#1ReasonWhy More story != more words My mystery flight

#1ReasonWhy

(7) December 4th, 2012

In my Grade 5 classroom in 1995, I was busily swooning over Justin Williams during a rainy day. He was a classmate who oozed cool and I had a burning crush on him. He looked like Jonathan Brandis from SeaQuest. He brought in a guitar and was allowed to strum along some Nirvana songs for us, because it’d been one year since Kurt Cobain died. I didn’t know who Kurt Cobain was at the time as I was only in Grade 5. Justin had older siblings. He could have told me to do anything and I would have happily obliged. The feelings were anything but mutual, he thought I was weird.

Everyone was mean to the biggest girl in the class. It made me uncomfortable. Taunt after taunt everyone was being a dick. The teacher took the “kids will be kids” approach, in that she did nothing. A boy sitting in the desk next to the girl pushed her eraser off the front of her desk with his ruler, and she had to walk in front of everyone to get it. When she bent down to pick it up he made a fart noise. She was mortified. I saw it getting to her. She was weird, too.

They kept being dicks to her and I kept getting more and more uncomfortable, but I felt alone. I kept telling myself I should say something but every time I went to I wasn’t brave enough. After yet another taunt and the raucous laughter that ensued, I saw someone else wasn’t laughing. A boy across the room and I made eye contact. I recognised the discomfort on his face. We still didn’t say anything.

In primary school I mostly enjoyed lunch alone. My parents owned a milk bar and I had great lunchboxes accordingly. When it was lunch time there was a mad rush to see what I had. I felt popular and special. After some truly pro bargaining, I’d swap my yearned-for bag of Burger Rings for whatever took my fancy out of someone else’s lunch (a straz and sauce sandwich was a good day) and then everyone would disperse. No one hung around. After the surge, the boy came over to me and said people were kinda mean to the big girl and I agreed. People shouldn’t be saying those things. I swapped my lunch goodies for an apple that day.

The next taunt in class, we looked at each other. I waited for him to speak. He didn’t. I didn’t. Then a girl behind me did, out of nowhere. We were shocked but relieved.

“Shut up, you guys.”

Crosshairs were now on her. They started applying the same tactics on her as they had the previous girl, but with added harshness, because she dared to challenge them.

The boy and I stood up for her. Soon some more joined in.

I was so scared to defend her by myself. I was already a weird kid. I just wanted Justin to like me. But once others started standing up against shitty behaviour, I had much more confidence. I got mouthy. I put the mean kids on a lunch negotiation embargo. You bitches ain’t getting MY Burger Rings! I started having less tolerance for their crap, and less fear about letting it be known. I became even more radioactive than I was before, but I was oddly at peace with it.

This week has felt a lot like that day. It’s easier to be brave against shitty behaviour when people stand with you and you realise just how many others are fed up with it too. #1ReasonWhy has given many the confidence to say “Nah you know what? That’s kinda shit. No Burger Rings for you.” Now all we need is the teachers media gatekeepers to slam down this kind of behaviour when they see it. The time has come to an end where it’s more valued when people dismiss other’s concerns than it is important to have a safe space for people to talk. Someone who doesn’t want to engage in conversation saying “not this shit again” is NOT more important than the person who has wanted to speak up about something that has really been hurting them for quite some time finally finding the bravery and the space in which to do it.

I’ve never felt more like there were enough of us to get shit done than I have this week, and it was made beautifully clear to me in this touching poem by Cara Ellison.

7 Responses to “#1ReasonWhy”

  1. Simon says:

    Beautiful

  2. Keri says:

    Totally agree. I sat by myself at lunch and recess for two years because I dared to ask if there was something more interesting we could be doing than bitching about people behind their backs.

    I’ve also been meaning to ask; I remember a discussion on Australian Gamer Forum a few years ago where the question was asked as to whether the space there was sexist and if that drove women away (I actually think it was “girls” which bristled), and I remember you responding in the negative, that you didn’t feel like that was happening. I was wondering if you still feel that way about how the space was then? I’ve noticed that your writing has a much more feminist bent as time goes on, and I wondered if your viewpoint on that has changed?

