the boy in my son's class that no-one will sit next to. And I'm scared that all of my children are treading close to the edge.

I think yearning for romance has more to do with a desire for the security of a relationship that keeps the schoolyard outside than about desire alone! Today, I'm reflecting on the entrenched antifeminism that is at the heart of navigating adolescence.

I'm halfway way through "Queen Bees and Wannabees" by Rosalind Wiseman, which was on the recommended reading list from Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, (see 4 Corners program above) and author of "Real Wired Child" and other titles (see previous post).

As it says in "Devil in the Daughters" (a fantastic review by Chloe Hooper):
Queen Bees and Wannabes is, by its own definition, an excruciating read. This is not to diminish Wiseman's skill at deconstructing the make-up of the teenage court in all its Byzantine detail. (Opening her handbook was like being kidnapped and taken to a dark-hearted land, where I soon realised unfortunately I spoke the language fluently.)
Today. My almost 10yr old girl is heading for puberty and says that everyone hates her. She's probably not the only one who feels that way but how would she know that? And what about my gorgeous gentle sensitive son? I've noticed that he's heading for the losers and nerd boys corner of the playground more and more, in spite of being on the soccer team.

The first people I talked to about this book and my fears said, "I've got boys. It's different. They don't bully like girls. They just have a fight and get over it." #FAIL

Getting past the personal though is why I'm getting passionate about Rosalind Wiseman and Empower.

The Owning Up™ program is based on the premise that social cruelty, degradation, and violence can be deconstructed and understood by examining how our culture teaches boys to be men and girls to be women. Further, the curriculum teaches children the skills to speak out against injustice and recognize that they have a responsibility to treat themselves and others with dignity.

I think that Queen Bees is a fine piece of feminist analysis, with racial and sexual prejudices opened up as well. Wiseman points out that she works equally with boys and girls, and that society's definition of masculinity influences boys away from strength, individuality and towards violence, bullying and groups in the same way that definitions of femininity trap girls.
Boys and men who speak out against sexism or publicly support girls and women run the risk of being ridiculed by their peers as "fags", "sissies", "pussies" or in some circles "sensitive new age guys". The often unexamined implication is that real men wouldn't willingly support sexual equality and justice. (Women and girls who challenge male power or assertively confront sexism are often labeled "dykes" or "male-hating lesbians," which effectively silinces many girls and women.)

This name-calling can have a powerful effect on boys' and men's willingness to break their complicit silence. They might have a well grounded fear that if they speak up, they too will be targeted for abuse."

Wiseman is quoting Jackson Katz from "More Than a Few Good Men" (also over at Huffington Post).

The irony, she points out, is that in living up to the male ideal, boys and men learn to act cowardly. SILENCE is KING. Wiseman asserts that the marginalisation of feminism is doubly damaging. Feminists are seen as being anti-male rather than protesting gender and therefore men are not constructed as being victims of gender violence - as most boys and men are.

Just for today, I believe that feminism cannot succeed without unpacking the violence of group dynamics and stereotypes both masculine and feminine.


Deborah said...

I have daughters to guide through these difficult years too, and the eldest is 10. She is not one of the 'popular' girls in class, but she does seem to have carved out a niche for herself as nerdy and cool, along with some other similarly nerdyish girls. Even so, I'm concerned about the transition to high school in a few year's time.

Andra said...

Later in life, we seem to all discover that we shared the misery of school. At the time, we frequently felt alone and as though others didn't understand or didn't care. That goes as a parent too.

What Deborah describers, her daughter's ability to band together with other girls is a great strength. Divide and conquer is the 'popular' groups weapon of choice. So is silence.

By talking about bullying with other mothers at school today, I've just found out that the child who seems to be at centre of my daughter's misery has caused heartache for many other girls for years. And I thought she was so nice!

Renee said...

I think that I am going to look into this book. I am the mother of two sons and I am nervous constantly as I watch him negotiate the various different hierarchies that occur on a school ground. As a parent often wonder how much of what they do is a natural part of childhood and how much of this ranking system we pass on to our children.

Jo Tamar said...

Andra, I think you're right.

If you're interested in a post on this from a different perspective, you might want to look at little light's very personal post, here:

Challenging cultures of violence can only be valuable.

Andra said...

Thanks Jo, I thought little light's post described a very affirming journey, but I definitely agree with Margaret Jamison that femininity is enforced on females/males just as much as masculinity is enforced on males/females.

Feminism deals less well with examining privileged women and I think more and more that #feminismfail is because we haven't even touched the surface of changing the education of our children.

I think I need a rampaging feminist to take over now, while i go do the school lunches! GO RAMPAGING FEMINISTS!

Jo Tamar said...

I don't think anyone on that thread was really disagreeing with Margaret Jamison on that point (as LL responded in one comment, it's "also", not "but"). It seemed to me that the reactions were more: this is not the place/time. Oh, and also reactions against trollish behaviour by Margaret (eg saying that little light had been a little boy!??!!!).

Anyway, this:
"Feminism deals less well with examining privileged women" --- ohhhh, yes. Exactly.