The church covers up »« Problem-solving

If he only smiles

A guest post at Skepchick by Laura Stone, a blogger at Hey, Don’t Judge Me, about her son and high school bullying. He’s attempted suicide three times because of it.

I’ve heard that I’m a terrible mother for leaving my child in a situation where he’s being brutalized. That he needs to pull himself up by his bootstraps and beat the hell out of his attackers. That he needs more Jesus in his life. That if he only smiles back at the bullies, why, their hearts will grow three sizes that day and they’ll all be BFFs.

Because a soft answer turneth away wrath…

Except of course when it doesn’t. Except when the bullies are bullying because it is fun for them and they are not about to stop it. Real, dedicated bullies get real pleasure out of their chosen hobby. It’s a mistake to overlook that.

…my son is an atheist (see: logic) and happens to be gay. Getting good with Jesus, prayer circles, etc., none of that works since he’s seen as The Enemy. He is gay, you can’t pray that away (not to mention that he doesn’t believe in prayer anyway), so he fails on both counts for the “compassionate” Christians, reinforcing his Enemy status. His attackers are all active, vocal Christians–-mostly the Southern Evangelical sort–-so that goes back to that logic loop of his.

Pick any one of those three traits, and in his attackers’ minds it’s the reason for his “undesirable” qualities. He’s gay because he’s an atheist. He’s an atheist because he’s gay. He’s a gay atheist because he’s “retarded.” These are all things that have actually been said to him.

That’s profoundly interesting to me. I see religion as a kind of bullying, but normally a covert, disguised, dressed up kind. It’s fascinating that high school theists, with their undeveloped frontal cortices, make it completely literal and undisguised.

What does affect your children is your hate. Your intolerance. Your snide comments at the dinner table about how “that one isn’t giving his parents grandchildren.” Your limp-wristed, high-voiced impression of the teenage boy that loves fashion, not footballs. The dirty face you make at the young woman that prefers overalls and short hair to tight dresses and ornate accessories. Every time you use the phrase “short bus.” Each instance of you grabbing your bag tighter as a black man walks towards you on the street or a person of Middle Eastern descent gets in line at the airport.

My son is autistic, atheist, and gay, and your assumption that he is one or all of those things because he’s “retarded” or “doesn’t have Jesus” is a continuing lesson in hatred that you’re teaching your children. And you have got to stop using the R-word word as an insult. Wow, does it make you look stupid and mean. My son isn’t looking for “special” treatment or “special” attention. He gets it because it’s the result of nice little Christian boys that jam his head in the toilet at school to “clean him” of his sins, and that’s just the stuff they do that I can print here. Trust me when I say he would really prefer to not get that kind of “special” attention ever again in his life.

You may be wondering where this high school is. It’s in Texas.

 

Comments

  1. Zugswang says

    And why would they? They’re just imitating all the stuff their idols role models do and say, and they all seem to be upstanding men and women of the community.

  2. No Light says

    I want to cry, scream, run to that poor boy and his mother and whisk them away.

    I feel raw and sick. I’ve been where he was, (for different reasons though), and even at 35 it still burns in my memory.

    Ableism and homophobia are almost cherished by many people. Even in a relatively safe space, social justice savvy and allegedly inclusive, you’re treated like some kind of overreacting drama queen if you ask people to be careful with ableist terms.

    People may be turning slightly WRT homophobia, but this kid will be stuck on the receiving end of ableism without anyone raising an eyebrow.

    I wish I could help him.

  3. says

    I recommend a three phase approach to bullies:

    1) Use humour, meta-analysis, and such to distract them.
    2) Actively ignore them.
    3) Attack randomly (altruistic punishment).

    This is no panacea, but the best I have to offer. Of course, it’s wise to delay use of option 3 until it’s confirmed to be a chronic problem. Ultimately, some sort of negative feedback is required, because if they had any compassion they wouldn’t be bullies in the first place.

    In particular, the randomness (i.e. which response and it’s details) is very effective with the religious, as they are easily unnerved by chaos.

  4. sheila says

    Poor, poor kid. And poor Mom too. I don’t suppose homeschooling is practical? Nah, they’d have done that years ago if they could.

