September, 29th 2009

The most disturbing thing I've read all week

– Liz Mair

If you haven't read this, go read it.  Really.  Go read it.

Girl-on-girl bullying or hazing is old news by now, for anyone who has seen “Mean Girls” or “Heathers” or “Gossip Girl”: popular girls organize a perfectly-coiffed and designer-clothed gang; fringe girl is targeted; bullies use their meanness and power to further marginalize fringe girl and reassert their status.

But news of a “slut list” at a top-ranked New Jersey high school last week highlighted two disturbing points: the increasingly explicit and sexual nature of the taunts, magnified by the Internet. And, in another twist, the perception that allegations of promiscuity — however fictional — are a badge of honor, a way into the cool group, and not a cause for shame.

The result is a 180-degree reversal of what a “slut list” might have meant, especially when the parents of these girls were growing up.

That the list and other hazing went on for more than 10 years at Millburn High School in New Jersey was only half the shock to parents and the national news media who set up cameras outside the school, which includes students from the affluent Essex County towns of Millburn and Short Hills. The repercussions to officials for allowing it to go on, only lightly checked over that time, are still playing out.

More surprising to many was the cachet that seemed to come to those on the list — even though it accuses the anointed girls of sleeping around, lap dancing and lusting after their own brothers.

I'd like to say this shocks me.  But there's a reason I chose the word "disturbing" not "shocking." And it is this: As a former teenage girl, I have long been of the opinion that there is literally no ruthless, vicious, mean and cruel variety of being on this Earth than the teenage girl.  Actually, that applies to eleven and twelve year-olds, too-- I have fond memories, in particular, of 7th grade.

What really gets me about this, and other forms of aggressive bullying with sexual elements and overtones, is the fact that so many schools and adults do absolutely nothing about it.  My friend Leslie Bradshaw, who brought this story to my attention, asked today "what if it was your daughter?"  That's what I wondered, in particular with regard to the parents of a dynamic duo of girls back in my Middle School days who launched such a vile smearing campaign on one of my friends that it was actually rather hard for me to restrain myself from directing physical violence towards them.  I won't go into the nasty details here (but hey, if they ever stumble across this blog, I hope they're feeling guilty about what they did 18 years after the fact), but suffice it to say, the school and their parents seemed utterly unpeturbed.  The school's general attitude towards this kind of thing is a significant part of the reason why I decided, during my 8th grade year, to leave it no matter what-- there is very little worse than those in charge effectively countenancing truly vile and despicable behavior by people who supposedly come from nice families that we tend to think of as providing good, comfortable, worry and hatred-free upbringings, and who have zero excuse for doing this kind of thing, just like those who, it would seem, populate Millburn High School.  (Not that I think there's ever really an acceptable excuse for this kind of behavior, but hey).

But it happens.

And yes, even years and years after the fact, it makes me angry-- very angry.  I'm glad I personally wasn't the victim of much girl-on-girl bullying.  Unfortunately, a lot of girls, and not just the usual suspects, either, are.  [intro]


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