Life in high school: Bullying and power struggles

First aired on Metro Morning (27/06/13)

Krista Bridge has turned her memories of life in in high school into fiction. Her debut novel, The Eliot Girls, is loosely based on Bridge's experiences at Branksome Hall and St. Clement's School, private schools in Toronto. The fictional George Eliot Academy, the setting for the story, is a world of relentless bullying and power struggles.

Bridge told Metro Morning that she was interested in writing about it because "it's a very human story. The struggle to fit in and find your place at school and in the world is something that most of us go through." She added that the adolescent years leave a deep impression on us. "Some people romanticize them, but I think most of us are in a camp of people who could not be paid enough money to go back to high school."


Bridge's own reality was that she was both a bully and the target of bullying, and she believes that that experience is common. "A lot of people think that bully and victim are fixed roles. For some people, they are. Some poor people will always be the victim, some people will always be in the position of power," she told guest host Jane Hawtin. "But most of us in adolescence are just trying to kind of fight our way through those social interactions that are just so full hierarchies and of power struggles."

Bridge thinks "the majority of us are good, decent people, but when the opportunity to feel the power presents itself to us, we will take it," she said. "And if that means making fun of somebody else, spilling all that person's secrets, you know, the opportunity to do that is really irresistible to a lot of teenagers."

She also pointed out that bullying doesn't necessarily involve "big, dramatic events... It's just this current that runs through teenagers' social interactions." She gave the example of being in grade 7 and 8, and sticking raisins in a girl's ears in French class. Years later, the victim reminded her of it, but Bridge had forgotten the incident. "When you're the bully in that situation, it's easy to forget. It's the victim who really holds onto those memories for a long time."

Someone else told her about a girl who wasn't allowed to get on the bus with her classmates unless she barked like a dog first. "There's a lot of this demeaning other people, for your own amusement," Bridge said.

The main character in The Eliot Girls is Audrey, a new girl who is anxious to fit in and aspires to be the perfect schoolgirl. Her mother, Ruth, teaches at the George Eliot Academy, which adds to the pressure.

Some of Bridge's former schoolmates have asked her if they will recognize themselves in the novel, but she says that her characters are "all fictional constructions." She added that events in the story are "not really tied directly to my history. They're imagined instances of bullying inspired by real instances of bullying."

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