“Even bullies wear pink shirts on pink-shirt day.”

I heard this sentiment expressed more than once this past week. And to a certain extent it’s true. It’s a day when we offer camouflage to those who don’t realize they are the bullies we’re talking about.

Even so, the day does shine a light on the topic.  It inspires people to share their own experiences as Shane Koyczan has done this year with his spoken word poem (link below). 

As my friend Bob has done on his blog.

And as I want to do here because sharing our stories helps to build awareness.

I won’t address overt bullying such as when the boys in high school taunted me with choruses of “areema, areema, areema” from the back of the class or a girl slapped me or another taunted me about the strap on my training bra.

I want to talk about the peculiarly female form of bullying which isn’t dealt with by initiatives such as pink-shirt day.

Why?

Because the majority of female bullying is insidious.

Candles for blog post

Women tend to organize in circles.* Girls refused entry into the circle or who have been dismissed from it are the ones, I would argue, who are often subject to bullying because they are isolated and excluded.

I was a new kid in Grade 8, my family having just moved to West Vancouver.  Fortunately a strong friendship helped me survive the transition, but the friendship dissolved the following year and it was difficult to replace.

My memory of Grade 9 is one of tears: tears shed because I was always on the edge of the group.  Sitting in the hall at lunch, for example, listening while the other girls made plans for the weekend and not being invited to participate.

Tears shed because I was alone.

In my second year at UBC, I joined a sorority. In hindsight, it may not have been the best fit for me.  If being on the outside of the circle in high school is difficult, falling out of favour in a group of 40 or so is excruciating.

I remember carpooling with two of my sorority “sisters” although as I reflect on it today, I realize I must have done all the driving because I was the one with the car.  On the way home one afternoon, we hatched a plan to get together later to watch a movie.  I dropped them off and went home to get ready, sitting by the phone waiting for the call (yes, that’s how it was done in those days!).  The call did come, but to cancel.  Secrets are very hard to keep though and I found out later that the get-together had gone ahead as planned, but without me. 

Trying to understand, I asked.  The explanation? “Reema, when you ask someone how they are, you really mean it.” In other words, being with me was work. My interaction with others was based on more than a flippant line or light-hearted gossip or trivial talk. 

I still am work and when I ask someone how they are, I still really mean it.  My interest is in the whole person and their truth, not simply the mask presented to the world.  I am a little too earnest to fit in easily and that has often put me, continues to put me, outside the circle.

But with the passage of time and the wisdom of experience, comes strength and acceptance, and a circle of true friends including that friend from Grade 8 whose friendship was reclaimed and a few from those sorority days.

It does get better, but it is never forgotten and it is not always easier.

Bullying requires constant and persistent vigilance, and that’s why it’ll never be eradicated simply by wearing pink one day a year.

*From the work of Deborah Tannen which I was introduced to in a writing workshop many years ago.

Three videos which touch the heart and mend the soul:

To This Day – Shane Koyczan

 

“It Gets Better” (Broadway sings for the Trevor Project)

 

It Gets Better – Royal Canadian Mounted Police (BC)

 

An informative interview on the topic of bullying:

Author Emily Bazelon on CBC’s Day 6

 

I had lunch with friends recently.  Our conversation turned to favourite movies and I mentioned Truly, Madly, Deeply starring Juliet Stevenson and Alan Rickman. I also said how tough it was to track down a copy to play at home.  The DVD had been discontinued and anything I’d found online was expensive.

Later that day I received an email from my friend: she’d ordered a copy of the movie for me. She didn’t realize it at the time, but the copy she’d tracked down was reasonably priced because it was a VHS tape.  Not a problem: I have a working VCR at home.

I first saw Truly, Madly, Deeply when I lived in Toronto (1986-1992). There were any number of cinemas within walking distance of where I lived and a quick subway ride could get me to movie theatres on St. Clair or further north along the Yonge Street corridor.  

I went to the movies often during this time and often alone.

Why?

VHS Tape in Deck

Because when you live on your own, you learn to take yourself out.  You can’t always count on having someone there to go with you, whether to a movie or for dinner or to special events. It’s tough to do, especially as a woman, but it’s key to surviving the isolation and loneliness of city life.

I remember enjoying many new releases in Toronto including Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.  I was much older than the target demographic but was enticed by the reviews which described Belle as a new-style Disney heroine. She reads!

I saw Thelma and Louise in Toronto although I’m not sure the stranger who sat beside me understood the film given how his hand drifted over during the screening to fondle my thigh.

There were also movies I enjoyed with friends or with visiting family members. Dirty Dancing, Dances with Wolves, Terminator 2 (at the time, the most expensive movie ever made).  I also remember going to see Silence of the Lambs (it made me nauseous) and The Princess Bride which had me laughing as much as I’d ever laughed.

Those memories may not be as vivid as they once were, but the stories, the images, the feelings, the impact of that time and those movies have stayed with me.

So as I anticipate the click of the VHS tape in the machine and the whirl of the spools as the tape begins to play, I’m also a little nervous.  Will the movie live up to my remembrance of it?  Will it move me in the same way as before?  Will I go through piles of tissues the way I did when I first saw it?

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter.  I’ll enjoy the film, but the memory I’ll latch on to is that of a friend who went out of her way to help me recapture the magic of a darkened theatre and a brilliantly acted story of love, grief, healing, and life.

Thank you A.E.!

An excerpt from La Muerta (The Dead Woman), a poem by Pablo Neruda, which is recited in Truly, Madly, Deeply

No, forgive me.

If you no longer live,

if you, beloved, my love,

if you have died,

all the leaves will fall in my breast,

it will rain on my soul night and day,

the snow will burn my heart,

I shall walk with frost and fire and death and snow,

my feet will want to walk to where you are sleeping, but

I shall stay alive …