The desexualization of bullying

I was going to try to come up with a fancier more accessible title, but I can’t right now. But I sure better by May! I’ve been invited to speak at an bullying awareness event in Austin Texas this May. While I jumped at this opportunity to share my work (and support my friend who is organizing the event), I quickly realized that I am no bullying expert. But, for better or for worse, not being a total expert on a topic as not stopped me before…

I am an expert on adolescent sexuality and sexual development. I also have a pretty good handle on youth and technology and how that impacts their development (hence, this blog). So, how to use my strengths in the context of this upcoming event? Tie all of these issues together — sexuality, technology, and bullying. I have found my comfort zone!

What’s odd is that while so much of bullying has a sexual undertone or is blatantly about sex or sexuality or at least gender, most bullying curricula, anti-bullying campaigns, etc., do not acknowledge this important association. Bullying is seen as harassment, teasing, isolation, and assault. But under no circumstances should one put the word “sexual” in front of any of those terms and call it bullying.

Why this separation? Why not discuss sexual harassment while discussing bullying? Where is the conversation about sexual respect and self-worth in curricula that addresses the need to be nice to others? Are (anti) bullying experts afraid to talk about sex? Does it complicate things too much? Does it narrow their message?

Whatever the reason, I think it’s important to accept the fact that a lot of bullying has to do with sexuality. An obvious example is about name-calling due to sexual orientation and/or gender expression (and the “Think Before You Speak” campaign does a good job of calling this out). But what about sexting under pressure? Spreading rumors? Calling someone a ho or slut? These are unfortunately very common ways to bullying another, but where’s the conversation about the sexual components?

I hope to be able to speak more eloquently about this topic in the future. For now, I will continue to explore this rift and see if I can’t begin to bridge the gap between my interests and the important work done to decrease bullying among youth.

Texting or stalking?

OK, after a REALLY long break, I am trying to start writing again. I still care a lot about this issue, but so many others have been grabbing my attention, that it has been difficult to get back into the swing of things. I shall do my best, but perhaps I will be expanding what I write about, as different things related to youth catch my eye…

That said, I have had this story open on my desktop for some time. This Washington Post article addresses “textual harassment,” to harass or stalk someone through text messages. Texting, frankly, makes it easier to experience abuse in a relationship. A person can constantly write messages — threatening or not — to their “significant other” to the point of where they are constantly reminded of the relationship. A person can feel controlled, followed, or lose their individuality if enough messages come through their phone on a daily basis (some of the stories featured allude to more than 100 a day).

This is one of the ways that technology has changed relationships for the worse. Before texting, it would have been nearly impossible to stay in such close touch with someone without physically being there. Now, with just a few button pushes, a person can infiltrate someone else’s life constantly.

Understandably, little has been done to more thoroughly investigate the repercussions of such behavior. But the perspective of the stalker has been examined even less. Given the young ages of these textual harassers, do they really realize what they are doing? Is it possible that their lack of perspective really doesn’t allow them to see how much is “too much?” While not wanting to defend their behavior, it would be interesting to see how the harassers themselves explain their actions.