Yep thats pretty much much how it is and it stays with you forever. You think you have manged to come to terms with it but you never really do.
The last time I went back to my family home, I found my school jotter from 1998. It was squirrelled away in the back of my sock-and-knicker drawer. Below the date Tuesday 3 February is a note in handwriting so determined that the pen has at several points punctured the page: “One day I will be pretty then no one can hurt me.”
I was a fat 13-year-old girl with a high-pitched voice and an as-yet-undiagnosed condition (they knew something was wrong with me; they just didn’t know what) that would later place me firmly on the autistic spectrum.
These factors, alongside my desperate desire to make friends, made me a perfect target for bullies. Often they imitated my voice. Sometimes they commented on my weight. Most cruelly, they pretended to make friends with me. “Come and sit with us, Hope. Would you like us to teach you to flirt? OK – well, if you make your eyes very big, like this and pout …” Then they’d fall about laughing.
At these times my one friend, Kirsty who was also bullied, but savvier than I, tried to save me. “Don’t go to them,” she’d say. “They don’t want to be your friend, they want to make you look ridiculous.” To the bullies I was their toy, free entertainment for when they got bored – which was often.
It was brutal and unremitting – a toxic combination of my social naivety and their cruelty. The girls may not have realised it, but their treatment almost killed me.
I was not surprised to read of a study published in the journal Lancet Psychiatry that suggests that bullied children are at risk of mental health problems that will remain with them throughout their lives. Unlike children who are maltreated at home, the report argues, children bullied at school do not have advocacy groups and lobbyists on side. They are right: bullying is all too insidious, and too readily accepted.
As I was never maltreated at home, I cannot comment on whether the impact of bullying is, as the report argues, five times worse than that of cruelty in the home. I know that for me, having a safe place to return to, where I knew I was loved, was what kept me from killing myself.
However, unlike maltreatment from adults, bullying by peers is often normalised even while in plain sight. It is seen as “part of a normal childhood” – that old cliche “character-building”, even – rather than as something that will tear you down, bit by bit.
There can be a degree of victim-blaming in bullying. A male friend of mine told me how he was physically bullied by older boys and felt it was pointless to tell a teacher, as the attitude was usually that he should grow a backbone. Surely, in this day and age, such antediluvian attitudes have no place in our schools.
My teachers were kind but overstretched, and there was a weariness to their reactions to bullying, a masked but nevertheless apparent attitude that to some degree I was culpable – that if I wasn’t so bloody weird it wouldn’t happen. All I had to do was fit in; but that was all I couldn’t do.
At 15 I developed anorexia. It was, I suppose, inevitable. As I shrank, the bullying became less, and the concern of teachers became acute – my physical deterioration far more terrifying to them than the psychological torment I had previously tried to articulate. I was glad that I’d finally got them worried – that at last there was an acknowledgement of the hell I was going through daily at school. It felt good, except I couldn’t stop.
I was lucky I lived. I was even luckier that I recovered fully (aside from some weird rituals with food). But even now, I go through stretches of deep depression and an overwhelming feeling of being utterly crap. I think much of this reaches back to those formative years, when I was told every day by my peers that I was rubbish.
I hope this report forces authority figures to be less dismissive of peer bullying and its long-term ill effects. I know it must be difficult when you have a lot of kids to deal with, and it’s tempting to turn a blind eye to what appears to be a silly spat between teenagers. But the trauma and isolation felt by bullied children is real, and it is time that it was properly acknowledged as a political issue.
It is also important, however, that this is done without detriment to the children who are maltreated at home. Crucially, this report should not divide children who are maltreated at home and children who are bullied by peers. Both suffer terrible trauma and deserve to be taken seriously. Comparing two terrible situations with one another will achieve nothing.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010
This worry’s me, but certainly does not surprise me. We are all playing a game which where the winners and losers are all ready selected before they have even decided to play. I am not comfortable at all with this: though at my time in life its unlikely to effect me directly, it is part of a growing trend which ends in exclusion for certain people from what is considered normal society. This is a bad thing
Imagine that you’re a contestant in an audition round of The Voice, where you belt out your best “I Will Always Love You”. A minute passes. No reaction from the celebrity judges. You keep singing. Another minute, still no encouraging smile or nod. You strain to hit your highest note, pleading with your performance: “Please, please accept me! I am doing my best!” The song ends. No one wants you. Your family bow their heads in shame. Your mom cries. You stand on the stage, alone in the spotlight, heartbroken. A trap door opens beneath your feet and you slide screaming into Adam Levine’s basement torture maze.
Think that’s bad? In the real world, science has come up with something worse. A company called Jobaline offers “voice profiling” to predict job success based on how candidates sound; its algorithm identifies and analyzes over one thousand vocal characteristics by which it categorizes job applicants on suitability.
It’s horrible and dehumanizing, like all our other profiling (the racial kind is always a big hit!) Reliant on born-in, luck-of-the-genetic-draw factors that we can neither avoid or control. Regardless of mood or intent, according to NPR’s Aaarti Shehani, “your voice has a hidden, complicated architecture with an intrinsic signature – much like a fingerprint”.
This is not the only creepy algorithm system HR departments have been employing to help the company bottom line. Companies like Wal-Mart and Credit Suisse have been crunching data to predict which employees are “flight risks” who are likely to quit (easily remedied with a simple anklet attaching the worker to his or her cash register or cubicle) vs those deemed “sticky,” meaning in-it-for-the-long-haul. The information lets bosses either improve morale or get a head-start on a search for a replacement.
