Is it Bullying If There’s Consent?

Subtitle: WTF is with teenaged boys??

Cross-posted from Medium.

Sometimes I imagine potential scenarios and wonder how I’d handle them, what I’d say, and whether I’d do the right thing. It’s easy to think you’d say or do one thing, and then improvise on the scene or freeze up. Fight or flight?

Group violence?

Earlier, while walking with my dog, I saw three teenaged boys kicking another boy on the ground about a half block ahead. My immediate thought: “Why is no one seeing this or stepping in??”

We were on a major street. The boys were right outside a corner store, a few feet from the corner.

My eyes and brain were perceiving that a teenaged boy was having the crap kicked out of him by bullies. I’m guessing that you’d reach the same conclusion.

Around a half block away, I shouted, “Hey! HEY!”

They stopped. The boy receiving the kicks popped up on his feetWITH A SMILE, after which I may have seen one more punch to his face (I wasn’t sure from the angle).

What the hell is wrong with teenage boys?

One of the boys answered, “We’re giving birthday beatings.”

Um, what??

I got a bit flustered with this information. I’m not good at thinking of my feet, and their “victim” seemed into it, which was unexpected.

I firmly and clumsily replied, “No one should fucking beat each other up. Ever.”

I immediately regretted the expletive. I felt a bit ashamed about having used it. It’s one thing to scold firmly. Expletives cross into aggression. Scolding, in a more broader text, can be done with love. Expletives come from anger.

I doubt they noticed that it was a clumsy statement. I didn’t know what to say. I did my best. I was glad that I spoke up regardless.

And, that was our interaction. A couple of the kickers replied to my scolding, but I didn’t register their words because my own words were echoing in my mind. One boy said something about my dog.

What about context?

As I’ve shared before, I was bullied all through childhood. It was never physical — kicking, punching, etc., but I’ve had that experience.

That said, I don’t think that anyone needs that experience to want to stop a scene in which kids are beating on kids.

Violence is never acceptable behaviour.

Then I started to think about hazing, and I began to consider, maybe some of the “victims” don’t feel like victims at all? Maybe some of the recipients of physical and emotional abuse consent and have no problem with it. Perhaps they are into it. Are those who are willing targets encouraging the problem by siding with the perpetrators? Are kids natural gaslighters?

Bullying and hazing are deplorable behaviours, and both the “potential hazer” and “hazee” should know that.

Kids aren’t born bullies. They either model their behaviour or they express frustration aggressively and physically. Or they both mimic and express negative feelings through aggression.

Hurt people hurt (people).

And those who are the targets — willing or not — have to know that don’t need to take shit to be accepted. They can say “No” to their peers. They can use their voice. These statements might be presumptuous of me to make. I might be projecting here. 

I wish that my younger self knew that she could use her voice. I wish she knew that she had a voice. I wish I’d had the self-confidence to stand up for myself. To know that I deserved better. I was too young to understand the concept of “self-respect” but I knew when things felt right and when they didn’t. I was, and am, sensitive. I was, and am, an empathetic person.

It’s a vicious cycle: The bullies prey on the weak ones who need to get strong to assert themselves back at the bullies.

The older I get, the more comfortable I feel asserting myself, and the more I speak up.

The kid who popped up from the ground smiling still confuses me.

Someone can explain it to me, or I can keep trying to imagine it.

Maybe it’s male hormones. If so, there must be an episode of Big Mouth about it that I missed.

Or maybe I’ll never understand because I am not, nor have I ever been, a teenaged boy.*

My perception was challenged, which is a mind-trick on its own.

I don’t know what was actually happening beyond what my eyes saw and my mind interpreted.

I don’t know whether the boy on the ground considers himself a victim of bullying or not. He was kicked, and it was implied that he consented to beatings.

I don’t believe that people should tell others how they’re supposed to feel.

After we passed, my dog looked at me with her concerned posture.

And now, the title of this article is the hardest part of writing it.

*Edited to add: The day after this event happened — and I wrote about it — I told my boyfriend about it. His response: “You don’t understand teenaged boys.” There you go. It frustrates me, but that’s the answer of a man who was once a teenaged boy.