The leftward and other blatherings of Span (now with Snaps!)

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

you. will. conform.

In my work I come across a lot of bullying. It's not nice and it's hard to deal with - for the individual concerned, for those around them who are trying to help, and for outsiders like me that try to fix things.

Funnily enough I don't see so much harassment - I see harassment as a sort of targeted bullying, focusing on a personal feature such as gender, sexuality, race, age, etc. For some reason it seems to be less common amongst the adults I am dealing with, whereas standard bullying, sometimes not that different from what happens in the schoolyard, is rife.

I've mused a lot on what causes bullying. Bullying is about power - whether it's mental, emotional or physical. But what is its purpose? Quite simply to make people conform.

I had a pretty bad experience in sixth form. I was quite seriously sexually harassed by a couple of guys who were in the First XV, and I never worked out why I was a target. Then I was at a conference for work, sitting in a seminar and the speaker, Maria Pallotta-Chiarolli, put all the pieces together for me. She was talking about how her daughter had been bullied because she was a bit of a tomboy, and I suddenly realised - that was it, I didn't conform.

I had largely conformed at my old school, where we were all girls. I had learnt the rules over the years and was now only picked on for getting good marks, which I didn't intend to change. But at the new school, which was co-ed, I was marked out as a girl who was into rugby, good at maths and science, didn't show much interest in any of the boys, and generally did not act in the accepted girly ways. I was not a big girl's blouse. So I was a target.

When I started writing this post, several weeks ago, I did not intend to go on to write about blogging. I wasn't sure what my point was in posting this, beyond sharing my epiphany that bullying is a tool for imposing conformity. I thought this was interesting enough in itself to be worthy of a post.

But with all the nasty comments recently on many of the blogs, which in my view come mainly from right wingers, it seems there is pressure even here, in the "free" environment of the internet, to conform. This time it's not about gender stereotypes, it's about fitting in politically. The majority on the blogs are from the right, imho, and some of them are prepared to bully to force out views that oppose them. So much for freedom of expression.


Nigel Kearney said...

I agree. I don't know if it's a majority but there are definitely right-wing commenters who need to show some basic decency. If you must be rude, at least do it on your own blog.

Kakariki said...

I agree too, glad that most of them seem to stay away from mine. (That is not an invite). Kia kaha, love reading your stuff.

Make Tea Not War said...

I agree re bullying in the workplace and at school but I'm not sure that the nastiness of some political bloggers is necessarily just about trying to impose conformity. Flaming and trolling have been part of internet interaction probably for nearly as long as there has been an internet. I think its an internet culture thing that arises out of angry/ bored/ immature/ sometimes desperately lonely and unbalanced people wanting to have a fight or get any kind of reaction. It happens in non political contexts too. I once got repeatedly flamed and sent virus laden emails because I (fairly politely) said I thought the concept of the Rock Hall of Fame was kind of blah. I was quite stunned someone could get so worked up about the views of a total stranger on something so trivial but thats the internet for you

span said...

i'm not sure if most bullies are consciously trying to get conformity. but it is the inevitable result - they pick targets who stand out for some reason or another and this makes others avoid standing out.

one of the things that most concerns me about bullying is that it is a fundamentally isolating experience. which makes it very hard to deal with in a collective way.

that is weird about the Hall of Fame thing. people get upset about things for their own bizarre reasons often - eg I have had two incidences of minor road rage now (towards me) where I've done next to nothing wrong, clearly the people involved were stressed about something else but i was a convenient outlet point (again not consciously).

Rich said...

You don't have to read their stuff. If it's on your blog you can always delete unconstructive comments.

I'm not sure who it is reads through the 100+ comments on everything Jordan posts anyway - I need to be *very* bored at work to do that...

span said...

yep i've stopped reading the comments on most of Jordan's posts too. And most of DPF's.

which also means I have largely stopped commenting. I find that when i do comment it usually gets ignored anyway as someone else has written something highly inflammatory that everyone focuses on. Not very good for debate.

By contrast things over at NRT are quite civilised. Thank goodness.

Make Tea Not War said...

Yes, I too have got to be extremely bored to read the comments on either of those two blogs. It is just like usenet and I have been there and done that.

Ghet said...

I find it odd how different your co-ed school experiences were from mine. At my school it was the rugby-playing girls who did the bullying and the arty girls who got beaten up.

But. There do seem to be a determined sub-set of bloggers who spend all their time running round commenting on blogs completely opposed to their POV on the political spectrum, specifically to annoy people, from which I assume they must get jollies of some sort. I've been driven away from blogs whose writers I quite enjoy simply by the vitriol of the commenters.

span said...

we definitely didn't have any rugger playing girls at my school - i didn't play, i just knew how the game worked (i think my father wanted a boy) and verged on religious support of my team (Harbour - blind faith extremely necessary).

i was really surprised when i arrived at my new school and would try to talk rugby to other girls and they would not understand - i just assumed that most people knew the game, but i was sadly mistaken.

i remember when a friend of mine (a girl) started going out with another friend of mine from a third school, and he was a rugby player, so she asked me to explain the game to her, when we were on the bus going home. i didn't realise but everyone shut up and listened to me explaining and afterwards one of the younger guys, who was in the Second XV asked me if i had played because he had never met a girl who knew anything about rugby before. that was when i realised i was a bit strange (in regard to rugby anyway).

Ghet said...

Heh. This may well be a class thing. At my school, if a girl couldn't at least sit through a rugby game on the sidelines, be relatively helpful while filling fender dents with bog, and hold a spotlight on rabbit-shooting expeditions, she was completely useless.

Or it could just be that I was surrounded by blokes pretty much my first 18 years.

backin15 said...

Span, I think you're right to label as "bullying" some of the commentary on some blogs. It's one thing to challenge a person on their views, even to challenge them strongly, but another to attack the individual. I'm mindful of it because I've been having a stoush with Lindsay Mitchell and hope I've stayed on the correct side of the ledger.

backin15 said...

I just realised that this was an old post that I'd commented on - how odd that the issues should remain largely unchanged.

Not sure how I ended up commenting on an older post, was just checking to see if you'd made any recent posts.

span said...

Thanks for your comments bi15 - I posted a link to this post on one of the controversial posts over at Maia's blog, so maybe that is how you found it?

It is really hard sometimes, when things get heated. I think the warning signals are always when you start calling someone dumb, or a bitch, or titling your posts with abusive things. Then you are definitely overstepping the line! But some bloggers revel in taking that kind of post. One of the worst offenders I knew in real life a few years back and he was actually quite wimpy, go figure!