The Bullies are Back in Town

I’m on the other side of forty-five. As those who read my blog know from other posts, I’ve lived and traveled all over the world, having worked in advertising for more than twenty years. I speak three languages and have three degrees, two undergrad and one post-grad. At my last job, I was the second highest paid person the company; I’ve done quite well for myself. I was divorced twenty years ago, but refused child support or alimony because I wanted to raise my child — who is now twenty-one — in the manner I saw fit. Though I am very happily divorced, we still spend Christmas morning with my ex-husband and my ex-in laws because we have known each other our entire lives and therefore still function much like a family. I take no shit, personally or professionally, and am either famous or infamous for it, depending on whose point of view you solicit. I was not born to a wealthy family, but I was born to one rich with unconditional love, being told almost every day of my life that I could do whatever I wanted to do and be whatever I wanted to be, as much — if not more so — by my dad as by my mom, that support being no small reason for the person I am today.

Thirty-five years ago, I was a chubby, freckled red-head with a heart condition and the highest IQ in a school district replete with future Ole Miss beauty queen wannabes. If you don’t know what that means, it’s not that difficult to explain or to understand, whether it was the head cheerleader or homecoming queen at your school, or just one of the many mean girl portrayals you’ve seen in the movies. The difference is there wasn’t just one; there were loads. Such was life being raised in a small town in the South where your family was either rich or it wasn’t; they either belonged to the country club or they didn’t. You were either pretty or you weren’t, and the male counterparts – though fewer – were themselves no better, often being the ones who dug the moat and defended the walls of the stuck up clique who doled out condescension and abuse like Pez from a dispenser of hostility and pretense. I was almost mercilessly abused on a daily basis from the ages of six through sixteen. And then.

The summer between my sophomore and junior year of high school, something changed. The baby fat that had bade its farewell to most girls my age two years prior finally decided to take its leave from me. Realizing it was beginning to atrophy on its own, I became encouraged and began dieting, swimming more laps in our pool and hitting more balls on the court in the heat of the day. Finally, down to a size six of then which is probably a four of now, 5’8” tall, with thick strawberry blonde hair, I was beginning to feel an inner confidence I had never before known. Much to my father’s dismay, I saved up my money and went to the best hairdresser in town and had my thick mop chopped to a severe, ‘80s Molly Ringwold type do. With what money was left, I bought a pair of much-coveted long clip-on earrings from the fanciest store in town (I wasn’t allowed to have my ears pierced in my very strict family) and changed my style almost overnight. When we returned to register for school in August in the very casual atmosphere that day allowed, in the upstairs library still dressed in a short Esprit skirt and matching tee, one of the few football players who had — admirably — always been my friend, walked up from behind to me to introduce himself, asking me from whence I’d transferred. I turned to look at him, assuming he’d recognize me when I did, but the transformation had been so drastic and so complete that he did not. “Thomas,” I said, “it’s me, ” the pause between my last word and the final look of recognition on his face pregnant both with his confusion and my amusement. When finally the other shoe dropped, he picked me up off the floor and hugged me and said, “Girl, you look FIIINNNEE.” He was genuinely happy for me — he was one of the few good guys — but still not as pleased as I was for myself. For the first time in my school-going life, I did not dread the next day.

That year marked a shift in my high school experience, to be sure; people were nicer and some were even fawning. No one could ever again pick on me for being fat or unstylish, and many of the meanest girls suddenly wanted to sit next to me in class or even invite me to their table during lunch. There were others, though, who simply detested me at the core and decided to shift their message to deriding me for being too thin, not willing to give up the franchise that had long since established them as head bullies in charge. Yes, life was easier and I no longer needed to listen to Duran Duran’s “Save a Prayer” on loop every morning while I got ready for school in order to calm my nerves and steel myself against whatever puberty induced tirade of angst would greet me each day, but it did not take long for the euphoria of discovering myself to give way to the disappointment of discovering the truth about others. In retrospect, I would not change one single second of my life to that point, bullying, crying, trying to run away to boarding school and all. Crucially, the formative years before and up to that seminal moment when the paradigm shifted taught me more about the human condition than any other event in my life. It was all too sharp, too distinct a shift in the public policy of popularity and hierarchy of blonde for me to not notice the hypocrisy of it all. I had not changed who I was as a person; I had merely changed on the outside. The person the popular gang now largely accepted was the same one they had used as a punching bag of unification for nearly ten solid years. It wasn’t me who was defective, it was them. It had always been them. Pretty on the outside, ugly on the inside.

Being bullied to the extent I was defines you as a person and still motivates your actions and instincts as an adult. Because I was for so very long on the outside looking in, I learned to observe and learn, becoming something of a consumer of human behavior, whether by quickly recognizing the queen bee, knowing who to avoid or by detecting a trend in group think before it was discernible to anyone else. I suspect it’s played a very large role in my success today as I often see things others do not; I am still an outsider at heart, and proudly so. But to explain to others who were either bullies themselves or who were fortunate enough to just float somewhere in the grey of non-existence is difficult. If you haven’t been there yourself, it’s hard to empathize. Moreover, just as I still today carry the instincts and lessons of having been bullied, the bullies themselves still often inhabit an aloof space of superiority, un-empathetic and un-phased, full of presumption and always the last to see things or people for what or who they truly are. Ironically, in looking at me now these bullies also – almost always – assume that I am and always have been one of them. How wrong they are and how frequently difficult it is for them when they discover that the converse is true.

