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The National School Safety Center calls bullying "the most enduring and underrated problem in American schools." "As many as 8 percent of schoolchildren miss a day of class monthly for fear of being bullied. And in a nationwide survey, 43 percent of children said they were afraid to go to a bathroom for fear of being harassed" (Mulrine, 1999).
Jim didn't fit the "macho" image required of him to fit in at his junior high school. He liked to read and played the piano instead of football. The "cool" kids teased him mercilessly. At least once a week, the "jocks" that lived in his neighborhood would gang up on him as he walked home from school. Sometimes they would tear his glasses off his face and toss them back and forth to each other over his head while shouting, "Hey, four-eyed wuss, where are your eyes?" Sometimes his glasses would get smashed in the process. He was on his fifth pair.
He was afraid to tell his folks, afraid they wouldn't believe him or if they did, afraid of retaliation. He'd tell them he accidentally broke his glasses. After the first time, his mom and dad would lecture him endlessly on responsibility. He'd been grounded for a week each time and had to pay for the new glasses the last two times out of the money he'd saved for a new bike doing odd jobs for the neighbors.
Early in life, children are classified and pigeonholed into subgroups or cliques in schools and neighborhoods according to looks, interests or behavior: "the popular kids," "the jocks," "the brains," "the preppies," "the geeks," "the freaks," "the nerds," "the outcasts," "the gooners," "the nobodies," "the faggots."
Boys live in fear of not complying with the unspoken rules of how to belong: act cool, don't show your feelings, act tough, macho, bully or get bullied, be good in sports, don't appear too sensitive or "bookish," look good, and never cry, ask for help, or appear to be too close to your mom.
In Real Boys' Voices, William Pollack describes the survival techniques that boys learn early to subscribe to the "Boy Code," and the need they feel to wear a mask throughout their lives, "When boys wear this mask, they completely repress their inner emotional lives and instead act tough, composed, daring, unflappable, laughing off their pain. They may wax strong and silent or lash out with fists and fighting words" (Pollack, 2000, p. 33).
Without the mask, they run the risk of being bullied relentlessly. Often the mask requires that they bully or actively support their buddy who is bullying. Some can't take the constant pressure and abuse, see no way out, and become depressed and suicidal or strike out with fists and weapons.
"The Boy Code, which restricts a boy's expression of emotion and his natural cries for help, has silenced the souls of our sons and paralyzed our natural instincts to reach out to them" (Pollack, 2000, p. 4).
A twelve-year-old girl killed herself after being teased, threatened and bullied
relentlessly for a significant length of time by sixteen- and seventeen-year-old
girls. The twelve-year-old died after taking one hundred painkillers. Another
girl, fourteen, hung herself after similar attacks by female schoolmates. Neither
girl retaliated or confided in another. They just took the abuse until they
couldn't take it anymore. Both girls were singled out because they were overweight,
passive and shy.
Not all girls play with Barbies, dress like her or look like her. In fact, if Barbie was a real person, she probably couldn't stand up with her proportions. Yet, girls still are pressured to fit into a particular image of what it means to be female. Girls are under constant pressure to belong, to be part of a group, to be attractive (not too fat or too skinny), to wear the right clothes, and later attract the attention of boys. Girls that don't fit the image, are too shy to fight against group norms or can't find a group to belong to are often targets for bullies.
In general, girls bully each other differently than boys. They tend to spread vicious rumors, intimidate (whispering insults and laughing with each other loud enough for their target to hear), ruin another's reputation, or tell others to stop liking a girl with whom they want to get even. They tend to use social exclusion as a primary weapon rather than direct emotional or physical aggression although studies indicate that girls too are becoming increasingly more physically aggressive in the last decade.
Studies indicate that female gangs often arise in groups of girls and women who have been oppressed and that they resort to aggression and fighting as a way to obtain power over their environments, finally obtaining their own power. We are living in a culture where those that were once victims are frequently brutally fighting back (Campbell, 1995, and Chaudhuri, 1994).
Bullying on the playground is frequently the beginning of a history that culminates in domestic violence in adulthood. Many studies indicate that early bullying behavior is strongly associated with emotional and sometimes physical abuse in relationships (Jacobson, 1992).
When Joy married Sam, she knew he had a long history of cruel behavior directed toward other children throughout their school years: shoving younger or weaker children and harassing teachers in elementary school; taunting, and teasing classmates until they cried throughout their middle school years; "rumors" of date rape and taunting, isolating, and ensuring the expulsion from their "popular group" of those that did not agree with him in high school. Unfortunately, Joy didn't see Sam's behavior as a warning sign.
"I never thought about it," Joy said with tears streaming down her face. "You know, Sam was popular, 'a real catch,' captain of the football team, and Prom King. He never did those things to me and the teachers kind of ignored him. Some even laughed at his cruelty at the expense of others. A lot of the time he was really charming. I thought it was just a guy doing 'guy things' until we married and he started making me feel ugly and stupid. Even then, I thought it was my fault."
