Everyone knows about the outwardly malicious form of bullying that involves overt force, harassment and sometimes violence. We’ve seen it in movies (such as “Mean Girls”), viral videos (such as World Star Hip-Hop) and even in our own high schools. It’s simply the most apparent kind of bullying because it involves a clear victim and a clear aggressor.
But, what about the type of bullying that doesn’t involve intimidation? The type of bullying that isn’t as obvious but nevertheless occurs, behind the scenes?
Even though it might not seem as psychologically damaging as outwardly malicious bullying, obscure forms of intimidation can be just as hurtful.
I personally experienced this when I was in high school. Because of my high-pitched voice that has been described as “screechy,” girls often looked at each other when I talked in class and would sometimes laugh because it was so odd to them. I eventually learned how to keep my mouth shut when I wanted to say something but, all throughout high school, I felt like there was constantly a piece of tape covering my mouth, preventing me from expressing who I was. In other words, I constantly tried to be someone else, someone who was quiet and passive, in order to prevent myself from being laughed at.
My physical appearance at the time was also the subject of covert bullying. I was under five feet, wore big glasses and had an unorthodox fashion sense, all of which pushed me even further into the crevices of rejection and negative judgment. I could tell, just by the way someone would look me up and down, even after it was clear that I acknowledged their scrutiny, that they were judging me. They stared at me like I was an animal. They didn’t say anything, yet their actions hurt just as much as their words.
Perhaps the most upsetting instance was in my sophomore biology class, which I had with a girl named Sophie. Even though I had never had a conversation with Sophie before, it was obvious that she enjoyed ridiculing me with her friends and giggling whenever I spoke. Sophie sat right behind me where she could see my every move, making me feel like I was constantly being surveilled and someone behind the glass screen was just waiting for me to snap.
That happened one day when I had to give a class presentation. I was giving my part of the presentation when I tripped up my words. I briefly apologized then continued with my speech. Apparently this was funny because Sophie started laughing uncontrollably. In fact, she started laughing so hard that her eyes closed up and she had to cover her mouth from being noticed by other people. It was the most humiliating feeling in the world to be laughed at that — like I was a comedy show. I was so incredibly funny — like a joke, like an object.
I was so upset that I approached her after class and asked her, “Do you have a problem with me?” She pretended as if she didn’t know what I was talking about and just walked away from me. If anything, I had only made things worse by confronting her because I had only made myself look angry and socially incompetent. Even more, I never told the teacher about this because I would establish myself as a “tattle-tale” if I did.
In many ways, I wished that Sophie had stolen my lunch money or pushed me up against a locker or even punched me in the face because at least with that type of bullying, it would be obvious that she was the culprit. That she was the offender.
Sophie’s actions continued to fly under the radar but they nevertheless hit me with just as much force as one clearly directed toward me. Even though she never touched me or stole anything from me, I still remember the way she laughed at me in class and made me feel like I was something less than a human.