The inventors of such programs often enjoy the impeachable, amoral cloak of scientific legitimacy. When it comes to voice profiling, computers are not judging the speakers themselves; only the reactions the speaker’s voice provokes in other (presumably human) listeners. “The algorithm functions as a mechanical judge in a voice-based beauty contest”, wrote Chamorro-Premuzic and Adler in The Harvard Business Review. “Desirable voices are invited to the next round, where they are judged by humans, while undesirable voices are eliminated from the contest”.
The makers of voice profiling programs tout this as a moral achievement. Human beings bring loads of biases into any evaluation; computers are blissfully unaware of differences in race, gender, sexual preference or age. “That’s the beauty of math!” Jobaline CEO Luis Salazar told NPR. “It’s blind.”
The problem is, when applied in a capitalist system already plagued by unfairness and inhumanity, this blindness sounds really, really dangerous. An impersonal computer program gets first say as to who gets to earn money to buy food and who doesn’t, based on an application of a binary code too subtle and complex for us to understand. Over a thousand factors, analyzed for every vocal sample. Over a thousand ones or zeros clicked in the corresponding click boxes. Who checks for the glitch? Who do you complain to if you think you’re getting a raw deal? Is it just me or does technology like this simply pass our penchant for prejudice on to the machines who will soon wrest planetary control from our soft, carbon-based hands?
“Hello, I’d like to apply for a job,” the human being says, enunciating as clearly as possible into the phone receiver. “My name is—”
“Disqualified,” says the cold, computerized voice on the other end of the line. “Too squeaky. Perhaps you should seek work in the silent film business.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010
Another point of view
You never forget your first egg. Ours was laid by Margo, named for Margo Leadbetter from The Good Life, because of her fancy fluffy feet and her long beak, which she tended to look down. It was all the more precious because she popped it out in bleakest midwinter when hens decide, quite rightly, that it’s too cold for all that. Sitting in a strawy manger, it seemed like a miracle – daintier than dino-sized shop offerings and very slightly pink. We couldn’t bring ourselves to crack it, never mind eat it, so we blew it out – and now it sits perfectly preserved on a tiny silk cushion in a glass box. Like Lenin, only lovely.
Over the five years she ruled regally over our urban flock in Brighton, Margot (now roosting in peace) laid countless dozens of eggs. It’s a city garden, so we only keep bantams. Right now we’ve got three fancy pekins: Blanche (The Golden Girls), Blithe (Spirit) and Dolly (Parton). They live in a hand-built wooden coop called Cluckingham Palace and often have porridge for breakfast.
In 2005, we were poultry pioneers and our constituency, Brighton Pavilion, was Labour. Our neighbours made jokes about Tom and Barbara Good wondering, a bit worriedly, if we were getting goats. We threatened them with a pig called Trotski. Back then there was no chicken aisle in the pet shop, because chickens weren’t petsand you had to buy specialist products on dodgy websites. Now there’s a flourishing mini-industry and you can flick through Your Chickens magazine. Thanks to newly invented chicken harnesses our streets will soon be full of hipsters taking their girls for a walk. Meantime, Brighton Pavilion has elected the UK’s only Green MP.
There are two other feather families on our road, and both have neon “Re-elect Caroline Lucas” posters in the window. Our girls often cluck over the wall to them. We’re considering playdates but worry about red mite – far harder to eradicate than head lice. We prize every egg, especially wonky offerings which look like an effort to squeeze out.In summer our egg tray overflows, and after boiling, scrambling and poaching we whisk mayonnaise and lemon curd. A nice Italian neighbour taught us zabalgione. And there is no smugger dinner party gift than a bowl of ultra-local beyond-organic bantam eggs complete with artful smears of crap and just the one feather.
It’s very tempting to think that this is the “good life” – mentioned more than a dozen times by David Cameron when he launched the Conservative manifesto this week. “We can be the country that not only lives within its means and pays its way, but that offers a good life to those who work hard and do the right thing,” he said, flanked by Samantha in a suitably nettle-green dress. He declined to say whether they were more Tom and Barbara than Jerry and Margo, but we know. We all know.
One of the inspirations for The Good Life was The Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency by John Seymour. Published in 1976 when doubts about a world entirely dependent on fossil fuels coalesced around the oil crisis and the miners’ strike, it showed how to grow your own vegetables and make your own cheese. It sold more than a million copies in 20 languages. Now oil prices are plummeting along with inflation, and there are no miners.
We are cravenly local, seasonal and organic, and farmer’s markets are sexy. Michelle Obama has written a book about the White House vegetable patch.
This is all very lovely, and who doesn’t want to crystallise their own fennel pollen, but it fails to link personal responsibility and collective action. Sustainability has been commodified. The contemporary “good life” evoked by Cameron has more in common with Marie Antoinette’s Hameau de la Reine than Tom and Barbara’s muddy plot in Surbiton. While the Goods ploughed and dyed their way to self-sufficiency, the French queen dressed as a shepherdess milking perfumed cows into buckets made of Sèvres porcelain. I often think of her as I spend the morning digging up the choicest worms for my girls. Cameron is banking that we’ll all be so blissed out on our own fetishised good lives that we won’t consider voting for anyone who might be having a bad life.
Chickens, and my girls, certainly aren’t to blame. Proof that we can look beyond our own lives lies in HenPower, an amazing charity that helps set up coops in care homes – bringing joy, and eggs, to all. It turns flocks into communities.
Cameron’s good life is entirely privatised: look after your backyard; build our own bucolic dream; and don’t worry about what might be happening over the wall or over the road or over the border. Spoil your hens with organic treats and give them cutesy names, but don’t tell them how most chickens live (and die): in vast, filthy factories of death, unable to spread their wings, unnamed. Cameron confuses selfishness with self-sufficiency and hopes we will too. He shouldn’t count his chickens.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010