I am not shy about my childhood with colleagues and am vocally intolerant of bullying, which is rife in advertising and indeed in corporate America. I am not just tough in practice, but allegedly – I am often told — carry an aura of intense strength with me, frequently (unintentionally) scaring the shit out of people merely by entering a room, and before I even open my mouth or share a point of view. I’ve had this phenomenon recounted to me more times than I can recall, but only in the past year have I come to the realization that it’s always the grown-up, un-evolved bullies who have this sort of reaction to me. By definition, bullies are cowards who are themselves hiding an inadequacy that they fear your presence will expose. Or as my first Taiwanese boss told me right out of college, translating the meaning from the original Mandarin, “No one can shoot at you if you are not outstanding in the field.” People didn’t deride me as a child because I was benign; they tortured me to put me in my place because I threatened something in them they were struggling to hide. Similarly, the ones who are afraid of me now are also the ones who openly attempt to detract from me, question my authority or make up outrageous stories about me to comfort themselves in their respective inadequacies. They are almost always, too, by far the least competent members of the team and the ones of who have covered their shortcomings with bravado for months or even years prior to my arrival. They know that with me, their gravy train will soon be pulling into the station of substantive reality and they, therefore, go out of their way to get rid of me before I can them. 

So why am I writing this now? On Sunday, one of my Twitter followers sent me an article from the NYT entitled “Since When is Being a Woman A Liberal Cause?” and asked me to respond. Thing is, I’m exhausted with diatribes and type-shouting and outrage of all the wrong varieties. Common sense is on hiatus on a remote, unreachable island without wifi in the South Pacific and the rest of us are stranded here in our own country with some of the most outrageously baseless shite that has ever slipped past the lips of creatures who were born in the form of humans but act with the mindlessness of possums on acid. Fact either no longer passes as such or is ignored, and intelligent debate is dead and will someday appear in the Smithsonian in between Homo Erectus and plaster casts of our alien overlords (if the aliens let us keep the Smithsonian), so why would I or should I bother? I’ve said before, but it’s worth repeating now: not a fan of Twain for his writing as such, but never in my lifetime has “Never argue with a fool, onlookers might not be able to tell the difference,” been a more appropriate a quote to summarize the tone of political and social discourse than it is today.

I did actually write a response, feeling somewhat obliged and also knowing that I do very much possess an opinion on the matter, but the effort was half-hearted and lackluster and not something with which I was convinced myself, let alone something I would impose on an audience wider than one. My writing and indeed my level of engagement has been lazy for well over a week now, but only today has it finally occurred to me why: the bullies are back in town. That is precisely how I feel about the feminism of today and the entire halo of leftist agenda issues it has now engulfed. I am a product of my experience, my upbringing, my determination and my God-given skills. I am no one’s “cause” and will not have my achievements belittled or ignored because I refuse to fall in step with those selling the line that women in this country are hard done by and suppressed. I am also who I am because of the examples of women with which I was blessed in my life; those who, as I state on my about page, “Were feisty, strong, smart, take no prisoners and even less shit sorts of women.” But those types of women are now all but extinct, with their sort likely never to recur because today’s “feminism” isn’t really for strong, intelligent women who make their own way, listen to their own inner voice and follow their own True North. Today’s “feminists” are comprised of, replicate and celebrate only the manufactured sameness of those who agree, comply and conform, too ignorant of biology to understand the destiny of breeds which fail to diversify and adapt. They are drenched in the grey of collective groupthink, hitting out at those who differ in opinion or thought for no other reason than failure to mindlessly assimilate and submit. They meet my definition of “bullies are cowards who are themselves hiding an inadequacy that they fear your presence will expose,” as much or more so than any group on the landscape today, though indeed it can be extrapolated to define the whole of the left. Donald Trump is far from perfect. But by breaking down walls and taking a wrecking ball to the establishment, he threatens both exposing what is really inside and robbing them of their self-righteous facade which rests on an ever more perilous tectonic intersection of hollow moral high ground and faux bleeding-heart concern. So much of a threat is not only he — but perhaps more importantly, the shifts and exposure he represents —  that they target not only him and his children but today even his grandchildren.

These are people who celebrate only one another, and who are as impervious to self-reflection, learning and listening as Madonna is to clothing and good taste. Their singular, notable achievement is surpassing politicians as the most hypocritical elite group in our nation, selectively choosing — as they are wont to do — which women are worthy of their praise and which deserve their most hellish scorn. So rather than marching to ask for our government to mandate that women are treated with respect, how about first living by example by respecting one another both in action and in deed, regardless of political affiliation. Rather than engaging in the thug-like tendencies of lust-for-power driven, lemming-like, willfully ignorant cliques, how about giving equal value to the achievements of all women, regardless of whether their politics make you uncomfortable or their presence challenges your particular worldview. Ivanka Trump is, as best I can tell, a woman; a successful, intelligent, articulate and moderate mother of three who built her own brand rather than resting on her laurels and enjoying the bounties of her father’s fortune. She supports women’s rights, LGBT issues and is a converted Orthodox Jew. If Chelsea Clinton were anything near the ilk of a woman Ivanka is with even half of her success and eclectic traits she would be the poster child for feminism, not the center of the movement’s proverbial dart board and a vituperative campaign of hate. There is perhaps no better illustration of a baying mob of hypocrisy than this.

I tell kids that being bullied turns you into either a victim or a victor and that they can play a role in determining which of those they will become. I’m not sorry that the left lost, but I am sorry that they are taking it and manifesting their displeasure with it in the way that they are. The allegedly individualistic left – and by extension their feminist tribe – has become the prom king and queen, beating up on and berating those who are different from them, demonstrating to generations that “fuck you” is an intelligent response or that hitting someone with whom you disagree rather than having a lively debate is a valid answer. Yet they not only fail to see the irony in this inversion but the existence of the transformation in general. All of their rapacious negativity serving only to create millions of more people like me who are steadfast in our ways and happy to exist on our island of uncool, if only to save ourselves from their particular brand of tolerance. We all the while knowing that in the end, the nerds always win.

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