'Girl power' is great, but it shouldn't give girls licence to bully boys

Bullying is very much alive and well, but it seems to have evolved, says Jo Davies — and now, it seems girls are getting in on the act, ostensibly under the umbrella of "girl power."

When girls bully boys, the situation seems to be taken less seriously, says Jo Davies

A recent bullying incident at her son's school suggests that 'girls are now jumping on the bullying bandwagon,' Jo Davies says, 'ostensibly under the umbrella of girl power.' (Syda Productions/Shutterstock)

As a mom of three boys, I must say I've learned a few things. To wit: superhero undies can be a perfectly acceptable form of headgear; Nerf darts multiply quicker than rabbits at a carrot convention (and gum up a vacuum cleaner even faster); and the stench of sweaty gym socks left to moulder in a teenager's backpack can, in fact, cause PTSD. 

What haven't I learned? To take it in stride when someone bullies one of my sons.

Bullying is still alive and well, despite the number of times I've seen the phrase "zero tolerance" tossed around in school newsletters over the years. The sad fact is that it's only gotten more widespread.

Where bullying used to be the purview of boys and lumped under the heading of "boys will be boys," girls are now jumping on the bullying bandwagon, ostensibly under the umbrella of "girl power."  

In theory, "girl power" was (and is) a fantastic idea. In practice, it's left much to be desired. For example, when my boys were small, I remember them asking about the slogans they'd seen on their female classmates' shirts. "Girls Rule, Boys Drool" and "Anything Boys Can Do, Girls Can Do Better" were fairly popular.

My sons were puzzled and hurt by these sayings, wondering why it was OK for girls to bully them (albeit indirectly) in the name of their empowerment. It didn't sit right with me, either. I wondered why lifting girls up automatically meant putting boys down.

Jo Davies says her sons were puzzled and hurt by slogans like this one, which they saw printed on T-shirts. 'Boys … seem to be held to a standard to which girls aren't required to adhere,' she says. (Thinglass/Shutterstock)

My sons were unaware of the matter-of-fact misogyny that labelled women delicate flowers incapable of taking care of themselves, living only to serve the men in their lives. I had gone out of my way to ensure they grew up knowing that girls were their equals, nothing less. I raised them to understand the concept of misogyny and to treat all females with respect.

Which is why I was shocked to hear about an incident at my son's high school a few weeks ago, when a rumour went the rounds, wrongly attributing to him a grossly inappropriate comment about a group of girls. Without verifying the rumour, said group of girls decided to deal with the situation.

They cornered my son in the hallway, then proceeded to yell swears and other insults at him until he broke down in tears.

The school principal's primary piece of advice? My son should block the girls from his social media.

Now: imagine what would have happened had a group of boys done the same thing to a lone female classmate. I doubt that the situation would have been treated as nonchalantly.

For some reason, when bullying is done by a female to a male, the situation seems to be taken less seriously. Likely it's because boys are seen as tougher and more able to handle themselves. Perhaps it's because girls have usually been victims, and now feel empowered to handle their own business.

Whatever it is, boys (including my sons) seem to be held to a standard to which girls aren't required to adhere.

As their mother, I call BS.

Equality doesn't mean being 'equally boorish'

Don't get me wrong: as a female who was bullied throughout her school years and a proud aunt to two tweenage nieces, I have zero issue with girls taking control of a situation that is detrimental to them. It's important for them to know that they can stand up for themselves. 

However, I wasn't aware that empowering girls meant giving them free rein to humiliate and disrespect boys. As I understand it, the women's rights movement was meant to equalize the sexes when it came to employment, wages and opportunities, not to give females the right to be equally boorish.

Stand up to the bullies in life, by all means. Just remember: girls aren't better than boys, and boys aren't better than girls.

As my elder brother (who's been a teacher and administrator for nearly 30 years) points out, when it comes to bullying, schools need to walk a fine line. They want girls to know they don't have to be victims, without giving them licence to treat their male counterparts like punching bags, on social media or otherwise.

Complicating all of this is the fact that we are living next door to the Wicked Windbag of the South, who regularly employs Twitter to bully anyone or anything that isn't nailed down.

It's difficult to tell our kids not to bully each other when they see the leader of the free world behaving on the daily in a way that would make Draco Malfoy blush.

In the end I told my sons what I've always told them: happy people don't bully others. People who feel lousy about themselves and/or insecure about their place in the world do. It's as simple and as complex as that.

So, stand up to the bullies in life, by all means. Just remember: girls aren't better than boys, and boys aren't better than girls.

You just need to be better than yourselves. 

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

About the Author

Jo Davies is a freelance writer and office assistant who is never at a loss for an opinion. She is currently writing her first novel, set in Jamaica.


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