One in Four…

Raising awareness about issues related to domestic & dating violence

Sexual and gender-based taunts: the new wave of bullying December 7, 2011

Filed under: abusive language,bullying,community education,gender norms — Women's Studies Intern @ 12:15 pm

Sexual double standards are alive and thriving, and now starting even younger than we would care to think. On November 11, Ashlynn Connor, a young girl from Illinois, committed suicide.  According to her mother Ashlynn was bullied for the previous two years. One of the preferred taunts by bullies was to call Ashlynn, age 10, a slut.

According to an article on LiveScience “slutbashing” has become a popular form of bullying for teens and tweens. Maureen McHugh a psychologist who spoke to LiveScience, defined slutbashing as labeling others as promiscuous or dirty. In the article, McHugh discusses how sexuality can be a sensitive and vulnerable subject for this age group as they are coming to terms with their sexuality. Labeling one another with terms such as “slut” and “whore” show the infiltration of sexual double standards into a younger audience. This double standard is the same which glorifies guys who have sex and shames girls who do. It is a tight rope without strict definitions; a girl must be sexual, but not too sexual. Faltering from this fine line often leads to being bullied and harassed.

While bullying is not done solely with sexual and gender-based insults, it is common. Teens that are homosexual are bullied three times as much as heterosexual students. Research into the topic shows that it is not so much the identity that kids have problems with, but the transgression of gender roles. During this time of development, tweens/teens are heavily policing one another in terms of gender and sexual identity. But the bullying is not kept to only nonconforming students. In a national study of 2,000 7-12 grade students, 48% reported they had been sexually harassed in the 2010-2011 school year.

Using sexual taunts and identity based insults as tools for bullying has potentially dangerous consequences. In the same national study, of the people who reported sexual harassment, 87% said it negatively affected them and between 25-37% said it made them not want to go to school.  Bullying is not a personal issue felt by the person being bullied. It is systemic and dangerous. And not only because of the risk of suicide. Kids who are bullied are less likely to perform to their highest ability in school and can have physical and emotional difficulties.

Ashlynn Connor is only the most recent in a string of teen suicides caused by bullying. In FVPC’s primary prevention program, Start Strong, volunteers go into middle school classrooms to discuss the topics of bullying and relationships. In the discussion of bullying, identity-based insults are covered specifically. An identity based insult is when a person takes a piece of someone’s identity to use as a put down. Volunteers discuss specifically how calling someone/thing “gay” and how calling someone a girl is problematic. Anytime someone attacks a fundamental part of you, which you cannot change, it creates tension and shame – two things one should never feel about being yourself.

Kids imitate what they see performed for them. When watching television, or talking with a tween/teen, make sure you are promoting healthy and positive examples. If there is bullying on a show you are watching, take a minute to talk about it. If you are prone to using gendered or identity based insults (like “gay” “retarded” or “queer”), think about how someone you care for might be hurt by their use.  If you hear someone else using them, talk to them about it. Bullying, like domestic violence, is a learned behavior, which means that the kids who are bullying today first saw someone else do it and get away with it.  Break the cycle.


The Damaging Effects of Using “rape” As a Slang Word June 8, 2011

Recently in Ms. Magazine’s blog  a blog post examined the complacency with which people use the word rape. Many of us have heard friends, acquaintances, or even family members use the word rape in a positive or lighthearted manner. For example, I have heard people playing video games and saying something like, “I’m going to rape you at this!”  This is expression is careless and insensitive at best and cruel and violent at the worst.  As the blog post points out, this usage of the word rape would not be met with horrified silence or outrage but laughter.

We often become desensitized to the actual meaning of a word because it is used frivolously and often. Words such as gay, queer and retarded have become socially acceptable slang words, despite the harmful effects that has on individuals who identify as queer or who have mental or physical disabilities.   The word “rape” is following suit, being used in casual popular lexicon on a daily basis. For the victims of rape, their sexual assaults are often some of the most traumatic and heart wrenching experiences anyone could ever go through.  To use the same word describing their assaults synonymously with doing poorly on a test or defeating an opposing sporting team by a large margin is not only insensitive, it’s cruel.   Regardless of intention,  using the word  “rape” casually reinforces the idea that sexual assault is not an important enough crime or trauma to be taken seriously.

