Tuesday, 17 April 2007


We've all been bullied at one time or another, though we don't like to admit it because there's still a tendency to blame the victim - they somehow invited it, or they should have done more to resist.

I was bullied on and off for four years at the dreadful boarding school my innocent parents sent me to. I just didn't fit in with the aggressively masculine culture of the other boys - based around sport, snooker, sexual prowess and status-seeking - and they showed their disapproval by ostracising me, taunting me and hiding my possessions. What particularly galled me was the sight of the bullies trooping into chapel every Sunday and professing to be generous, compassionate Christians.

To this day I can't explain why I didn't fight back or simply run away from school. I somehow felt there was no alternative and I just had to struggle through it and not show them they were getting to me.

When I worked at a bookshop a few years ago, a new manager turned out to be a systematic bully who pushed all the staff to work harder and faster and watched us all like a hawk, ready to pounce the moment we slowed down or started to chat. Fortunately we were all union members so we could put up enough collective resistance to keep the pressure at bearable levels, but what had been an enjoyable, easygoing workplace rapidly became a seething morass of resentment and hostility. When the manager's house was burgled one day, we couldn't help letting out a collective whoop of joy, such was our thirst for revenge.

So again, why did I stay there and not instantly hand in my notice? I think because despite the way the staff were treated, we all got on famously and we were loathe to move on in case we jumped out of the frying pan into the fire.

But it's still alarmingly common for the victims of bullies to be told it's somehow their fault. Women subject to merciless sexism are told they can't take a joke or are too over-sensitive. Boys picked on by other boys are told they should toughen up and brazen it out. Seldom are the bullies themselves confronted and told they should grow up and treat others with respect. And line managers who should be intervening turn a blind eye and pretend nothing's happening.

Despite all the anti-bullying declarations popping up in every organisation like spring daffodils, the reality has hardly changed and there are still an awful lot of people living miserable lives because of the continuing assumption that bullying is nothing more than the rough and tumble of everyday life. What are you making such a fuss about? For God's sake, just get a grip!

PS: Have a look at this excellent piece on bullying and the massacre at Virginia Tech in America by a Canadian blogger.


  1. Good solid words.
    I was a victim as well, at one point had my foot broken by a stilletto heel of a fellow student and kept it a secret (I was so ashamed). Other times, hair pulling and verbal abuse (specky four eyes because of my glasses being one of the kindest). And uniform cutting with a scissors.
    All this in a private Catholic convent school. I never fought back.
    Of course the bullies of today are instantly recognisable, yeah?
    Bliar and Bushlet.

  2. Yes I'm sure bullying goes on in every type of school, and it doesn't suprise me that it happened in a Catholic one. After all here in Ireland we're all too aware of the frequent sexual abuse that has been linked with the Catholic church. And can we be sure it's not still happening? I wouldn't like to bet on that one.

  3. My boarding school experience didn't include any bullying. I reckon that may have been because I was only at boarding school when I was 8 to 11 years old. I sensed a slight hint of racism at one school.It was in West Africa and attended by Americans, Canadians and Australians I was the only Northern Irish person there. I'd broken my arm and been in hospital a while and when I came back to school I felt ostracised slightly, the other kids must've just found out I was from Norn Iron. I'd be interested to hear more of your boarding school stories sometime.

  4. Boarding school stories, huh? I'll see what I can do....