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Fandom is not high school.

All schools, nowadays, have anti-bullying policies. Not all schools enforce those policies well, but they all have a formal and public set of rules against bullying. Those rules are enforced by teachers wielding detentions and exclusions, who usually also try to promote positive behaviour and to work with kids to actively combat bullying. In schools, it is a complete and absolute given that bullying is bad.

Of course, in the adult world, it's not so easy. There are no teachers out here wielding the detention-stick to make us behave. In a community of adults, we control our own moral choices. We cannot rely on some outside authority to rein us in, or rescue us, or draw lines for us and tell us not to cross them. We are adults, and we must make those choices for ourselves. We are responsible for our own actions, for the harm we do and, of course, the goodwill we spread. We cannot, as adults, pass the blame for our actions to others, cannot say: the teachers are oppressing me, or I'm fighting the system, or it's so not on that I can't say what I want or if it's so bad, why didn't you stop me?

It's scary, and it's easy to slip back into petulant adolescent ways. The vast majority of us, however, are not children any more, and we shouldn't confuse a safe space with an irresponsible space. Because schools have a lot to teach us about how to tackle bullying. A school reduces bullying by openly addressing and discussing the topic, by making it clear how much harm it does and what is it. You identify the places and times where it takes place, and set up safe spaces in response. You counsel and support the victims, often through peer mentoring, and you work with the perpetrators to change their behaviour (as a form tutor, I do a lot of this, at a very low-level, trying to stop little squabbles and dislikes from growing into something nastier and more persistent).

Most importantly, though, you do everything you can think of to make it unwelcome to the whole community. There will always be bullies, because people have so many reasons for doing it. Bullying is a form of power and control and it will always escalate if it goes unchallenged. Bullying is a social behaviour, designed to shore up the bully's own status and power and secure their own place in a community (this, I think, is why so many victims find their friends vanishing through fear of association). The people whose behaviour you have to change are the people who stand and snigger, the people who watch but don't speak up, the people who turn their backs and think thank God it's not me. A bully's cruelty will always hurt, but with no audience, their power is reduced in their own eyes. Without Crabbe and Goyle, Draco Malfoy is just a frightened little boy.

I looked up some of guidelines for schools on bullying while I was thinking about this post, and I thought I'd repost them here. These are the official learning directives in the UK for primary schools, nabbed from which has all the official documents on this issue.

Years 1 and 2 (age 5-7)

• I can tell you what bullying is.
• I can tell you some ways in which I am the same and different from my friends.
• I am proud of the ways in which I am different.
• I can tell you how someone who is bullied feels.
• I can be kind to children who are bullied.
• I know that when you feel sad, it affects the way you behave and how you think.
• I know some people in and out of school who I could talk to if I was feeling unhappy or being bullied.
• I know what to do if I am bullied.

Years 3 and 4 (age 7-9)

• I know what it means to be a witness to bullying.
• I know that witnesses can make the situation better or worse by what they do.
• I know how it might feel to be a witness to and a target of bullying.
• I can tell you why witnesses sometimes join in with bullying or don’t tell.
• I can tell you some ways of helping to make someone who is being bullied feel better.
• I know that sometimes bullying is hard to spot, and I know what to do if I think it is going on but I am not sure.

Yeah, fandom isn't high school. Sometimes it isn't even elementary school.

So, what to do with all this, with the responsibility of being an adult and the wisdom we can learn from school? I'm not sure. I wanted to ask people to speak up, but I know the awful scars it leaves and how painful and hard it can feel to have any extra demands made of you when you've already been hurt.

I'm going to leave this post public, because I know most of the hurt about this issue is, understandably, locked away. To be honest, although I've been around for years and know how friendly it can be, I'm not active enough in fandom to care if people shit on the floor in here (although if they do, please respond as adults - make icked-out faces at the screen, tactfully approach the perpetrator via a private message if you know them, and no shaming. Ad hominem attacks will also bring out the teacher voice and the banning button - discuss the issues, not the individuals). Those reasonable constraints aside, please feel free to comment, link, debate.

Finally, a pledge:

Bullying is wrong. I will not tolerate it in this journal. If I believe that someone I know is engaging in bullying behaviour, I will engage with them about their behaviour, either through a gentle challenge, a more detailed private message or, if all else fails, by defriending. I will not support, either overtly or tacitly, any behaviour which is designed to undermine, denigrate or humiliate someone on any grounds.
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December 2012

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