  5. katenrala says

    Autistic, atheist, sexual minority, bullied to the point of being suicidal and still is suicidal. Might have been my bio in school.

    Allistic neurotypicals are great people, they’ll claim their greatness and show us retards by example how great they are. Though they are really only great at harming themselves and others.

    At least I made it to the age where I could buy guns and carry them, hide several throughout my home loaded and ready, as I’ve been made to be permanently terrified of allistic neurotypicals by their treatment of me and seemingly every autistic person I’ve interacted with online. It’s not like we all pass in public.

    I can see red every time I read about how people treat other autistic people.

    Ableism and homophobia are almost cherished by many people. Even in a relatively safe space, social justice savvy and allegedly inclusive, you’re treated like some kind of overreacting drama queen if you ask people to be careful with ableist terms.

    Very true. I spent years on a social justice site and joined before I realized exactly how pervasive ableism was there. I and a couple others worked very hard to get the ableists, blog writer included, to stop, as not only was it wrong but it was against the philosophy they claimed to possess, they finally did but then changed to a different format which invited in a ton of less SJ oriented people and I just had to quit, and became just another person pushed out of a site that was supposed to be a safe place for everyone when in reality it was a safe space for some much more than others.

    I’m happy this kid has a mother as supportive as she is. I just really wish people would stop allowing kids k-12 to be monsters and do to others what are felonies in the adult world without stepping in at all. I’m sure the administration there is as incompetent and mean as they were in my schools.

  6. Bjarte Foshaug says

    Parental influence is certainly one part of the puzzle, but I don’t think it’s the only triggering factor, or even a necessary one. When people talk about the “innocence of childhood”, or how we are all born as “noble savages” who would never harm a fly unless it is socialized into us from the outside, I have to wonder if they were ever children themselves [1] (or maybe it’s just me). Thinking back at my own childhood, it was more like:

    Somebody‘s going to get it. Make sure it’s not you.

    And of course the way to “make sure it’s not you” is to make sure it’s somebody else. Having found myself both at the receiving and (I am horrified to say) at the giving end of the nastiness at various times, I honestly don’t know that there’s much individual parents or teachers could have done. It has to be much more systematic and organized than that. Bullies are often very good at terrorizing their victims in ways that make it almost impossible for the adults to tell what’s going on. On the occasions when parents or teachers did try to get involved, their reluctance to take sides often resulted in the victim getting half the blame (“Cut it out, all/both of you!”), and of course any attempt to intervene on the victim’s behalf could immediately be turned into another justification for further bullying (“chicken”, “coward” , “running to mommy” etc).

    If there’s one general piece of advice I would like to offer parents, it’s never to tell your child to “just ignore it”. What that really tells the child is “I intend to just ignore it”.
    __________________________________________________________
    1. My current view is that pro-social behavior is not some “default setting” that comes by itself unless external forces prevent it, but anti-social tendencies are something that must be actively unlearned.

  7. 'dirigible says

    601 – I look forward to your recommendations for dealing with automatic weapon fire. I assume one simply moves out of the path of the projectiles and other useful and practical measures that do not inconvenience the target.

  8. Steve Caldwell says

    Unfortunately for many school systems (including those in Texas), the only way that a parent can get school administrators to take bullying seriously is a major lawsuit. They may not want to address anti-gay bullying or anti-atheist bullying but a million dollar lawsuit will get their attention.

  9. kevinalexander says

    1. My current view is that pro-social behavior is not some “default setting” that comes by itself unless external forces prevent it, but anti-social tendencies are something that must be actively unlearned.

    Yes. One of the big reasons why the idea of evolutionary psychology is so resisted is because we want to believe in our innate goodness. We hate the thought that we are descended from and still are beasts that naturally try to eliminate the different in our midst.

  10. Beatrice says

    1) Use humour, meta-analysis, and such to distract them.

    You do realize that will only result in the kid being called a smartass and then probably subjected to even more violence for punishment?

    2) Actively ignore them.

    To cite Bjarte Foshaug:

    If there’s one general piece of advice I would like to offer parents, it’s never to tell your child to “just ignore it”. What that really tells the child is “I intend to just ignore it”.

