When I think about bullying, I think about my adult life. In particular, the relationships I had with women between my late teens and early twenties, serve as a very strong lesson in self esteem, the absolute necessity of having extraordinarily strong boundaries, and standing up and defending those boundaries – aka, fighting back.
In hindsight, it is clear to me that I was unprepared for those experiences and relationships. I was unprepared to defend myself because of the fact that, up until then, I believed bullying was an occurrence amongst children, that didn’t apply to adults or other situations outside of the high school halls and the playground. I have learned differently.
Why was I unprepared? Stereotypes and myths about aggression. I learnt the hard way that women can be very aggressive, that not all women are warm and fuzzy, nurturing, and nice versions of the “feminine”, regardless of their chosen gender presentation and sexual orientation. I’ve met the softest butches and men and I’ve met some really aggressive, fierce cut-throat femme lesbians. All of these women are capable of “relational aggression”, which is any behavior intended to harm someone else through manipulation in relationships. I have witnessed not only young girls and teenagers but adult women use some of these tactics, including exclusion, ignoring, malicious gossip, intimidation, manipulation, and alliance building.
In spite of my experiences in high school and elementary schools in Nigeria and Canada, where I quickly transitioned from getting bullied to the bully to the one who simply wasn’t “messed with” so that bullying became a non-issue, I somehow assumed that once I was dealing with “mature” adult women, things would be different. But once again, I would have to learn to move from the bullied to the bully to the one not mess with.
At the core of these life lessons and this cycle of bulling was the idea that I had to believe and trust in myself – also referred to as self esteem. I had to defend and stand up for my beliefs and values and finally understand that I didn’t have to compromise my values or expect that others would either.
I just wish a little bird had whispered it in my ear when I was 19. Like everyone else, feminists, lesbians, straight women, and trans folks alike carry lessons and behaviors from childhood to adulthood. They don’t miraculously drop away, so don’t expect that someone won’t be a bully.
What’s the best remedy for a bully, in my personal opinion? Fight back, fight back hard, and most importantly, consistently. They usually back off. Even harder, don’t resort to becoming a bully yourself.