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Tuesday, July 4, 2017

When girls bully

Perhaps the root of their cruelty is envy or their mentality is one of vengeance: ‘Dulu aku kena lagi teruk. Sekarang giliran engkau pula.’
COMMENT
gilrs-bully-1
By A Survivor
Like many Malaysians, I was revolted by the cruel torture and bullying of UPNM navy cadet Zulfarhan Osman Zulkarnain, and T Nhaveen, the 18-year-old from Penang. I cried when I read about the injuries sustained by both Zulfarhan and Nhaveen. In addition, we also heard of two cases of bullying in MRSM Parit and MRSM Alor Gajah.
There have been many more cases of bullying and ragging in various schools and universities. What we read of in the newspapers is just the tip of the iceberg. Most cases go unreported because the victims are too afraid of their bullies or do not know how to seek help.
What is bullying? Bullying encompasses physical, verbal, mental, emotional, social and cyber bullying. Discrimination, exclusion, unwelcome physical contact, tricking others, making someone feel small, teasing based on the way someone looks, taking things without asking, mental, physical and emotional harm are all aspects of bullying.
Bullying does not just happen among children and youths but also among adults. It doesn’t just occur in schools and universities but also in the workplace and at home.
Furthermore, bullying is not only confined to boys. Girls bully other girls too, but unlike boys who tend to physically hurt their victims (on top of other forms of bullying), girls tend to inflict verbal, mental and emotional abuse.
I cannot comprehend how some people can bring themselves to hurt others so maliciously. I don’t understand the enjoyment these bullies get in degrading and inflicting pain on defenceless people. The physical, emotional and mental trauma from bullying can scar and affect a person for life.
Fingers are pointed at teachers and lecturers, asking why these bullies are allowed to run amok in places of learning. I would like to address this issue as well as a few others. I am writing from the point of view of a survivor of bullying and ragging, and as a teacher who has handled bullying cases.
Let me first tell my story. Please forgive me as it’s rather long.
My first experience of ragging was when I enrolled in MRSM Balik Pulau at the age of 13. It was an eye opener. We had to do all sorts of things for the seniors. Many of them were silly and in jest but some were a tad humiliating like going up to a lamp post and telling it that you love it and kissing the post in front of everyone. But silly things like that were all right. We got over it. I did have to hand wash my seniors’ bedsheets, clothes and school shoes a few times. I hated it but I got over it. And I wasn’t hurt.
However, there was one ragging incident I felt deeply humiliated by. I was from a convent school and had never mixed with boys. Going to a co-ed school filled me with excitement. In MRSM, students were divided into homerooms and I had a crush on the male senior who mentored my homeroom during orientation week.
Somehow, the female seniors (his batch mates) found out and taunted me mercilessly throughout the year. They weren’t too happy I liked him since his girlfriend was their close friend. Tell me how was I supposed to know this? It was only a silly teen crush. I wasn’t going to do anything about it. I didn’t realise fancying an older boy was tantamount to a crime in these seniors’ eyes.
When I was in Form 3, I was again terrorised by a Form 5 senior. This senior took a strong dislike towards me. One weekend, I was summoned to her room. She and her roommate interrogated and ragged me for over two hours. I was made to stand while her friends and her surrounded me and threw insults at me.
She accused me of being “sombong” because I didn’t smile at her and greet her with “assalamualaikum” when I passed her and her friends in the school corridors. She accused me of disrespecting her. She said I was getting too big for my boots and needed to be put in my place.
She and her friends did not hit me but the venomous words they threw at me hurt like hell and filled me with fear. She warned that each time she or her friends saw me in the corridors, I’d better smile, bow and greet them salam or suffer the consequences.
For the rest of that year, I had to scrape and bow and run errands for them as if they were royal princesses. I didn’t go around with a smile plastered on my face all the time because the senior girls would accuse me of trying to catch the eye of the senior boys, but when I didn’t smile, I was seen as arrogant?! You smile, you gatal. You don’t smile, you sombong. How screwed up was that? There’s no winning with these seniors. It was a truly miserable year. On top of that I had to study like crazy for my SRP. My misery only ended when the Form 5 students left school.
Still, this was nothing compared to my next experience of bullying. It was the most painful and traumatic as the bully was my own friend. The worst of the bullying happened in the first semester of Form 1 (even though she continued to bully me on and off until Form 3).
She made fun of my Perak dialect and accent. She would make me say things like count from 11 to 20 and then laughed at how I pronounced the words. And she did this in front of our other friends. She questioned why I couldn’t speak the Penang and Kedah dialects whereas the other girls from Taiping could. She wouldn’t listen to my explanation that I’m 100% pure Perak and my parents were from the Sungai Perak area. Perakians would know that people from this area, especially Kuala Kangsar, have a pretty thick dialect and accent. Think of Mamat Khalid’s films but amplified a few times.