    That does not apply only to parents.

    3) Attack randomly (altruistic punishment).

    …so that you can get busted for attacking another student.
    Not to mention how much crap this advice is when the child being bullied is physically weaker that their attacker(s). Also, note that (s) in the previous sentence.

  11. johnthedrunkard says

    I am glad to be as old as I am.

    I was relentlessly bullied through grade school and have never been completely socialized since. This as a white, heterosexual child of educated parents and with a high IQ score.

    In my childhood, bullying was not actively promoted by organized religious groups as it seems to be today. Of course catholics and evangelicals were around, but I don’t think they had the kind of licence to harm that they have achieved in the last 30 years.

    What is consistent, is the refusal of ‘decent’ people to recognize evil in their own community. Thus the harm is endlessly relativized; worthless advice like ‘ignore them,’ or ‘learn to box,’ is repeated. Orwell wrote something about a school society devoted to defending the strong against the weak.

    I believe that this same character flaw lies at the heart of the catholic church’s response to pedophiles, AND the atheist movement failures to address misogyny.

    There has to be something better than this.

  12. says

    @’dirigible #10

    Against overwhelming force (are automatic weapons still permitted in Texas high schools?) item one is admittedly a long shot, but your only option.
    ____

    @Beatrice #13

    Bullies are rewarded by the humiliation they inflict, so denying them their unethical thrill as much as possible is critical. As when Rebecca says “their hate makes me stronger.”

    “Actively ignore” is unlike the familiar “just ignore it” in two important ways. A provocation is briefly acknowledged and then dismissed to offer the bully a face-saving exit (unlikely at first, but after having suffered from an altruistic punishment attack previously, it can eventually work). And, as only one part of a suite of responses, it doesn’t have the usual negative psychological affect on self esteem.

    The random attack need not be too serious, just enough to inflict a cost for the bullying. And of course being weaker (and often outnumbered) means you will pay a higher cost (altruistic punishment). Also, I suspect most victims would easily trade a school suspension to stop the cycle of abuse (including the benefit of institutional formality and reputation).

    Given that the status quo is such a bad situation, individuals experimenting with alternative strategies seems worth the risk (while we are waiting for our social institutions to catch up).

  13. katenrala says

    601:

    First please state your mental status.

    I’d like to address his concept of actively ignoring. There are many things that one cannot actively ignore or passively ignore and harassment, bodily attacks, and many forms of bullying just cannot be ignored by the victim, this is especially true if the victim is autistic, a state of mind I might know a great deal more about than you. I may also know what it’s like to be bullied as an autistic person by allistic people than you.

    To suggest that one can actively ignore their bullies suggests to me that you got off lightly compared to the bullying I’ve received, this kid has received, and many people with disabilities and mental disabilities receive in school. My only refuge in school was in drama where the people in that program accept anyone, but outside of that only refuge I was constantly harassed every day just so that my assailants in every class and during every break period could push me so hard that I would develop a very bad anxiety and panic attack and I would need to stim to make get my emotions under control. I stim by self harming, so of course for the bullies seeing that was both their reward and excuse to attack me further. The school authorities didn’t give a damn and punished me for stimming rather than punishing people who attacked me. Autistic people also just don’t let things slide off them like you may have done, or “regular people” can do, the things we can shrug off tend to be things that regular people cannot handle. Of course we don’t get all blamey and suggest you all actively ignore your problems, what we want is solutions and the end to the problems that afflict both of us.

    Fighting back. Are you serious? At least in US society a victim fighting back is considered more in the wrong then the bullies attacking them. The reason for this is that bullies are considered a force of nature, as are criminals, but a victim choosing to fight back is considered more premeditated and more wrong than the behavior of bullies and criminals. Victims are just supposed to take it.

  14. says

    @katenrala #16 – “First please state your mental status.”

    I am a little uncomfortable with your first instruction (HIPAA and what not), but I am near normal (although much better with software than literature).

    - “Fighting back. Are you serious?”

