Topic: The Rising Epidemic of Bullying by Jane Williamson

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The Rising Epidemic of Bullying – In All Its Insidious Forms and Guises by Jane Williamson was entered into the 2012 Memoir and Local History Competition

Archived version here.

We live in enlightened, feminist, non-racist, non-sexist times – or so we are told.  So we are taught to believe. 

Girls can do anything: so the slogan ran when I was a girl.  And so the picture of Keisha Castle-Hughes riding on the back of a water-bound mammal would have us believe.  I grew up in a kind, caring, loving household.  There were boundaries, but they weren’t too draconian.  I was raised to believe that I could achieve my goals: I could put a marker-post down in the future, head towards it with conviction and vigour and, all things being equal, I could reach my goal. 

I could compete with the men – and with other women.  I could be a go-getter, an achiever, a winner.  If not Numero Uno, then perhaps Numero Novantanove.  My parents tried to teach me strategies that I could use to protect myself.  When I was bullied while cleaning a fish factory – ‘You’ve missed a fish scale’; ‘Look me in the eye when I’m trying to bully you’ –  my parents told me to complain to the manager.  The bully promptly pulled her head in and I was given a glowing reference stating that I had great ‘strength of character.’

I progressed to university, a nice middle-class girl doing a B.A./LLB – inoffensive enough, and yet people seemed determined to treat me as somehow other; different.

When I was taken home to meet the parents of my first boyfriend the quizzing began.

“So what kind of contraception are you on?” asked his father.

“Um,” I replied tentatively. “I’m sort of on the pill.”

“Sort of?” he shot back. “Are you or aren’t you?”

“I am.”

“Good.  Because the next thing you know I won’t be supporting just you and Richard, I’ll be supporting thirty-three kids as well.”

At the age I am now, thirty-eight, with no children at all, I find myself wondering what I did to deserve such treatment.  Perhaps being born female was enough.  Born this way, as Lady Gaga would say. How could I have understood, when I came sliding forth from my mother’s womb, that my gender would prove to be so constricting?  My parents created a safe place, a shelter.  I was protected from many of the world’s evils.  I was taught to play nice.  I wasn’t warned about all the people rolling crooked dice.  The wolves and the jackals. 

Little did I realize how riddled the world is with corruption and vice; with envy, with spite; with foul play.

When my first novel came out I hadn’t expected such a furore.  Sure, I was only young, but did people really have to get so up in arms about it?  I found myself in the middle of a bizarre process of simultaneous deification and vilification.  This wasn’t what I had wanted.  I had wanted to publish under a pseudonym, but it had been written into my contract that I had to use my own name.  I had to put up with public humiliation, pack hatred, people sneering at me in the street. 

“Why don’t I tell you to just fuck off then!” yelled an announcer at Radio NewZealandafter I baulked at reading a passage from my novel aloud.

“Suicide’s good for sales,” said my editor’s husband.

“What makes you think anybody wants to know what’s going on in your head?” asked my father.

“Today’s news, tomorrow’s fish and chips”, chimed in my friend’s Dad.

Still, it could have been worse.  Some writers get death threats.  I seemed to attract a sort of morbid curiosity, like a weird lab specimen that somebody had captured to keep in a jar for public display.  People seemed more interested in me than the book.  I came to realize that (O, how Plath-like) there would have to be two of me: the public self and the private individual. The more that other people are trying to invade your privacy, the thicker must be the wall that keeps them out.  I, for one, had no desire to end up as tabloid fodder, a literary Middleton, preyed on by paparazzi.

There were role models, but they were few and far between.  There were examples of people who had won despite, or perhaps because of, obstacles.  There was Kristen Hersh, who started up her band in her early teens when some form of mental illness started making its shock waves felt.  My schoolmate Cindy Mosey lost her entire family in a plane crash of which she was the sole survivor, and yet she went on to become three-times world kite surf champion.  She was a good example of somebody who had lost everything and then gone on to win.  All I can tell you about being female is this: Any time I was good at something I got harassed.

Women, far more than men, are made to feel vulnerable and threatened.  We are picked on more.  We are harassed, put down, patronised, belittled and made to feel small – more often than not by other women, as well as by men.  Recent research shows that women are 71% more likely to be bullied by another woman, whereas the chances of a woman being bullied by a man are a much lower 46%. [1]

Then there’s the good old female favourite – ostracism.  Bonding through exclusion.  The typical teenage trick.  What woman hasn’t experienced being driven out of a gang of girls?

