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Ask Dr. Laura vs. Ask Dr. Susan: it’s feminism that’s to blame for my kid’s bullying, right?

Once again, I’m going to be tackling some advice that Dr. Laura has given (taken from transcripts on her website), and look at it from a different, less awful perspective.

If you would like some similar not-awful advice, ask me! I am all-knowing. Except when I’m not. But mostly-knowing.

The question: “As a parent and a teacher (currently a stay-at-home-mom), how do I explain to a child when and how they should defend themselves when they are being harassed or physically hurt by another child? When I was teaching, there were several incidents in which a child trying to defend himself got in trouble (and the bully did too). How is that possibly fair? I just want to do the right thing and need your help.”

Dr. Laura’s response: “I worry about the demasculinization of the males in our society on so many levels: the feminist movement, calling everything masculine somehow sick and horrible and beneath what is really human and wonderful, and the schools which consider defending one’s self or someone else the wrong thing to do and punishable. But, whether you are male or female, that is really a stupid consideration and this is what I tell parents: I don’t care what the school rule is, you tell your children and you teach them how to do it; you put them in a class where they can learn to fight and protect themselves. 

The first thing they learn is how to avoid it. If you can’t avoid it, take care of it quickly. So, you tell them, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but names can never harm me.” If someone calls you a name, you tell your kid just laugh in their face and walk away. Somebody lays a hand on your kid or someone else’s kid, you tell your kid, they started it, you finish it and I’m going to teach you how to finish it. And, don’t worry about getting in trouble at school, our attorney will take care of that. 

There is no place in this land where you are not permitted self defense except in public schools and I don’t think that’s the training ground to teach people not to protect themselves and not to protect other people. I think that’s counter to everything that is American. So, my boy came home once from middle school and said, “I got in trouble at school. I was in a fight.” I said, “Who started it?” He said, “This one boy hit this other boy.” I said, “Well, who finished it?” He said, “Well, I kind of did.” I gave him a high five and took him out to dinner. My husband went and dealt with the school (I think he was afraid to send me. I don’t know why.).”

Oh, for fuck’s sake.

Before we get into the heart of the issue, I need to make it clear that the feminist movement in no way calls everything masculine sick and horrible and beneath what is really human and wonderful. In no way. Absolutely, 100% not.

Picture from http://deadwildroses.wordpress.com

I have to wonder if Dr. Laura really thinks that the feminist movement is about hating men, or if she is hamming it up for the cameras. Without the feminist movement, Dr. Laura would not be able to have a successful career. A part of me hopes that she chuckles to herself every night and thinks, “wow, I’m a good performance artist.” The other part of me hopes that she doesn’t, and that she’s truly as ignorant about feminism as she portrays herself to be, because it is really diabolical to spread this bullshit around when you know better.

Feminism is not a dirty word. Feminists don’t hate men. Feminists believe that women should have equal rights and equal opportunities. There is nothing in feminist beliefs that is going to force a boy to be less masculine.

As to the actual advice: the thing is, schools can’t have a policy that it is okay to be violent in self-defense, because to a kid, everything is self-defense. Furthermore, any fight would boil down to a he-said-she-said, and you know who gets all sorts of witnesses to vouch for them? Bullies. You know who doesn’t? The unpopular kid who is already getting bullied. A policy which pushes teachers to decide which kid is allowed to be violent and which kid is not is a terrible idea. While that might set up kids to be supported by teachers when they are being bullied and fight back, it more likely would have the opposite effect, and then the bullied kid is bullied and punished, while the bully walks away.

To tell a kid that you don’t care what the school says about violence, that they have your permission to fight, is playing with fire. For one, kids are not great at deciphering social situations, and what seems obvious to you (if somebody lays a hand on you) may be less so to a kid (what if somebody is disrespecting somebody’s mother?). For another, you could be setting your kid up for getting hurt by engaging in violence. Third, what you are saying is that you do not respect the rules of the school, and you therefore undermine the authority of the teachers and administration.

There is also the issue that not every kid wants to fight back. Using language like “finish it” can be detrimental to your child’s psyche, as they realize that they are not only feeling powerless at the hands of the bully, but they are made to feel ashamed by their own parent at their inability or lack of desire to be macho.

Dr. Laura does have a bit of good advice in there. Teaching kids to avoid confrontation, and to try to let the bullying roll off their backs, is the right thing to do. If a kid can figure out how to not be bothered by the bullying, the bully’s power is diminished. Further, enrolling kids in a self-defense class is a great idea. It can give your child more self-confidence, which in and of itself will help with the bullying. It may reduce the harassment as well, as other students realize that your child is able to defend him- or herself.