    Yes, absolutely. However, I do understand there are risks and challenges to this strategy, and it may not be for everyone. But my interest is in empowering the weak with scientifically valid techniques that move toward equality. Random retaliation is an efficient way to disrupt vicious cycles, and a key feature of successful insurgencies.

    Also, I concur that “actively ignoring” is probably much more difficult for those along the autism spectrum, which would limit its usefulness in this case.

  15. No Light says

    @601

    but I am near normal

    Normal? Yeah, that’s not really a thing when we’re talking about humans. You are human, aren’t you?

    Has your “normal” self ever been the victim of sustained bullying?

    “Fighting back. Are you serious?”

    Yes. [snip] Random retaliation is an efficient way to disrupt vicious cycles, and a key feature of successful insurgencies.

    1. [citation needed]

    2. This isn’t Lord of the Flies. Your “random retaliation” is only likely to do one thing – get the retaliator labelled as “Unpredictably violent without apparent provocation, emotionally unstable, a danger to self and others. This risk is magnified to infinity where the child is non-neurotypical.

    Also, I concur that “actively ignoring” is probably much more difficult for those along the autism spectrum, which would limit its usefulness in this case.

    So, given that the article is about a child with autism, and that deeply entrenched societal ableism means that there probably isn’t a person with disabilities alive who’s never been a target of abuse, what exactly was the point of your exercise in mental masturbation

    I only ask because I have to say, that your “beating bullies is foolproof with my strategy. Buy now for only $29.99! Warning – non-NTs are not eligible for this offer” schtick, sounds a bit like you’re shrugging, and saying “Sucks to be you, ‘cos it works for ‘normal’ people!.

  16. says

    @No Light #19

    More specifically, by “near normal” I mean within 2 standard deviations, but with a few outliers. And yes, I can usually pass for human.

    re: “…sustained bullying?” – Not too much, but I (and others I know) have had success with the three point strategy I described above (your $29.99 scam suggestion is interesting, but Dan Olweus has already cornered that market). Even the Dali Lama said that faced with a relentless attacker a forceful response is required.

    Most of the research I have scanned through just now focuses on advice for school officials and parents. Of note, the only official advice for victims is to report the event. And as discussed previously, reporting doesn’t always end well (yet I agree it’s still good advice). The research also confirms that bullies only stop when they incur a cost, but it’s always described as being exacted by officials.

    re: “…get the retaliator labelled as “Unpredictably violent [...]” – Which is exactly the point (from the perspective of the bully). How professionals diagnose the victim could end up almost anywhere.

    re “…mental masturbation” – I still think anyone can benefit from the strategy I suggested, no matter what their circumstances. Be deliberately unpredictable, and strike back occasionally.

  17. Beatrice says

    I still think anyone can benefit from the strategy I suggested, no matter what their circumstances.

    You are deluded.
    Kids on the autistic spectrum were already mentioned, so were kids who are physically significantly weaker than their attackers (not to mention that attackers often come in packs).
    Humor and “meta-analysis” you first advised are more likely to get you called a smartass and abused even more violently than anything else. How is that particular advice different than “smile back at bullies”?

    “Actively ignore” is unlike the familiar “just ignore it” in two important ways. A provocation is briefly acknowledged and then dismissed to offer the bully a face-saving exit

    Sounds like something that will look like provocation to a bully.

    If bully enjoys humiliating a person, you think that denying them attention will make them go away rather than try harder?

    And physical attacks… I hope you don’t advise any actual kid on this, telling them they should risk punishment from the school for dubious goal of possibly intimidating their bullies (not very likely). Yeah, some kids “snap” and scare their bullies away. But it’s not something that usually turns out well. Especially when talking about an autistic kid. No Light gave just one example of serious consequences that a non-normative kid can suffer in these cases.

  18. Rodney Nelson says

    601

    When I read your initial post #6 I assumed you were one of those well-meaning but clueless people who had no experience with bullying but felt it necessary to give useless advice to the bullied.

    Then I read your post #15 and realized I was wrong. You’re pro-bully! Either that or you have no idea about how bullies work.

    “Actively ignore” is unlike the familiar “just ignore it” in two important ways. A provocation is briefly acknowledged and then dismissed to offer the bully a face-saving exit (unlikely at first, but after having suffered from an altruistic punishment attack previously, it can eventually work).

