Female Bullying: The Cruelty of Exclusion

“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.


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


All Candidates Meeting – October 20th

It was an interesting start to the evening:  when I dropped my son off at the community centre for his activity, we had a small personal collision – his head rammed into my nose by accident.  This wasn’t exactly the preparation I’d been counting on for the All Candidates Meeting hosted by the West Vancouver Citizens for Good Government on Thursday night!  But, as the saying goes, the show must go on.  

 It was a successful outing.  I appreciated the opportunity to address a gathering of West Vancouver residents and voters, and was grateful to the number of friends who were able to attend the event — especially those who don’t normally follow municipal politics and those who drove a significant distance!

Here are the words I shared with the audience:

If you’re an Ian Rankin or Peter Robinson fan, you may think I’m crazy for giving up my ticket to see these two authors speak tonight at the Vancouver International Writers’ Festival.  

Rather than a lapse in judgement, I hope you’ll see being here tonight as evidence of my commitment to this election. 

Good evening.  I’m Luc’s Mom, Reema Faris, and I’m running as a candidate for the position of Trustee with the West Vancouver Board of Education.

Why?  That’s a good question.  Let me start by saying that I profoundly believe in the value of education and the benefits of learning, and I have a passion for the public education system.

Let me also say that may be only part of my answer.  And before you shrug and wave me off for being indecisive, let me explain.

I take great comfort in the question why.  As long as I’m asking why, I’m thinking, I’m reflecting, I’m challenging.  I am looking for answers rather than assuming I have all the answers.  I’m seeking information rather than dictating the way that things ought to be perceived.

To me, this questioning is not about undermining a system and disregarding the work that’s been done.  It’s about validating what you believe, being responsive and  strategic — making changes when they’re needed, when they’re necessary, and making them at the right time.  

This critical thinking skill is a key one for students especially in our increasingly fast-paced, dynamic world. It’s part of developing a sense of ownership for one’s own learning.

In addition to ensuring that students have the opportunity to develop these skills, there are a few more issues I would like to look at if elected.

I would like to work closely with the District team and the other Trustees to ensure that the digital learning environment is one which prepares students for the skills they need without overlooking some of the key concerns parents have about the speedy introduction of technology into the curriculum and the classroom.  This is not about going back to a pre-electronic age, it’s about being smart in the way in which we embrace the electronic era.

What measures can we take to enhance community connections and make better use of combined resources?  Can we provide better leadership and communications training for administrators, teachers, and staff?  How can we incorporate the Arts into our program delivery to ensure that the value of art is held dear by our children? 

Did I mention how much I love asking questions?

I would like to commend Jane, Cindy, and Dave for putting their names forward once again.  My congratulations to both Carolyn and Christine for having the courage to leap into the fray.

My thanks to the West Van Citizens’ for Good Government for putting this event together and my sincere admiration to all of you for taking the time to be here and to be a part of this very important process.

My name is Reema Faris and I hope I can count on your support at the ballot box on November 19th. 

Thank you.