I remember poring over the Starr Report in 1998. A special excerpt was published in the Washington Post and as a eighth grader at the time it served as the sex-ed class my school didn’t provide.
But what I most remember the most was the vitriol directed toward Monica Lewinsky, less for her actions than her actual being. Everyone from late-night comedians to leading feminists were vicious in their attacks against her. She was fat. She was ugly. She was Jewish. She wasn’t the type of girl you would risk having an affair with. As a Jewish girl concerned about my appearance and my weight, seeing someone who looked like me be so denigrated shaped the way I saw myself and how I thought the world saw me. (It also gave me a permanent fear of straightening my hair.)
Then like the rest of the world I moved on. Monica Lewinsky would pop up in the news once in a while as an aspiring handbag designer or reality show host, and more recently as a name check in popular rap songs.
When is a kid not a kid? Perhaps when he’s old enough to carefully set up his computer camera to spy on his roommate in the supposed privacy of their college dorm room, and use texts and Tweets inviting friends to watch a live feed of the roommate’s gay sexual encounter.
The roommate, Tyler Clementi, jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge a few days later. Dharun Ravi, who has been charged with invasion of privacy, bias intimidation and evidence tampering, is on trial in New Jersey. In closing arguments, his attorney defended Ravi as “an 18-year-old boy, a kid, a college freshman [who] had an experience…that he wasn’t ready for.”
Reading The New York Times account illustrates a serious problem: that an 18-year-old who has intentionally done such represhensible things could be reasonably described as “a kid” who didn’t mean it.
“Overindulgent parenting” has become a trope in popular culture and in scholarship, as outlined in this Lisa Belkin piece on the Huffington Post. And if overindulgent parenting means raising a child who doesn’t know the difference between right and wrong, and Ravi does not seem to, then he was overindulged.
Suddenly, on the heels of some high-profile teen suicides during the past year, we’ve realized that bullying is something we should be paying attention to. How it’s managed to escape our consciousness seems to be about “boys being boys,” or making kids tougher in the long run, or punishing and shaming gay kids into being “normal.” Lately, there have been press conferences, celebrity ads, studies, and initiatives, even from the White House, to bring to public awareness what a whole lot of people have learned the hard way.
I was not a fortified kid. I had no backbone for dealing with being teased, with having my chair kicked, with being stage-whispered about, so I quit Hebrew school in fifth grade — much to the lamentation of my mother, who swore I would regret it. I didn’t. Maybe sucking it up and staying would have laid the foundation for me to become a Talmudic scholar, but I doubt it. I couldn’t take it; I had to get away from those kids, even if it just meant postponing my encounters with them until I started high school in the same town. (By that time, we all seemed to have developed a certain amnesia about our previous lives together.)
I am one of those retrospective people who loves to reflect and analyze the events of the past 12 months at the end of each calendar year. So this weekend, while snowed in at my parents’ home in western Massachusetts, I set out to answer this: What were the top 10 moments for Jewish women in 2010? Here’s the countdown:
10). The “First Lights” of Women Rabbis Came Together To Light the Hanukkah Candles
Sally Priesand, Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, Amy Eilberg, and Sara Hurwitz, the first-ordained North American Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative women rabbis, and Open Orthodox rabba, respectively, gathered together for the first time to light the Hanukkah candles, to share their inspirational stories, to celebrate the progress that has been made across the Jewish movements, and to discuss what still needs to be done.
9). Keshet’s Pledge To Save Lives
Keshet led the Jewish community in response to a wave of bullying that drove a number of youths to suicide this year. The pledge is a commitment to ending homophobic bullying or harassment of any kind in our synagogues, schools, organizations, and communities, and a promise to speak out when anyone is demeaned for their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. There are currently more than 10,000 signatures on Keshet’s online pledge.
Bullying is back in the headlines, as it is all too often, with the suicide of a teenager who was victimized by her schoolmates. Nine of them were charged last week with felonies. More can be read about it in this Sisterhood post. The Sisterhood spoke with author Rosalind Wiseman, whose 2002 book “Queen Bees and Wannabees: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends, and Other Realities of Adolescence and the movie based on it, “Mean Girls,” crystallized in popular culture the notion of girls who bully and are bullied. Wiseman, the mother of two sons, ages 7 and 9, lives in the Washington, D.C. area.
Debra Nussbaum Cohen: What has changed about bullying in the years since you wrote your book?
Rosalind Wiseman: What has changed is that girls are being marketed to in a way that tries to make them act older, rather than to actually be more mature. They’re marketed at to be more adolescent in their dress and their attitude. What we need to do is teach kids to be more compassionate, patient and considerate, but the trend is trying to create kids with worst attributes of the teen years
It’s horrifying that a 15-year-old girl named Phoebe Prince killed herself after being mercilessly bullied by other high school kids in South Hadley, Mass. Horrifying, but sadly not unique.
Criminal felony charges have been filed against seven girls and two boys who are alleged to have been her main tormentors, but no adults are being held legally accountable.
The New York Times Friday ran a major Op-Ed about it, titled “The Myth of the Mean Girls,” which is entirely off the mark.
Authors Mike Males and Meda Chesney-Lind cite dozens of examples to illustrate that violent crime by girls has dropped over recent decades and to bolster their claim that “the wave of girls’ violence and meanness” is “mythical.” They ask, “why are we bullying girls?” and say that the media is using “isolated incidents to berate modern teenagers, particularly girls, as ‘mean’ and ‘violent’ and ‘bullies’ “
But they’re missing the point. It is fallacious to use statistics about the physically violent crimes reported to law enforcement to refute claims about the seriousness of verbal violence, or bullying. Bullying is usually neither physically violent (unless it leads to suicide) nor reported to law enforcement. But it is real, and as the suicides of too many young people show, can have devastating consequences.