    It’s hard to “actively ignore” someone who’s slamming you against the wall. It’s really difficult to “actively ignore” someone who’s grabbed you by the shirt collar and is threatening to break your nose. And it’s almost impossible to “actively ignore” someone who’s thrown you down a flight of stairs. Do you think bullies are people who taunt you like the French soldier in Monty Python and the Holy Grail? I can tell you from personal experience this is not the case.

    In other words, get a clue about the real world before you spout your worthless “advice” to the bullied. I’d say more but Ophelia doesn’t appreciate commentators using certain language.

  19. Rodney Nelson says

    As an addendum to my post #22, the one time I tried to physically fight a bully, I was badly beaten and was threatened with expulsion from school for provoking a fight. Yet another case where the real world doesn’t match your futile advice.

  20. says

    I did not anticipate that this would be such a controversial idea (altruistic punishment – http://www.sciencemag.org/content/305/5688/1254.short).

    Beatrice #21 (thanks, I think this is a critical data point)

    Yeah, some kids “snap” and scare their bullies away.

    Rodney Nelson #22

    I’d say more but Ophelia doesn’t appreciate commentators using certain language.

    No worries, I get the point. And yes, “actively ignore” could only apply at a verbal beginning of an event.

    Empowering the weak (which I support unapologetically) can be difficult to distinguish from victim blaming, especially if it involves advice on changing behaviour.

    Given a situation where the official remedies are unsuccessful, I believe that something along the lines of what I mentioned is worth consideration, and I’ll leave it at that.

  21. katenrala says

    601

    Ah the belittlement of autistic people by a allistic NT wallowing in rank privilege, as familiar to me as my blankie. Once again a individual of the group who consider themselves as the best of humanity, or more accurately the definition of humanity, by defining any difference from themselves in medical and social infrastructures as a disorder or disability are living down to my expectations. I am a acrimonious connoisseur of such unfortunate irony.

    Telling victims, the “weak,” to change their behavior is victim blaming, not empowerment. The people who are required to change are the victimizers and those in positions of authority or authoritative structures which are supposed to protect people from harm if they and their structure are failing in that task.

    That you don’t understand that victims of sustained and intense bullying are not allowed to retaliate in any means in the US school environment is a huge tell that you lack the experience to suggest solutions to such victims.

    That you have the audacity, and not applause worthy audacity, to dare first think and then communicate invalid ideas as one of the oppressor class, not oppressed class, to and/or about oppressed class people is a worthy example of the Dunning-Kruger effect.

    We, the victims neurotypicals be us autistic or of another difference in mind, do not need you or your ideas until you as an individual reform and perceive without communicating to what people with first hand knowledge of our own life experiences as an oppressed class of people have to communicate since you are of the oppressor class.

    Men and male people don’t get to give women and female people ideas about empowerment and their experiences as victims; het people not to sexual minorities; sexuals not to asexuals; whites not to racial minorities; christians not to those of differing or no religion; abled not to the disabled; NTs to the mentally different; et ceterea.

    I find it terribly cute that you communicate that your IQ qualifies you different from what is considered to be of normal mind status and can pass a human being to and about those who are dehumanized for their minds. If what your two standard deviations of is not about your IQ please clarify, as I’ve only ever heard of a cite of standard deviations in a matter of personhood only in the context of IQ. Intersectionalism would make it awfully difficult to use statistics otherwise when defining a individual and I’m not generous enough anymore as I had it beaten out of me to give you the benefit of the doubt that you meant something else after reading the rest of your posts.

    And being uncomfortable to communicate that you are oppressor class to a member of the oppressed class is a bad kind of funny. Cries of reverse-ableism singing in my head.

  22. Beatrice says

    601,

    The link you give shows impact of punishment on the brain of the one who doles it, not the recipient.

    From googling altruistic punishment, it seems to be something for a person not necessarily involved in the conflict to engage in, not the victim. Note the connection with altruistic cooperation.
    If you should be arguing anything from altruistic punishment, then you should argue that bystanders should get involved and show that there is a social cost to the bully’s actions.

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