It is a tricky situation when you are imagining your child being beaten up. Of course you want them to be equipped to defend themselves. But at the same time, giving your child a license to be violent when they deem it defense is opening a can of worms that can be difficult to close. My advice is to enroll your child in self-defense classes, to talk to your kid about their relationships with other kids in their class as well as with their teacher, to be willing to go to the teacher if things seem amiss, and to encourage your child to ignore or avoid confrontation when possible. Telling the child that you expect them to “finish it” is teaching them to disregard the authority of their teachers, to turn to violence when things get tough, and to see their peers as enemies, as well as belittling the importance of communication.

As for the time when your child came home from school after being in a fight: of course he said that somebody else started it. Of course he did. What was he going to say? “I beat somebody up at school today for no reason.” What you have shown him with your conversation is that violence is okay as long as he thinks it is justified. Which may be why that whole gross incident with the MySpace page came up. Maybe instead of teaching kids that they should turn to violence when they think it’s appropriate, communication and confidence-building would have taught your son a more appropriate lesson.

By Susan

I am old and wise. Perhaps more old than wise, but once you're old, you don't give a shit about details anymore.

9 replies on “Ask Dr. Laura vs. Ask Dr. Susan: it’s feminism that’s to blame for my kid’s bullying, right?”

For years, I agreed with the notion that fighting back was an excellent idea, mostly because when I was four years old, I can recall my big, strong, daddy telling me that if anybody ever hit me, then I better beat their noses bloody and I wouldn’t be in trouble, he would take care of the school board. So of course, I wanted that kind of approval from my dad, luckily, never needing his services. What prevented me from engaging in fights on my own was that I was one, non-confrontational, and two, nobody ever teased me enough with words to the point where they decided to punch me. I certainly was TEASED – and I either stuck my nose in a book or responded with witty comebacks of my own.
Last year, my brother entered middle school, and boys seem to live in a very different world. He also had been provided with the same axiom and soon enough, a boy decided to punch him in the face, and my brother busted his lip in one shot immediately.
For a brief moment, my mom, dad and I were proud – he had done exactly what he was told. But there was a whole mess to deal with very soon after – the teacher hadn’t been present so a young teaching intern had only noticed what was going on when my brother threw his response and thus fingered him as the aggressor. They both received ISS and even though the school administration appeared semi-sympathetic, they did not acknowledge a difference between my brother and his bully. There was also a fear that the boy’s mother would sue, thankfully, that didn’t happen because my parents could not possibly survive legal fees required to respond.
Benefits did result; nobody bothers my brother at school, and he achieved widespread adoration by his peers for a the rest of the year (luckily, young minds move on quickly, and he now has to earn his friendships by being a good kid, not just riding the wave of “I beat up the jerk” or else I would have to worry about his sense of morality). I agree now, that telling your child to just fight back isn’t always the best advice. My parents were lucky. They raised two students who were focused on school and were relatively non-confrontational and had some sense of maturity. Other kids, simply lack the maturity to prevent themselves from putting themselves into a poor situation and will engage in what they believe their parents want. Great article, I agree.

Beautiful article.  Learning the difference between appropriate and inappropriate violence is difficult enough for adults; to expect children to fully understand and try to boil it down to some kind of black-and-white doctrine is ridiculous.  It perpetuates the idea that all of the bad kids are in in other peoples’ families and our own kids can do no wrong, which leads to a deterioration in our sense of community and propagation of separation on cultural, class, and financial status lines.  It would be awesome if Dr. Laura had the wisdom to teach her children, and by proxy all of her readers’ children, how to understand what makes a bully who they are and how to find ways we might try to bring them into the fold.

My mother gave me express permission to to clobber anyone who made fun of me. My brother took advantage of this right away; I waited a couple of years. But once each of us did it (my brother punched someone; I shoved a girl over in gym class) we got left alone.

So, um, I’m not completely anti-fighting back. But that’s not a gender/feminism thing so much as it is that the teachers didn’t do anything to help and they didn’t listen to my parents pleas so there wasn’t any other option.

My parents put me in karate classes when I was in third grade because the neighbor kids were constantly bullying me. We learned that you DO NOT fight, ever.

Also, I love that the OP was very careful to avoid gender pronouns but Dr. Laura immediately jumped to “why can’t boys hit people?!?!”

Thanks, KellsBells. I actually struggled with that because I can imagine take-a-stand times – if there is a school policy that says girls can’t play football, for example. But I think that kind of situation would/should be dealt with between adults first and foremost.

I do so enjoy reading your articles, Susan.  The idea of parents instructing their children to willingly break the rules because resorting to violence is the right thing to do?!?!  How, as you so eloquently pointed out, is the child supposed to discern when it’s right and when it’s wrong?  For fuck’s sake, indeed!

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