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(sex)uality: slut of the year

People are usually surprised to hear that I was bullied in high school. This is probably because I’m reasonably outgoing, well-adjusted, non-ugly, have friends, and just generally lack qualities that outwardly provoke harassment or comment (though my critics may tell you otherwise).

Anyway, I’m not really sure how closely I approximate the average person who’s bullied for whatever reason, but for me, things were reasonably peachy in high school until year 10.

To tell the details of how it all started would be the betray the privacy of the boy that was involved (there’s your first clue: a boy was involved), but to disclose nothing wouldn’t really put this in context. So I will say that there was alcohol, there was a party, we flitted somewhere between first and second base, then he suggested that we go further, and I walked away.

Being high school, everybody found out. This was not altogether unexpected. That I would be vilified and victimised for it for months afterwards, however, was a consequence that I did not consider.

Pretty soon after the incident, one of the more vile people I’ve ever met created a website (complete with photoshopped images) where everyone could vote for the slut of the year. I was barely 16, and my sexual experience was nothing noteworthy. But I “won”, even though I’d never done what everyone seemed to think I’d almost done (and consequently wouldn’t do for years after this).

The website creator was suspended for three days, but because he pulled it down before any of the teachers could get a look at it, there was no “proof”. The situation settled down until somehow the whole thing saw a renaissance the following year. I’d figured that the summer holidays would give this guy and his minions enough time to find something else to talk about, but apparently I was wrong.

The dozen or so “popular” guys yelled out at me whenever I walked past them, made up songs about what I’d done, and generally made school a really unpleasant place to be. Only a few people still talked to me, presumably because the rest didn’t want to get caught in the line of fire themselves. Until recently, I would even say to people that I hadn’t helped the situation; that of course I hadn’t left high school with many friends because I’d retreated and stopped talking to them too. Because somehow I thought that even though I was being sexually harassed on a daily basis, I should’ve made more of an effort when really, I didn’t want to talk to these people (probably because I wasn’t suffering from some derivative of Stockholm Syndrome).

I was ashamed to tell any teachers what was happening, and I was (stupidly) scared my parents would think less of me. I guess I thought I deserved it.

Eventually the parents of a couple of my friends told the school counsellor and it (kind of) got sorted, but my high school experience was more or less beyond reprieve by that point.

One of the boys apologised at the time, and apologised again when I ran into him a few months ago, saying that they’d just been kids and didn’t know what they were doing or saying. Which is kind of true; most of us do things sometimes without really thinking about how it might affect someone else, and this carelessness is exacerbated when you’re a teenager and trying to fit in. Which isn’t to say that it was an okay thing to do, but rather that it’s more useful to think about what went wrong.

Did these boys’ parents fail to teach them to respect girls? Are there too many examples in the media of men in large groups being derogatory towards women just for laughs? Was I educated to think about the implications of sex and all its subsidiaries, or just the mechanics?

There are failings across just about every level of our society, too numerous and too convoluted for me to cover in one article, that facilitate these things happening, and this is also why it’s difficult to fix.

But if you’re in a similar situation, whether it’s at work or at school or somewhere else altogether, tell someone. While it’s true that a lot of bullies are just sad people who will get bored if you don’t react, no change was ever propelled by staying tight-lipped.

Tell a teacher, your parents, your boss, your best friend, your union rep, or someone else you feel safe talking to.

Or if all else fails, tell the internet.

(Image credit: 1.)

4 thoughts on “(sex)uality: slut of the year

  1. Very interesting insight. I’ve read numerous articles about being bullied recently (it is sort of a trending topic here in America, and probably elsewhere), but I haven’t seen a lot of attention paid to opposite-sex bullying. How grateful I am never to have to return to high school…

  2. (NB: went to school with author)
    That website sucked so bad. Gladly I was too much of a nobody at the time for anyone to even know who I was… Opposite sex bullying is so draining. Recently I was harassed on a daily basis by a group of grown men (21-33yrs) at my work. I work in a hospital and in this case I was the only female on my ward. Hospital; a place where you would think that, generally speaking, the needs of every individual are met regardless of race, belief or gender. Wrong. It sucked, plain and simple… Stand up for yourself and you are the wussy girl that cant take hanging with the boys. Or as I did, you take it until one day it wears you down so much that a simple “Get out, boys club!” *door slams in face* is enough to make you cry in a hospital corridor, in front of patients and other staff- awesome.

  3. In my last job I was the vitim of (non sexual) bullying. I suspect they might not have even realised the effect they had. But I won’t excuse their ignorance. My boss left and suddenly I was the only representative of my department and people who were supposed to work with me instead decided to have a few laughs.

    A few things they did (don’t sound bad but its how constant, and I’ve chosen these to make the last bit make sence); Suggest I make all the coffees, what with me being an Admin and it being a girls job (No problem making my direct report a coffee if he/she asked). There being a line, jokingly refered to as the macy/ dixie line, that I couldn’t cross into their section (this ironically meant I had more office space than anyone else in the thousands strong company). And just general jokes.

    So the head guy had a mate visiting him that he was going to give a contract to (really charming men) and was trying to bignote himself and ordered me to make coffees for them. I said I would love to but he had banned me from walking to ‘their’ side of the office. His friend queired this and I simply said why, feining a bit of ignorance. It was at this point they realised they were starting to get too far.

    Intresting read. Thanks for sharing.

  4. There’s a pervasive attitude towards bullying that I don’t quite understand, and that’s the one you’ve presented here: If you tell an adult/higher official what’s happening to you, you can make it go away. This attitude may sometimes be correct, but it can also be very, very wrong.

    Take my experience in high school. At school, untrue rumors were flying about me, making it impossible for me to even eat lunch without being glared at and whispered about. And there was no one to tell there about it. The perpetrators of my own little hell were not only my peers, but my teachers and guidance counselor as well. They saw my attempts (exceptionally tame, but this was a very small and conservative school) at escaping my situation as a lack of discipline or perhaps a lack of respect for their authority and so made the situation worse by attempting to punish and correct me. A couple of them, the counselor included, simply disliked being unable to control me and force me to their way of thinking. After school, I would go home to a house that was regularly empty because everyone was away with my dying grandfather. Even if they had been home, circumstances meant that any efforts to protect me might not have been met with any kind of success. The rumors and lies were partly about my home life, after all.

    As you can see, there was no one to tell, and there was very little for me to do to stop my situation from deteriorating. This is why I get upset when people give the easy advice of, Tell someone! Sometimes, there’s no one to tell. Or even if there is, you don’t feel comfortable doing so, or you might have even already told them if you were comfortable with it. Often, telling can even be the WRONG thing to do. It can actually make you more of a target, not less, because now you are a “tattle-tale”. Or perhaps a trouble-maker.

    So, really, the advice should be for the bullied person to step back and think. There are a few steps that they can take to create and execute a plan to protect themselves, but this requires thought and rarely includes easy answers.

    Of course, you are VERY correct in your assertion that it was not your fault and the blame falls squarely on your bullies. They may have just been kids at the time, but in today’s society, even a bad upbringing can’t hide the fact that there are some things you just should not do. They weren’t raised in a social bubble after all.

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