Film explores female bullying
NFB screening draws girls, moms

Cause is contempt, expert tells forum

Oct. 11, 2004. 01:00 AM


Bullying among young girls is not about anger or conflict, Barbara Coloroso, an international expert on parenting and teaching, said at a public forum recently at Cardinal Carter Academy for the Arts.


"It's about contempt contempt for another human being," Coloroso told an audience packed mostly with concerned mothers and daughters, who had gathered at the North York school to watch an NFB documentary on female bullying called It's a Girl's World.


The documentary will air on CBC Newsworld later this month. CBC Radio's Metro Morning show will broadcast highlights from the forum tomorrow.


Coloroso, whose latest book, The Bully, the Bullied and the Bystander: From Preschool to High School How Parents and Teachers Can Help Break the Cycle of Violence, recommended teaching kids not to have fun at someone else's expense.


"Bullying is a learned behaviour. It's not normal. It's not natural, and it should never be a part of a young person's growing up ... We have to teach our kids that it's not appropriate."


Bullying in girls is covert, ruthless and in some cases deadly, the forum was told.


"We really buy into a stereotype that girls are sugar and spice and everything nice," explained Lynn Glazier, director of It's a Girl's World. "From a very early age, girls get that message. You're supposed to be nice.


"As human beings we're all biologically aggressive and you have to do something with those negative feelings. So if you don't express it overtly, you have to do something. What girls do is resort to tactics that are largely hidden, covert, insidious. It's malicious gossip. It's sneers, it's snickers. It's whispering and pointing."


`You have to say: There's nothing I'm doing. Nothing I can change. It's the bully's problem. Not mine.'


Barbara Coloroso


Panel member Erica Harris, a 20-year-old university student, shared her experiences of having been both a bully and a victim of bullying as a girl. She described what she and her friends did to those they bullied: mocking them, talking behind their backs, making fun of their clothes, spreading rumours and making fun of their physical idiosyncrasies. Later, she said, she became the target of such attacks, including death threats.


"Bullying is a societal issue," said panelist Cindy Wesley, whose daughter Dawn-Marie committed suicide in November 2000 because of bullying. The 14-year-old's tragic story is part of the documentary.


Wesley, who founded a group called Parents Against Violence Everywhere, told the audience everyone must take responsibility to stop bullying. She passionately urged teachers and principals to believe children who say they're being bullied.


Many girls in the audience took the opportunity to speak up about their own experiences of being bullied or to recount tales of friends being bullied.


"I was bullied right from junior kindergarten to Grade 8," said one teenager. "I asked the bullies why they were bullying me." She was shocked by their answer. "They gave me 15 reasons. It's your hair. You're short."


"It is not your fault," said Coloroso. "You're targeted. You have to say: there's nothing I'm doing. Nothing I can change. It's the bully's problem. Not mine."


"Young girls are socialized and come together in small social circles," Coloroso explained to a girl who wondered why girls freeze their targets out, rather than do as the boys and duke it out in the schoolyard.


"Boys tend to be more linear and hang together for a social reason, like something they have in common like an athletic event. Girls focus on social relationships. So what's a good way to get to you? To deny you access to our relationship."


She advised bullying victims to report it to a caring adult.