It seems that very few weeks pass, during some periods just days, when we hear about the significant problem of bullying amongst young people, particularly those who are LGBT or deemed as such by their peers. With projects such as Dan Savages ‘It Get’s Better’ project, we find ourselves telling young people to hold on, regardless on how harsh life seems, how misunderstood their peers are, they should wait it out as life will get better; they may even end up working for Google. I refer to this as despite the noble effort being made, to an extent it diverts attention away from something else that we should be trying to do; evaluating the causes of and factors that contribute toward bullying.
Given the current discourse surrounding bullying, it’s easy to focus on bullying as something that solely affects LBGT or perceived LGBT young people, but bullying occurs for a numbers of reasons and to a wide variety of people; young people, older people, LGBT people, straight people, people of different ethnicities, people with disabilities and people without. To explore this problem, we have to remember that very few people are immune to this problem.
When discussing bulling as of late, namely that affecting LGBT people, the most apparent cause of bullying is one stemming from social stigma. Social stigma is defined as, “ the extreme disapproval of, or discontent with, a person on the grounds of characteristics that distinguish them from other members of a society” it is, in essence, disapproval as a result of people being perceived as different from the norm. The idea of difference is something I shall return to as different is a tool that is often used to validate ill treatment. When people are viewed as stigmatised, they are often excluded from other groups and marginalised.
Stereotyping is something that we all, at some point, fall prey to. A stereotype is “…a fixed, over generalized belief about a particular group or class of people.” (Cardwell, 1996). In the media we often see certain groups depicted in a particular way, which can lead to certain assumptions. For instance, coverage of the London riots of 2011 of even the Broadwater Farm riots of 1985 could lead to believe that Black people are intrinsically violent. Media representations could also lead people to believe that black people are intrinsically unintelligent, Jewish people are tight with money, middle eastern people are terrorists, all Asian people are geniuses and so forth. Negative stereotypes are often used as a basis for bullying that is racist, ableist, sexist and homophobic, as a result, an exploration of the falsity and limitations of stereotypes should be highlighted in discussions about bullying.
Bullying is something that can often occur on a group level as a result of people wanting to feel good about the groups one belongs to. Every group that one belongs to is known as an in-group, this can be their school, the football team they support or their family. On a larger scale this also includes ones ethnic group, their nationality and their sexual orientation. For every in-group, there is an out-group, or multiple out-groups; the groups one does not belong to. Psychologist Henry Tajfel found that even the perception that one belongs to an in-group could lead them to discriminate against a perceived out-group. In the realm of bullying, to make one feel good about their perceived in-group, members of a group may bully members of their out-groups to gain a sense of self-esteem. These groups can be based on any level of perceived difference.
There are a number of factors that cause and can be later used to validate bullying, and when we look at bullying we should take a holistic approach when doing so. There is no simple solution but to approach one, it is necessary to look at inclusivity, stereotyping and the perceived differences between the bullies and the bullied.