By continuing to use the word “rape” as a slang term, we lessen the impact of that word as well as cheapen victims’ experiences. Rape should not be something that we condone in any way and continuing to allow this usage is perpetuating the idea that our society is okay with rape and violence towards women.

Anyone can help put an end to this new trend by being an active bystander and speaking up about being uncomfortable when people use “rape” casually. For more information please call the Family Violence Prevention Center at (919)-929-7122


Identity-based Slurs No Longer Acceptable in Sports May 29, 2011

Filed under: abusive language,bullying — Hotline Volunteer @ 11:24 am
Tags: , , , , ,

Recently, there have been several incidents of high-profile sports stars using identity-based slurs to attack fans and referees, primarily using anti-gay language. However, one of the reasons that this behavior is making the news lately is because the professional organization in charge of these sports are no longer allowing this language to go unpunished. Many professional sports organizations are making sure that it is clear that they will no longer allow and condone this sort of language from anyone associated with their sport.

One of the NBA’s most high profile stars, Kobe Bryant is a recent example of sports stars using gay slurs. During a game in April, Bryant was caught on camera calling the referee a “f**king faggot” after receiving a technical foul. Following the incident, Bryant issued an apology, but was still fined $100,000 for his words. Clearly Bryant’s experience was not a strong enough deterrent, because only this past week, fellow NBA player Joakim Noah was also filmed yelling the same slur at one of the fans seated behind him during the game and was later fined $50,000. Basketball is not the only sport that has seen recent attacks on gay people- Atlanta Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell was recently suspended for two weeks following an incident where he yelled homophobic slurs and made sexually suggestive motions toward fans who he thought were gay.

These types of identity-based slurs and attacks are completely unacceptable, especially because these sports stars are supposed to be role models. By using this type of language, it tells all the young men and women who look up to them that using identity-based slurs is acceptable. This is especially true with the case of Kobe Bryant, who is ranked as the 14th most powerful celebrity by Forbes Magazine and is one of the most recognizable names in sports. Mr. Bryant, who already has a very checkered history with a notorious rape case, issued an insincere apology following the incident, stating “What I said last night should not be taken literally. My actions were out of frustration during the heat of the game, period. The words expressed do NOT reflect my feelings toward the gay and lesbian communities…” Essentially, Bryant believes that because his words were said during the heat of the game, they should not be taken as an offense. Because that is how the world usually works, right? If you are in a heated moment and someone calls you a faggot, a slut, a whore or some other identity-based insult, it’s not offensive. Oh wait, no, that’s not how it works at all. Anyone who has been at the receiving end of an angry outburst where they are called names or insulted for who they are can tell you that those insults are extremely painful to hear, even if you “know” that the other person “doesn’t really mean it”.

The NBA and the MLBA are doing the right thing by fining these players and officials and sending a strong message that players are accountable for their words, even if they are said during a heated moment. However, these men have a responsibility to their fans and to the young people who look up to them to set an example of acceptable behavior, which identity-based slurs are clearly not.

FVPC discusses this in our Start Strong programming.  Start Strong is primary prevention education for middle schoolers about violence prevention and bullying. One of the things that we try to teach is that insulting someone based on identity, such as using a sexist, homophobic or racial slur is not just insulting to that person, but to the entire minority group. Insulting someone based on their identity or perceived identity is bullying.  To have role models setting an example to the young people that look up to them that this is okay in a high pressure situation is an unacceptable lesson to be teaching. Hopefully, the examples of Bryant and Noah will be a deterrent for future sports stars to chose their words carefully and refrain from using vicious insults during high pressure moments.