After they married, Sam took more and more control, and Joy began giving him increasingly more power over the day-to-day functioning of their lives. "He took charge of the money, teaching me that I was 'incompetent.' By the time we separated, I didn't even think I could write a check properly. When I would eat, he'd imply that I was 'getting too fat,' but when I dieted he said I was trying to be attractive to other men. At first, he'd tell me I was too active in bed, acting like a 'slut.' Then when I no longer showed interest in sex, he'd . . . well . . . I guess it was like rape."
Joy is literally one of millions of women and men who are bullied emotionally and/or physically in relationships. Most blame themselves, think it's normal behavior in a relationship, are afraid to leave or ashamed to tell another living soul about the abuses they suffer daily.
The workplace, too, is fertile ground for cruelty, resulting in high rates of absenteeism, low staff morale, health issues, high staff turnover, atmospheres of tension, depression and suicides, workplace aggression, etc. Employees develop a sense of helplessness, powerlessness and a perceived inability to create change. Hundreds of individuals actually end their lives, seeing no way out of a painful double bind. On one hand, they feel the financial pressure to keep their jobs, while on the other, they live with intolerable psychological pain daily after being targeted by brutal coworkers or bosses. Others have taken revenge on coworkers, as can be seen in the growing number of incidents of work-related violence.
Harvey Hornstein (1996) in his book, Brutal Bosses and Their Prey, estimates that as many as 20 million Americans face workplace abuse on a daily basis and that an estimated 90 percent of the workforce suffers abuse from bosses sometime in their careers. Bullying behavior in the workplace costs organizations millions of dollars in absenteeism, illness, and the inability of employees to function productively because of the daily stress they experience.
Many estimate that bullying at the hands of coworkers and bosses is a more devastating problem for employers and employees than all other work-related stresses combined. Bullies slowly destroy the foundation of any company where they are allowed to take root.
Bullying in the workplace may take many forms: ignoring a worker's contributions or communications; excluding employees from the information loop or important meetings; sabotage, such as changing the information on a chart or deleting an important file; starting destructive rumors and spreading gossip; ostracizing, shaming in public, shouting at a worker, sending rude and threatening e-mail or assigning the worst jobs or substandard work areas.
Bullies in the workplace often view innocent acts on the part of coworkers as hostile and personally threatening, and seek revenge for perceived attacks through intimidation or physical means. They crave power and authority and have difficulty empathizing or regulating aggressive behavior. Bullies are frequently triggered by insecurity and experience jealousy of coworkers who they perceive as smarter, more popular or more attractive.
Sexual harassment, yet another form of workplace bullying, has typically been a means for men to claim power and declare the work environment as masculine turf. Although a definition of sexual harassment is "the exploitation of a powerful position to impose sexual demands or pressures on an unwilling but less powerful person," much of what is done to both women perceived as more powerful or men who are perceived to be not "manly" enough isn't sexual in content but a pattern of conduct that reinforces gender difference.
"About one-third of female physicians recently surveyed said they had
experienced sexual harassment, but almost half said they'd been subjected to
harassment that had no sexual or physical component but was related simply to
their being female in a traditionally male field. In one 1988 court case, a
group of male surgical residents went so far as to falsify a patient's medical
records to make it appear as though their female colleague had made an error"
Frequently bullies are ineffective in their own jobs and survive by stealing the ideas of another. This was the case in a major health organization.
Joan was horrified when Tom literally backed her against the hallway wall as she walked back to her office after a board meeting. He screamed at her and repeatedly jabbed his finger in her chest, "You will do as I say," he screamed, "or you will pay the price. You think you're smart? Well, you're not. You will never disagree with me in public again. My job is to do the talking; yours is to keep your ugly trap shut! Who do you think you are anyway? Having opinions is not in your job description! Do I make myself clear?" With that he stormed down the hall to his own office. Later he came down to her office carrying a bouquet of flowers, apologized for losing his temper and joked, "Don't you see? You drive me crazy sometimes. People around here always joke that we're like an old married couple. I guess we act like it sometimes."
Tom was the CEO of a major health corporation. Joan had been his administrative assistant for over twenty years. For years he had asked her feedback in virtually all areas, then taken her ideas and presented them as his own. The attack in the hallway followed a board meeting where she had gently corrected him on a piece of information in a proposal he was presenting that she had, in fact, written. This was not the first time. Other employees had watched but said nothing. Some later told her privately that they thought he had treated her unfairly. The incident was not reported.
Most incidents of bullying in the workplace are not reported. Most workplaces do not have policies regarding bullying. The targets of bullying are usually naive about bullying behavior, blame themselves and have no training on how to deal with it.