  3. n00bie says:

    Reading ‘In primary school I mostly enjoyed lunch alone.’ made me think “awwwwwww leeeeenaaaaa” :’(

  4. Leena says:

    Hey Keri,

    I’d say I probably didn’t feel like the space was particularly anti-women because I had friends there and didn’t feel unwelcome myself personally. But that was after a fair bit of hazing, which is kind of shit. But having said that, I didn’t associate with the term feminist back then, and I also didn’t really look at it through that lens. I’ve grown a lot in the last few years, particularly with learning more about feminism. I said some pretty stupid shit years ago (haven’t we all?), but at least I can say I wouldn’t say it again. :) As for the space itself, I think it was pretty cliquey, and it became pretty hostile pretty quick (especially since negging was introduced, I think that was a clincher), which I think explains a lot about why it died out, I reckon. It was a unique space, and I made some life-long friends there, which I’m thankful for, but it was also a very problematic space. As many online communities are. I don’t miss it, as anything I missed about it I still have in my life (the good friends I’d made). If it was still around and active now, I don’t think it would be the space for me. It’s catered very specifically, and there’s other spaces that cater for me a bit better. I’ve since realised you don’t have to put up with stuff you don’t like, you can just go elsewhere. :P

    TLDR: We grow, the years pass, and we change. :)

  5. Leena says:

    (It’s part of why I’ve left a lot of my REALLY REALLY SHITTY writing on here. It’s embarrassing but I can look back at it and see how I’ve grown. I wouldn’t write anything like that now. Ever.)

  6. Cisco says:

    As someone who was tormented mercilessly in school, I often times wished more people (or any for my case) had stood up for me.

    They didn’t.

    But I learned to stand up for others. Even alone, I learned there was more honor is loosing the honest right than there was in ignoring it unscathed.

  7. Deborah says:

    I have repeatedly deleted my own earlier replies to this, because my school memories are also peppered with hurtful taunts and rejection, and my urge to empathise coupled with my need not to complain too much, resulting in some very long circular writing, but here goes anyway…

    I totally understood at the time, the need for my classmates to be accepted in the peer group, and how that worked against their better judgement to buy their silence. I understood that my nature of turning the other cheek and wanting to do my best work often worked against me, but also knew of no alternative.

    What I never understood was the teachers’ complicit role in my daily hell. Even if they saw their only success in academic results, they failed when in desperation I took the only escape route I knew at the time: I tanked from being their only straight-A student to failing and leaving to work a checkout in Year 11. (Regional towns are often short on options for underskilled and undereducated youth).

    As fate would have it, I’ve recently gone back to complete my education and am now beginning teaching in high-school, and boy is that hard sometimes. But never so hard that the kids should have to suffer as well. The teachers who have mentored me have taken a different tack to your primary school teacher: they see the knowledge that “kids will be kids” as a reminder to nip things in the bud.

    Children and adolescents genuinely need and appreciate appropriate boundaries, and probably the most rewarding aspect of teaching so far, is building a rapport with all students while (and probably due to) refusing to let the animals run the zoo. Teachers describe this key aspect of behaviour management as “withitness”. Maybe your teacher lacked it? She wouldn’t be the first.

    I’ve been very lucky with my mentors so far, and I’m sure it helps that I embarked on this career with some experience as a parent. Anyway, I didn’t come here to brag, not in these early days anyway! What I would like to do, is to promise you and your readers that some of the people you entrust your kids to, are the kind who will try and pick up on attempts to demean them and instictively think “Nuh-uh. Not on my shift”.

    It’s a genuine shame that so many internet admins and mods don’t have the same “withitness”, or even an awareness of their need for it.

    By coincidence, I recently came across #1reason in my own web search for stuff I’m writing about sexism and trolling, in response to my own dealings. Here’s an outsiders (not tech-savvy, non-gamer) perspective: I thought it was bad on some motorcycling forums, but to learn what pervades and is accepted in the gaming realms, it’s just mind-blowingly awful in a few sections, and comes across as slightly crummy in so many others.

    I’ve no solutions or shining light to offer on that. I wish you every success in getting more and more people on board. Because, yeah. Currently, in many places, it just sucks.

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