Today pink shirts were hauled out of the depths of wardrobes (or closets) and worn with varying degrees of comfort and style. I heard from someone that a group of boys – maybe 9-10 who wore pink shirts to school today were called names and that no teachers responded or challenged this. That in my books is an epic fail. I also know my 8-year-old daughter (at the same school) has struggled with boys understanding that cutting her hair short does not actually, miraculously turn her into a boy. Actually, I don’t think they believe that either, but she feels pretty down that none of her friends will stick up for her, or the teachers. She also just wants to get on and not make a big deal out of it, but I’m kind of on the edge of going parental supernova. It probably doesn’t help that I am also a counsellor…so I’m going to let her tell me what support she would like. I get to dress up as Wolverine Sunday and do the mud run at the school, I’m tempted to see if the boys are there and to have a chat to them in full character…but I wont…claws sheathed.
My dilemma is I want her to feel safe, happy and accepted for who she is, not the length of her hair. Why is this society still insisting on such strongly defined ways of being correctly male and female – it’s hair! So while pink shirt day points to the idea of femininity being wrong for boys (symbolically indicated by the pink shirt) there is no ‘shirt option’ of the reverse for girls, but hair length is.
So how about a cut your hair short day to go with pink shirt day? Could be a great way for hairdressers to get some training for their apprentices – free cuts in solidarity.
So it’s Pink Shirt Day tomorrow. It occurred to me just how much meaning the colour pink has gained over the years. Wearing a pink shirt tomorrow is replicating the act of solidarity shown by a bunch of mates when their mate had homophobic comments made after he wore a pink shirt.
That’s probably the bit that is missed, the action of solidarity after because I think it is a little unrealistic to think that wearing a pink shirt tomorrow is solidarity, I think symbolic and that’s not quite the same thing. I like the word solidarity – it has ‘solid’ in it….and ‘arity’ but that’s not really a word. To be firm, grounded, real, present…to matter. Because people could wear a pink shirt tomorrow and challenge no-one about mocking people for being gay. Solidarity doesn’t need a shirt it needs action…from everyone…pink or no pink shirt.
Actually, it would be good to destigmatise the colour pink and not have it attached to gender or sexuality, so if anything we need to think where we see and don’t see pink. Let’s put pink in its rightful place, back in nature and not on every single girl’s toy (if there is such a thing) and bit of clothing…toothbrush…hair brush….you get my point.
This week is bullying awareness week, well, unofficially and Pink Shirt Day is Friday 20th May. So how to start a conversation about bullying that hasn’t already been done a thousand times….
There are plenty of bullying stories out there, and stories of people who make a stand it against it. There are lots of ideas on how to stop bullying, and schools put in punishments to make it clear it’s wrong to bully. There are also plenty of groups willing to come in and do a presentation, performance share a personal story to help ‘get the message out’ about how bad bullying is. How is that in spite of all this education, it still happens?
I think some of the reason is we go looking for a kind of person or action that we can identify. But is there such a thing as ‘a bully’ does this type of person actually exist? Because I get a bit confused when I talk with people about ‘bullies’. If I ask a range of people about a student from parents, teachers, friends, coaches I get different responses – I never have everyone say ‘yeah they are a bully 100%. So one shift I think needs to happen is to look at bullying not IN people – but BETWEEN people. Anyone can bully or be bullied, there is no ‘type’. You can also be bully and bullied at the same time, which is perhaps why it gets a little confusing.
Another thing I find interesting is the idea that people grow up and grow out of being bullies, I’m not so sure about that. Adults bully that’s a fact, our family violence statistics back that up. Family violence is about control and the use of fear to maintain that control. Bullying is similar. Anyone can bully because everyone feels vulnerable, scared and powerless at times. Bullying is a form of social event – no – I don’t mean it’s something to promote, but people form connections. People make sense of themselves and others through these actions, they give entry into groups. If we look at it this way then anyone can become involved because everyone needs to feel connected, a sense of belonging.
One good example is mocking, put downs, teasing. Humour and laughing are something all of us enjoy. The thing about humour is in order for it to work there has to be some form of shame attached – otherwise it doesn’t work. Friends can sometimes do this with each other. If someone has to say ‘naaaaa jokes’ to convince you that you shouldn’t be offended then it’s likely to have been intended to shame, hurt or humiliate.
Bullying and humour can be an uncomfortable fit. Both can pick on difference, or a sense of wrongness about that difference, this is something we all need to challenge. Laughing together at circumstances or even ourselves is good and healthy. Humour can help us understand the strange ways we are expected to be in the world based on our gender, culture, age, sexuality or functioning. But pointing and laughing at someone is not joining with them in a sense of understanding, it’s alienating and isolating.
I guess my challenge is to groups of friends. How do you respect each other’s differences when having a laugh? How do you laugh in public together-including in digital spaces? Is someone potentially getting their way of being in the world made wrong in the moment? How can you in that moment shift what you do to create a safer more respectful and ethical form of action? Because while you might not be doing the action that gets defined as bullying, your response will either be part of the acceptance and normalising of that or it will challenge it. I’m also interested in challenging homophobic put downs and harassment. Even if it’s amongst friends it can hurt but making it unsafe to be gay or transgendered. Sexuality and gender are unique human qualities we all want others to value. Feeling safe in who we are as people is a fundamental human need.
And just for the record, I think the worst examples of bullying are from adults not young people. It’s also why I love animals, they are just straight up about how they feel about you and they don’t really care about what their friends think if they are friends with another species.
12 June is the “Day of Silence“, “a day of action in which students across New Zealand vow to take a form of silence to call attention to the silencing effect of homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying, name-calling and harassment in schools.”
At Epsom Girls Grammar School, however, 12 June will be a day of anti-silence. Students who are part of DIVINQ will be taking a different tack.
We’ll be shouting about bullying all over the school at lunchtime.
We think silence is the friend of bullying and, to support and complement the people and organisations behind the day of silence, we want to yell in no uncertain terms that bullying is unacceptable, unwanted and uncool.
We will holler messages of acceptance, diversity, uniqueness and love. Yes, love, because love is the absence of fear – and fear causes bullying.
So, whether you’re silent or loud on 12 June, make it a day to celebrate and honour humanity, in all our magnificent beauty.