Back in 2011 I came across an article discussing the plight of a woman named Naomi Dunford who was being viciously bullied on the internet. It was on that same day that one of my sister’s friends found a photo of herself up on one of those horrid slutshaming sites. Anyway, I wrote a short post on all of that on my blog here, with a few links to cyberbullying and how to help take a stand against it. At that time, although I had been blogging for years, I was only just starting to actually take it more seriously, and was trying to finally start a real career in freelance writing. I was so disgusted by how easy it was to completely tarnish someone’s reputation or even ruin their lives by just a few well-placed malicious words and images. Little did I know at that point that the internet had started to mimic a school playground, but on a much, much higher, larger and more dangerous level, and even more so today, just a few years later.
I don’t know about you, but back in the days when I was at school, primary and high school, there was no internet and there were no cell phones. Bullying was probably just as bad on school grounds, or on your way home, but once you were away from the bullies they left you alone. Not that it made bullying any better, so to speak, but nowadays there doesn’t seem to be anywhere to hide. At school, at work, at home, in your car, anywhere in the world… And we can still say that old song of “sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me”, but we all know how incorrect that is. Words can hurt more than anything, twisting and turning their way inside, embedding themselves as deep as possible. Words hurt, even when they come from a faceless stranger.
I remember writing an article about internet comments and how terrible people could actually be, hiding behind their computer screens, a while back, before my second child was born. This time I was outraged by the sheer meanness coming from people just because a woman had decided to run a marathon without wearing a tampon. You know, maybe if we all got a little more outraged by how kids have been blown up by bombs in Syria for over five years, instead of over the trivial sight of some period blood, or a breastfeeding mother, then this world wouldn’t be so bad. But then again, I suppose it’s much more “fun” to bash another person online rather than raise awareness about some real evil that continues to happen. (Insert sarcasm font).
So here we are, five years after I shot off that cyberbulling rant back in 2011, and a lot more aware of what happens nowadays online. I’ve managed to avoid most of the mean comments myself, but mainly because I am not always comfortable putting myself out there so much, and I also have a great group of online friends who are genuinely wonderful people and who fight against these waves of mean girl gangs and women bashing each other. While I was never a mommy blogger per se, From the Inside has existed since 2002 in some form or other (LiveJournal then Blogger and now on Squarespace), and I do write a lot about motherhood and my own personal journey as a mother. This also means that I spend time reading through other parenting and “mommy” blogs, often learning something or other, disagreeing with some things and agreeing with others. I also used to spend time reading through comments too, but I gave up on that a long time ago. It is horribly disheartening when you see a bunch of women just lashing out at each other from behind their computer screen, insulting each other and trying to make everyone else feel like whatever they may be doing is wrong. It feels like high school all over again, except a lot nastier and a lot more vicious. And these comments and these attacks are not reserved just for parenting blogs, they are everywhere, men and women, adults, attacking each other about beliefs, lifestyle choices, guns, whether women should be allowed to choose what they do with their wombs or not, even probably even ridiculous things like the use of soap vs. shower gel.
Granted, people have bitched about each other for ever, people have fought about things forever, but the relative anonymity of the internet, or at least the fact that you can type something into the universe and not really feel the fall-out of your words, makes bullying so much easier. I try to be very careful with my words, I have always been one who prefers not to say something rather than hurt someone’s feelings, and the idea of putting a part of myself out there for others to judge still scares me (and part of the reason why I blog because it pushes me to do so). Reading strangers criticize and insult each other’s choices makes me feel quite sick to my stomach. Not that my personal opinion is going to change anything, but I will continue to be kind to people unless they attack me.
Because we have to lead by example.
I’ve never been a model human being, and of course I have my faults, but I want to raise my kids in a world where they don’t have to worry about being bullied by both people they know and people they don’t know. And I want to also make sure that they don’t join cliques that spend their time putting others down in order to feel better about themselves. Yes, it is easier to feel strength in numbers, but how can you be a real leader if you aren’t able to see beyond the group? We all want our kids to live in a better world than the one we see around us, so let’s try and build a better one for them from the ground up.
So what am I trying to say with all of this? Our kids learn about interacting with others from us. If I am always talking badly about others in front of them, how are they going to learn not to do that? If I am constantly talking about someone’s weight or look or face or hairstyle behind their backs, then how will my kids know that that isn’t a very nice thing to do? If I spend my time telling others what they should be doing with their lives and why what I think is more important than what they think, how are my kids going to learn about tolerance and diversity? Seriously. We lead by example. I do not want my kids to fall into the hands of bullies, and I don’t want them to become bullies either. I want them to stand up for their rights, for equality, for love, for diversity and for all the good in this world. And I want them to stand up for their friends and not fear the mean girl waiting to trip them up. Nothing wrong with falling on your face now and again, but it’s important to stand up and stand tall and show everyone around you that you cannot be bullied.
You know, it’s OK to sometimes feel a little envious of someone else’s life. It’s so easy to feel bombarded with perfect stills of perfect lives on social media, but we have to remember that what people show on their feeds is not always their real life day in day out. I love photography and capture moments on my cameras all the time, but for every photo of a smiling child there is a blurry one and probably two tantrums in between. Life is so multi-layered that there is no way to know what lies beneath each photo or each caption, and that is fine. I mean, honestly, I have friends who I have spent many a day or evening with and I only really know one side of them too. So yes, it IS fine to feel a little envious, but that envy should never be translated into bitterness or anger, or just a downright mean attitude towards others. In my own humble opinion we only have one life and we should try to spend it by seeing the beauty, experiencing the world and loving as much as possible.
And that said, I adore the wonderful group of women I have “met” online who, however tired, depressed, happy, grateful, overwhelmed or just downright disappointed they feel, always take a moment to make sure their friends are feeling OK and to encourage and help others. Because in the end we are all in this thing called life together whether we like it or not.
I’m not going to change the world with my words, but I want to lead by example, empower my girls to be strong and good, and stick up for others around me. Nobody should be bullied online or offline and I feel like we should all take a stand to speak out about things that matter rather than spend time talking shit about others. Who has time for that anyway?
There are quite a few resources to help fight against cyberbullying online, one of the most comprehensive I found here. I also recently wrote an article for Mamazou where I discussed how we don’t use the words "fat" and "skinny" at home in a way to hopefully empower my girls to see beyond the physical. There are also some great Facebook pages that are dedicated to helping prevent bullying as well as supporting those who are being bullied (Suicide Baiting Prevention and It Gets Better Project). Join and share if you can, and if you, your child or a friend is suffering from bullying reach out and get the help and support that you need. There is no need to suffer alone.