She forced me to learn to speak Kedahan, not just the accent but also all the dialectal vocabulary. When I found it hard, she would jeer at me and mock me in front of our friends. She would force me to say things in Kedahan that I had no idea what they meant. Then she would laugh at my face and the other girls would join in. I was the butt of their jokes. I later discovered much to my shame, that she made me say lewd disgusting things about myself. No wonder the other girls laughed.
She ridiculed and derided me whenever I spoke English with other ex-convent girls. She would say things like “Belah la. Speaking konon. Hang ingat hang terrar sangat no”, “Hang nak jadi omputih ka? Tak sedaq pungkoq hitam.”
This happened every time I spoke English and it was throughout my entire Form 1 year. It got so bad that I completely ceased to speak any English outside my English class. I only started to speak English again in Form 5 to prepare for the Oral English SPM. By then, my spoken English had rusted badly but alhamdulillah as I loved reading, writing stories, listening to English songs, and watching English films, sitcoms and dramas, my speaking skills picked up quite quickly.
All the taunts and derision of the way I spoke really affected me. I became self-conscious at how I speak. I try not to reveal my Perak and northern accents when I meet new people. I am also careful when and where I speak English so others won’t see me as “sombong”. I cannot help but feel apprehensive even though I know most people are not prejudiced.
She also loved to say nasty things about my looks: how dark my skin was, how short and skinny I was, how thick my glasses were, how I was a bit bucktoothed, how big my butt was, and many more. I didn’t understand why she made fun of my looks. She herself was hardly an oil painting so why demean me?
I felt ugly and small. I became insecure and self-conscious for years. Her comments affected me so much that I had dental braces put in when I was 18 to correct the alignment of my teeth even though they weren’t badly crooked or protruding.
She also used to help herself to my bed and food. We had to keep our beds neat and the sheets stretched tight. She didn’t want to muss her pristine bed so she would lepak and sleep on my bed all the time. Actually, she didn’t just lepak on my bed, she dive-bombed into my bed as if it was hers! She also freely tucked into any food I had in my drawer without asking for permission. Even though I told her I didn’t like her doing that, she didn’t care. Ironically, she herself refused to share her food or allow anyone to sit or lie on her bed.
However, the worst incident was when she stole my diary and read it. It was the 1980s and almost everyone kept diaries and wrote their innermost secrets in them. I had a crush on a fellow Form 1 boy and kept it a secret because he was well-known in school. She read my diary and promptly told everyone about my crush.
Pretty soon the gossip spread until even the teachers heard it and of course so did the boy. I was absolutely embarrassed and humiliated. All throughout boarding school I couldn’t face him, let alone talk to him. Even when I bumped into him in London a few times (we went to England to further our studies after Form 5), I didn’t have the nerve to say hello. All because of what she did. How could she humiliate me like that? Why did she enjoy hurting me?
During my first semester of Form 1, every time I called my parents, I would be in tears pleading to come home and go back to convent school but my dad refused to hear of it. He said he had sacrificed a lot and I myself had worked hard to enter into MRSM so it would be a terrible waste to quit. He said I had to fight back or else the girl would continue to bully me. (This was old-school parenting.) I didn’t know how I was supposed to fight back since I was short and skinny and the girl was taller and mean.
One evening at our dorm, after the usual me-as-the-butt-of-everyone’s-joke session, I found myself unable to take it anymore. I lost my temper and screamed “F#*% you!” at her. It shocked her as well as the other girls. They’d never seen me angry like that before nor had they ever heard anyone swear in English (this was 1986 and kids were not exposed to that kind of language then). It caught them by surprise. They didn’t understand what I said but they knew it wasn’t nice. I thank Shirley Conran and Jackie Collins for my colourful vocabulary. I was a precocious reader and had started reading American bestsellers and Mills and Boons novels from the age of 11.
After that incident, the bullying from the girl lessened. It never stopped completely but she didn’t hassle me as much and as frequently as before. I think she was surprised that I had the nerve to fight back.
Why does all this bullying and ragging continue? Why don’t the wardens and teachers do anything to help? I’ll tell you why it’s difficult for teachers to take action.
1) Victims of bullying are often terrified of their tormentors. Bullies rarely work alone. They often have a gang to back them up. They pick on a girl or a boy who is often smaller or lesser or different from them. Bullies tend to be superior in strength and size. It’s hard to fight back. I could not use physical strength to stand up to my “friend” the bully. In the end, I used the only “weapon” I had – my English vocabulary. Thank God it worked.
2) Because of the fear bullies instil in their victims, these victims will never report the bullying to any teacher. That’s why teachers do not know that there are students being bullied unless the bullying happens right in front of them or the victim’s friends inform the teachers.
3) Victims are terrified of retaliation if they report their bullies to a teacher. The fear of retaliation can be so great that they would rather suffer the daily mockery and beatings than take action against their bullies. They know the beatings would be far worse if a teacher found out.
