Growing up, I was the “different” kid. While my peers were discussing which one of The New Kids On The Block they would one day marry or playing with their mother’s left over make-up, I was daydreaming about fantasy worlds and make believing I was my favorite heroes and heroines from obscure literature or reading books my aunt got me about super cool science experiments. As I got older, my imaginative and creative streak isolated me from many of my classmates. I was “weird” and “a freak.” It certainly didn’t help that I had too-thick hair that always tangled and a set of coke-bottle eyeglasses, or that I was the kid who thought school was fun and enthusiastically participated in class, or that my parents restricted my television viewing to age appropriate material so I never knew about the “cool” new thing my classmates would discuss at lunch. I was a natural target.
The bullying started when I was nine.
In high school, I learned to hide all those geeky parts of myself so people would like me. I joined sports teams, and tried to pay attention to fashion (though, to be fair, I’ve never been good at that). I started to make friends with the jock clique, which came with protection, and my chief tormenter ceased attending my school. Things got better. I focused all my attention on being “perfect” in an attempt to trick people into liking me – and in doing so, completely lost myself.
As an adult, I finally began to learn to accept who I am – a fangirl, scientist, sometimes-crazily-eccentric, geeky girl. To my surprise, I found that my adult peers were more than accepting of this. In fact, many of them were geeks as well and had suffered through similar childhood bully trauma. These days, I’m completely comfortable with my geekiness. If someone wants to give me a hard time for knowing obscure werewolf facts or wearing my Ravenclaw scarf or bemoaning whether I want to risk going to see yet another Star Wars sequel that “will never live up to the original trilogy” – then fuck them. I don’t need people in my life who don’t realize how great geekiness is and or who try to rain on my awesome.
Unfortunately, the school scene has not changed since I went through. There are still little girls (and boys) who are relentlessly bullied for liking geeky things.
Several years ago, I read about a story about Katie, a little girl who was bullied because she liked Star Wars. The bullies told her she couldn’t like Star Wars, because she was a girl and Star Wars was for boys. You can read about Katie’s story here. When I read her story, I wept, because I knew what she was going through and how much it hurt. Fortunately, the geek community learned about this and responded in a positive way, showing Katie she was not alone.
Today, Facebook group “A Mighty Girl,” posted that another little girl, Allison, was being tormented for also liking Star Wars, and that Katie and Star Wars fan group the 501st Legion reached out to her. You can read their post about the story here. When I read it this afternoon, it stopped me and uprooted me to the point that I had to blog about it right away. Every time I hear a story like this, I cannot help but remember what it was like to be that little girl. And, while it is awesome when the geek community bans together to help one of our own who is experiencing bullying, it breaks my heart that we continue to have to do so at all.
The bullying needs to stop.
As adults, we might not see everything that goes on in schools. We can, however, stop giving the bullies ammunition. We need to stop saying that some careers, games, or media is “for boys” and some is “for girls.” Girls are allowed to like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and boys are allowed to like My Little Pony. There are not “boy” subjects in school and “girl” subjects. There is no reason why boys should not be fascinated by English literature or for girls not to find physics interesting. Girls are free to take part in the martial arts and boys are free to pursue an interest in dance. Gender stereotyping happens every day for no realistic reason, and it’s used by bullies to target kids who don’t fit into those stereotypes.
We also need to stop telling our kids that it isn’t cool to be smart, or artistic, or different. As a society, we need people with an interest in science to provide innovation. We need people with an interest in art to remind us of our humanity. We need those “weird,” “different” people, because they will be the ones who change the world for the better. We have to stop perpetuating false and hurtful stereotypes of geeks. Mainstream media phenomenon “The Big Bang Theory” is especially offensive (and unrealistic) in its treatment of scientists and participants in the fandom community, although it is not alone. For those of us with the power to control the message, let’s applaud the future thinkers instead of teaching them that they don’t want to be what they are.
I’ve ranted quite a bit, so I will end with this:
To those doing the bullying – why does someone being different than you scare you? Why do you feel so badly about yourself that you have to hurt someone else?
To those suffering from bullying – you are not alone. There are so many of us who have lived what you’re living and have your back. Stay strong. It will get better.