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There's been a lot of talk lately about harassment in the geek community, ever since the incident at Readercon. I just read another couple posts about it, on top of the umpteen other posts I've read lately, and I started thinking about my own experiences with harassment over my lifetime. One particular thing has occurred to me:

No harassment I have experienced or even witnessed as an adult has come anywhere close to the teasing I got from other children for being a weird kid. I got through that, reasonably undamaged, and after that, I have been able to dismiss any adult harassment I've seen as insignificant and easily smacked down.

I'm going to assume many people in the geek community got the same childhood teasing I did. In fact, I would assume most of them got it worse than I did. Therefore, I'm going to have to assume that it effected many people differently than it did me.

Are we full of the shell-shocked? Did a lot of geeks decide as kids that fighting back will just get you hurt worse by the bullies, and take that into adulthood? It's a sad, sad thing, and difficult to solve.

I've always fought back, with fists, or with words, depending on what the situation called for. It didn't always yield a good result, but I guess I'd rather be thought of as a crazy bitch than a subdued victim. And I'm damned if I'm going to lay low and not stand up for myself and for anyone else who needs it.

By the time I got to high school, if I saw kids being hassled for being themselves, I was inclined to do whatever they were doing (even if I wasn't as into it as them) and dare people to try messing with me instead of those who hadn't learned to fight back. Funny, though, I don't think anyone ever did. They preferred to go after the easy targets.

A few notes:
Now, I know that there are some creepy people out there in the adult world who truly ARE dangerous, even to those who fight back. They are not the majority, nor what I am discussing here, or what has generally been discussed in these conversations. They are an anomaly.

Also, if you're going to say childhood teasing is different than adult sexual harassment, you don't know what you're talking about. The worst teasing was in early puberty years, and had definite sexual overtones.


( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 4th, 2012 07:48 pm (UTC)
I'm so glad schools are getting serious about bullying
I know my martial arts (and running very fast) better than a lot of geeks now, but it's mostly because I'm always paranoid that someday I'm going to end up being followed by a van of assholes. "Wandering around looking for someone to beat senseless" is just evil, it doesn't belong in any society that thinks of itself as civilized. Getting away with it in a school hallway should be impossible. What do people like that think they're proving - "Me and five of my friends can beat up one guy"? Brilliant shit.
Aug. 4th, 2012 07:56 pm (UTC)
This is great food for thought... we're really trying to teach Elliot not only not to tease (and to stand up for himself when he's being teased, which is hard given his shitty experiences in Kindergarten) but to be smart enough socially to reach out to other kids who are lonely and not to be involved with leaving other kids out. It's hard. I'm not sure we're doing a good job of it, even though we want to.
Aug. 5th, 2012 03:01 am (UTC)
I've read and re-read this and have been trying to conceptualize in words the difference in how it feels to be teased as an adult versus teased as a kid. I don't know if I'm quite there. I may ramble. :)

I never fought back and never let it show that it really bothered me. At home, however...man. Were there long nights of wanting to be anyone but me. I guess the lack of reaction significantly lessened the the teasing, but it never felt that way. I got teased about stupid crap; like getting really good grades and having boys at OTHER schools like me (I wasn't deemed touchable at my own school) and various other things. In retrospect it was stupid crap. As an adult it's easy to see that it was much more about them than it was me...and it was all stupid crap.

But kids are so, so literal. Their brains are wired to take things at face value; to internalize and have things shape them in a magnitude of ways. Bullying now (as an adult) is hard to take seriously because you see just how pathetic it is. As a kid, there's none of that transparency. It's all opaque and awful.
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Aug. 5th, 2012 08:00 pm (UTC)
Well, sometimes ignoring teasing (treating it like it is stupid behavior that isn't even worthy of your notice) is the best thing to do. But that doesn't always work.
Aug. 6th, 2012 01:55 am (UTC)
Sexual harassment between children and adults is different because the adult harassers are much better at what they do with the years they've had to fine hone their skills.

With both adult and child targets, adult harassers depend on plausible deniability in a way that high school bullies and sexual harassers don't, and rely on the target doubting their perceptions. I may have more confidence in myself, but am I sure that guy really meant to touch my butt, and by the time I've determined it was deliberate, he may be gone and I'm left feeling humiliated, even if childhood harassment left me knowing how to fight back. It takes a little longer to become confident in acting on instincts when you're not 100% sure and learning to trust your 95 % perceptions, act in the now, and risk that wild chance you could be wrong and deal with the clean up.

So yes, I do think there are differences between many cases of sexual harassment and childhood sexual harassment and bullying, having dealt with all of these, without getting into the ways in which harassment and bullying do and don't overlap. I'm not going to say which is worse--I don't need to line up different varieties of dung in a hierarchy--just that there are differences.

Edited at 2012-08-06 01:56 am (UTC)
Aug. 6th, 2012 03:44 am (UTC)
Actually, a hell of a lot of childhood teasing involves a set-up where bullies make you think that you are liked and they will do something nice for you, which turns out to be a set-up for larger humiliation. And a lot of general pretending that things are all in fun and you should be flattered. Doesn't seem too different for the plausible deniability of adult harassment. There are ways in which adults have more power, but I don't think "making victims doubt their preceptions" is necessarily one, especially considering the victims start out with more naievete, though that doesn't necessarily last with extended teasing.
Aug. 6th, 2012 03:59 am (UTC)
It does no good whatsoever to state that childhood sexual harassment is worse than adult sexual harassment.

That is your experience and no one will dispute that. And anyone who tells you that adult sexual harassment is worse would be out of line. Just because it was worse for you does not make it true for other people.

The prioritizing you are trying to make here is harmful.
Aug. 6th, 2012 04:10 am (UTC)
I am NOT trying to say that childhood sexual harrassment is worse than adult sexual harrassment. I only said that that was my personal experience. I don't know what sort of prioritizing you think I am trying to make.
Aug. 6th, 2012 03:08 am (UTC)
It's irrelevant which is worse and I won't debate such a strawman. NEITHER is acceptable, BOTH should have consequences.
Aug. 6th, 2012 03:27 am (UTC)
I didn't mean to say that either was acceptable or shouldn't have consequences. I was pondering how experiences with childhood teasing affect our abilities to deal with harrassment in adulthood. I'm sure others have experiences different from mine.
Aug. 6th, 2012 06:09 pm (UTC)
I got bullied/ostracized at various times as a kid, and yeah, that sucked. A lot.

But to me, sexual harassment is much more threatening. A guy touching me when I don't want to be touched, following me, etc. with sexual intent makes my skin crawl and freaks me out.
Aug. 6th, 2012 10:26 pm (UTC)
What kills me when that happens is that it sends me back to those years when I was littler than the other kids, and powerless amongst my peers and distrustful of authority and I was pretty sure that no one would help me.

harassment as an adult, for me IS childhood harassment.
Aug. 7th, 2012 11:18 am (UTC)
I can see there being a connection for some people. But for me, adding a sexual dimension to harassment makes it entirely different. There was no sexual aspect to my childhood harassment.
Aug. 7th, 2012 12:44 pm (UTC)
Everyone's experience is different. For a lot of us, childhood teasing included some kind of sexual harassment from our peers in puberty years. I expect there are also people who didn't experience that as a child but encountered some serious sexual harassment as an adult.

I never intended to imply that some childhood teasing is a more important issue than sexual harassment. I was thinking that many have experienced both, and pondering the different way in which experiencing the former effects one's tactics for dealing with the latter.
( 16 comments — Leave a comment )