4) Bullies choose the time and place to carry out the humiliation of their victims. They won’t do it when there’s a teacher or warden around. Or in a public place where there will be lots of witnesses. All the incidences of bullying and ragging I experienced happened when there were no wardens around. In boarding schools, ragging and beating are often carried out late at night after lights out when the wardens and other students are fast asleep. Tell me how is a warden supposed to patrol the dormitories at every hour? They need their sleep too as they are also teachers. How can teachers do their job if they’re tired from lack of sleep?
5) More often than not, students who are bullied do not know how to seek help. They do not know of the anti-bullying policies and procedures that schools have in place. Teachers can only help and take appropriate action when the victims come forward and make a complaint. Last year, I tried to help a few Form 3 girls who were bullied by a group of Form 5 girls. The Form 5 girls were extorting the girls for their pocket money. I informed the discipline teachers and they advised the Form 3 girls to make a formal complaint but because they were absolutely terrified of the ringleader (who was a real thug), they refused and there was nothing the discipline teachers could do about it. Discipline teachers cannot take action based on hearsay.
6) Sometimes, the victims do not even realise they are being bullied. Sometimes the bullies don’t see or think what they are doing is bullying. They think that bullying involves physical violence. Taunts, name calling and pranks are disguised as “jokes” and “teasing”. When confronted by the victim, the victim’s friends or teachers, the bullies would just shrug it off as jest. They’ll just say “Melawak je pun. Tak boleh ka?” And the victim is accused of having no sense of humour. This is why verbal, emotional and mental bullying can continue for a long time.
I myself had never reported the bullying and ragging I received to the wardens or any of my teachers. It never occurred to me to do so. Was there an anti-bullying policy and procedure in place at MRSMBP back then? I had no idea.
Part of me did not realise I was being systematically bullied by the girl. All I knew was that I hated what she did to me and I was deeply miserable. It was only as an adult that I realised what she did constituted bullying. If my father had allowed it, I would have returned to Convent School in Taiping.
As to my seniors who ragged me, I didn’t dare say anything to the wardens. I was too terrified of the seniors. As a junior, I was completely powerless. Besides, ragging was a culture ingrained in boarding schools back then and no one thought of questioning it.
Why do some people become bullies? Why does bullying happen? I do not know why. I am not a bully so I cannot fathom the depths of depravity bullies come from. Perhaps the root of their cruelty is envy. A deep seated envy and hatred for what they do not have and cannot attain. Or perhaps these bullies have been conditioned to behave nastily by the abuse they themselves had experienced at the hands of their own bullies. Their mentality is one of vengeance: “Dulu aku kena lagi teruk. Sekarang giliran engkau pula.”
To this day, I have no idea what spurred my “friend” on or why she enjoyed bullying me so much. I don’t know why she singled me out. I was not the only student from Perak nor the only girl fluent in English.
How has all this bullying and ragging affected me? Alhamdulillah it has not broken me. I am stronger, tougher and more resilient because of it. I am also kinder, more understanding and more empathic because of my experiences. I am staunchly against bullying and more perceptive to incidences of bullying. I am able to come to the help of students who are bullied and teach them to stand up to their bullies.
As a senior teacher and head of English, I treat my colleagues including junior teachers with respect. I don’t give out orders or make demands, I ask for opinions and ideas and together we come up with ways to work towards a goal. Personally, I despise senior teachers, administrators and officers who bully teachers.
I consider myself lucky because I survived my ordeal. Zulfarhan and Nhaveen did not. I pray their bullies receive the ultimate punishment for the evil crime they have committed.
What has happened to my tormentors? Do they remember what they did? I sincerely doubt they remember or even think about their ragging and bullying days. Like I said, they probably didn’t even consider what they did as bullying or wrong. It was all a joke to them. I was nothing but a mere blip in their lives.
A few years ago one of my friends told me that the Form 5 senior who ragged me came to her office. All glamorous and fancy but still very arrogant. The “friend” who bullied me is now a professor at a well-known local university. And I found out two years ago she did a dirty on one of our mutual friends. And she has never once apologised for what she did to me at school. I guess the old adage is true; a leopard cannot change its spots.
I recently saw an anti-bullying video titled “Video Raya Paling Sedih 2017” by ASA Production which has gone viral. It was deeply moving. The message of the video is that bullying doesn’t just affect the victims but also the bullies. This might be true in some cases especially Zulfarhan’s and Nhaveen’s bullies but not so for my bullies. They seem to have thrived. Never mind. That is their lot in their life. But who knows what their lives are like behind closed doors.
Whatever it is, I pray my bullies will receive their just desserts. I hope they feel the stress, sadness, misery and hurt they once inflicted on me. I quote Katy Perry in her hit single Swish Swish “Karma’s not a liar, she keeps receipts.”
A Survivor is an FMT reader.

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