There’s an anti-bullying meme that I’ve seen several times on Facebook. It’s one of those sentiments that might sound nice to many if they don’t think about it but is actually pretty fucked up. Here it is:
The boy you punched in the hall today. Committed suicide a few minutes ago. That girl you called a slut in class today. She’s a virgin. The boy you called lame. He has to work every night to support his family. That girl you pushed down the other day. She’s already being abused at home. That girl you called fat. She’s starving herself. The old man you made fun of cause of the ugly scars. He fought for our country. The boy you made fun of for crying. His mother is dying. You think you know them. Guess what? You don’t! Re-post if you are against bullying. Reblog this with if you have a heart.
Usually criticising Facebook memes is pointless and a case of shooting fish in a barrel. But I think it’s important to think about this particular one. The reason that it chooses to give against bullying someone is because you don’t know their circumstances. While this sounds nice, it’s essentially saying you shouldn’t bully someone these reasons:
- They might be harmed by the bullying
- The aspect you’re bullying them about doesn’t even apply to them
- The aspect you’re bullying them about does apply to them but they have a “valid” reason for being this way
Now, one of these is not like the other. Reason 1 is the only good reason out of these not to bully. This one covers the boy you punched in the hall, the girl you pushed down the stairs and possibly the boy you called lame. The others don’t work because when you give someone a reason not to do something people usually read it to mean that if the reason didn’t apply it would be ok. Reason 2 implies that it wouldn’t be so bad if the girl actually was “a slut”, however you define that. Reason 3 implies that it wouldn’t be so bad if the person didn’t have the “valid” excuse, however you define that. To see how ludicrous this is, let’s try a few other examples:
- That boy you made fun of for being gay? He’s actually not effeminate!
- That woman you racially abused? She’s not even black!
- That boy you mocked for wearing a pink shirt? Bet you didn’t know he’s colourblind!
This feeds into a general attitude of victim-blaming: the answer to bullying is not to scrutinise the person being bullied. It should not be about anyone except the bully. The inquiry into people’s sexuality, eating habits and so on can be just as damaging (if not more) than the original bullying. Finally, this places stock in the horrendous idea of the “perfectly innocent victim” and the idea that we have a right to decide what counts as “innocent”. Even if we’ve spent a total of 5 minutes in our lives thinking about the issues the victim might face.
Perhaps this attitude might be an ok reply to a 4 year old on why she should stop hitting her sister. It’s not ok for adults. If you think such obvious victim-blaming doesn’t happen often, I’ll give 1 example. On Greta Christina’s blog, she often posts misogynyst comments she gets about her appearance. Actual example: “You are a cretinous, ugly, buck toothed lesbian. Why would anyone listen to you?” And yet she still needs to point out that it’s not appropriate to show support by saying “for what it’s worth, I don’t think you’re ugly”. Ergo, this meme needs a rewrite:
That girl you called a slut in class today. She’s had sex with more people than you consider appropriate. That girl you called fat. She eats more than you approve of. The old man you made fun of cause of the ugly scars. He got them from being a drug addict. The boy you made fun of for crying. He’s more emotional than your personal views of what a man should be. But so fucking what? If anything, it’s a reason to reexamine your own pathetically coercive, bigoted standards. I bet 99% of you won’t repost this!!1!