Book review: Bullied, by Carrie Goldman

‘A practical guide with the credibility to get educational and childcare professionals, researchers and parents to sit up and take notice.’ Ailsa Grant-Turton reviews Bullied.

 Bullied-paperback-coverMy son is five and has just survived his reception year at school – but not without experiencing his first bullying. His school’s uniform policy is not too strict, just colours and basic rules, so when I saw some nice jersey cardigans in the school uniform section I popped them in my basket without a second thought. Little did I know that the poor little boy would suffer giggling, pointing and laughing, followed by his Year 2 “buddy” (supposed to be his school mentor…) taunting him with “hello girl!” every time he passed. Apparently, I hadn’t got the latest social ‘rule’ that ‘cardigans are for girls’.

I was proud of my son, who refused to stop wearing it for weeks. He said it was the big children “being rude” and he had “a right to wear a cardigan” (yes, he actually used those words).  However, on week three, he couldn’t take any more. He said he loved his cardigan but was too tired of everyone “bothering” him. I spoke to his teacher, who was very happy to step in, but, in the end, it was just so sad that children of such a young age are so quick to bully.

Carrie Goldman’s story, how her daughter was bullied for her Star Wars water bottle because it was “for boys”, sparking an internet sensation, reminded me so much of that cardigan nightmare. The moment your small child realises that other children really can be cruel and that adults (filling little heads with gender assumptions) actually can be wrong.

When I began reading her new book, Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher and Kid Needs to Know about Ending the Cycle of Fear, I was hoping for a book that finally dealt with the gendered aspect of bullying, which worked as a practical guide and (with my academic hat on as well as my parent one) would be credible enough to get educational and childcare professionals, researchers and parents all to sit up and take notice.

Research resources combine with a personal approach

Goldman really doesn’t disappoint. Her use of various case studies and research resources is integrated with a personal approach in which her voice as a parent is never lost from view. The US setting translates (sadly) very easily to the UK and many of the situations she describes as a mother of a young child are painfully familiar.

She sets herself the enormous task of covering a whole host of different circumstances for bullying, from lesbian, gay and transgender to weight and appearance issues and bullying on the basis of gender and disability. It would arguably have been better to add to these with racial and religious bullying, which I have seen many times when I was a teacher of teenagers but, nevertheless, her spread of issues is impressive.

‘Unpicking the cultural roots of bullying’

Another large section of the book does what really needs doing in the media and publications on this issue, which is take an accessible approach to unpicking the cultural roots of bullying.

By highlighting issues such as gendering toy marketing and producing sexualised clothes for children, Goldman looks at how we as consumers should be far more aware of the consequences of mass-stereotyping when it filters directly into children and teenagers’ brains. She looks at the different types of bullying that now present themselves in a digital world and is not afraid to examine the horrific phenomenon of ‘bullycide’. The fact that it now has its own word speaks frighteningly of how common it has become.

The book concentrates a little more time on gender issues, which works well as it is such an under-defined and under-researched area of bullying. I would have one little question for Goldman, though…on page 21, during her fascinating account of her local community’s response to her daughter’s experiences of bullying, she writes:

“I am sure there were some parents, particularly of little boys, who privately thought what happened to Katie was no big deal.”

Why the assumption that parents of little boys must have “privately” been less sympathetic? Clearly, these were little boys who never got told they were “girly” for, say, liking pink or dancing (or wearing a cardigan to school…). The book is a great achievement and will spark much-needed debate and thought on the real causes of bullying, but we must start by checking our own assumptions as we go along.

Keeping bullying in the headlines

Halfway through my reading of the book, the news hit that yet another teenager had lost their life to bullying. Fourteen-year-old Hannah Smith had posted an innocent question on Ask.fm about her eczema. She was flooded with bullying messages, some telling her to commit suicide. Some of the messages seem to have come from her own computer, adding an even more sinister aspect to what bullying does to a young mind, while one of the senders of the messages has been discovered to be a sixteen-year-old boy who wrote messages to her instructing her to kill herself.

This came a month after scandal broke over Twitter failing to moderate scores of rape and murder threats to women. Once again, bullying, in particular, cyber bullying, hit the headlines. Outcry rang through airwaves and rippled over the internet. Then all went quiet again. I hope Carrie Goldman’s book will help keep bullying high on the agenda, even after the headlines die away.

Dr Ailsa Grant-Turton is an academic writer, researcher and lecturer. She has one five-year-old child (whose favourite things are lifeboats, fairies, fire engines and crafts) and is eight months pregnant with her second baby.

 

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