One of the main reasons I got into I.T. was that I thought it would be male-dominated and therefore less bitchy – as it turns out, most of the men were just as catty as the women.

I hate my life.  I’m looking for a victim admitted my last boss as she cruised the office for targets.

Is it me, or is workplace bullying becoming endemic?  Surely I’m not so much of a nerd, so socially retarded, that I actually invite abuse?  Or am I? 

No, it’s not just me.  Bullying is on the rise.  According to a recent global survey by Monster [2], 63% of respondents and a massive 83% of Europeans say that they have been the victim of workplace bullying. 


Personally, I think it’s because they’re all crammed in together like chickens, frustration oozing from every feather and nobody to peck at apart from the chicken in the next coop over, or more likely and more often, the chicken in the coop underneath.  A European corporate chicken is a battery hen; aNew Zealandchicken is relatively free range.  And yet, workplace bullying is on the rise here too.  Maybe when times are tough the sociopaths and psychopaths know they can get away with more nasty behaviour, because people won’t risk standing up for themselves in case they lose their jobs.

Bullying can be insidious and sneaky.  You can set somebody up to fail by allocating them tasks that they are unable to complete in the given timeframe and then complaining that they didn’t complete their work on time. Patronising somebody is also a form of bullying, since talking down to a person is designed to make them feel small and powerless.  Then there is the trick of standing somebody up – saying you are going to be somewhere or do something and failing to deliver. 

My career counsellor pulled this trick a couple of times.  I was as busy as all hell and he kept setting up appointments with me and then forgetting, or failing, to turn up.  Helpful behaviour from a career counsellor.

These days we have cyber-bullying: one kid threatening, humiliating or intimidating another online.  This form of bullying is prevalent amongst teenagers.  Suicides can result. And bullying is present in academia – my sister’s PhD supervisor returned her thesis with HATE IT penned across the top in bright-red ink.  We’ve all heard of male lecturers who mark the women harder than the men.

And no matter how much I tell myself, it’s not you, it’s them, I can’t help but internalise some of society’s misogynistic hatred.  By publishing fiction I am, in my uncle’s words, ‘an ego-tripper.’  No matter how truthful I am, I still have to put up with being called a liar.

It’s only envy.  Is it?

The world is a dangerous place.  Yet, why should I cower?  Why should I hide away?

Maybe it’s a writer thing.  Some of the best writers have been recluses.  I’ve met my fair share of brain-boxes.  They all seemed more confident than me, but maybe they were faking it.

In my last days inLondonI was far from with it.  I believe I may have had some kind of seizure, during which my spirit left my body.  Where it went, nobody knows.  Roaming in the Scottish highlands, perhaps, or malingering on the London Underground.  A restless spirit; a hungry ghost with its sights set on reaching the other side.  A dangerous high-wire act.

Initially I was diagnosed with manic depression, but after three years (and after visiting ten doctors) they finally gave me an MRI and discovered I had a brain tumor in my left frontal lobe.  It’s not the end of the world.  Science advances all the time, and stem cell research is being pioneered.  Perhaps in the future, somebody could grow a new piece of brain and implant it – which leaves me wondering how I would turn out if they did slot in a new brain segment. 

Would I emerge with a new personality?  The tumour is in that area.  Perhaps they could insert an extrovert segment so that I could cope with my public persona.  I could emerge a whole new woman. 

It’d make a good story.

Jane Williamson is a pseudonym for Laura Solomon, who has a 2.1 in English Literature (Victoria University, 1997) and a Masters degree in Computer Science (University of London, 2003). Her books include Black Light, Nothing Lasting, Alternative Medicine, An Imitation of Life, Instant Messages, The Theory of Networks, Operating Systems, Hilary and David, In Vitro and The Shingle Bar and Taniwha and Other Stories.

She has won prizes in Bridport, Edwin Morgan, Ware Poets, Willesden Herald, Mere Literary Festival, and Essex Poetry Festival competitions. She was short-listed for the 2009 Virginia Prize and won the 2009 Proverse Prize. She has had work accepted in the Edinburgh Review and Wasafiri (UK), Takahe, Bravado and  Landfall (NZ). She has judged the Sentinel Quarterly Short Story Competition.





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