Back in the late-80s through early-90s, I was a scrawny little, nerdy thing with braces and glasses. I had always been this way, but there was something about middle school and high school that made other children notice my puny geekiness even more. I was teased, called names, and even had a girl or two threaten to fight me for daring to say that someone who verbally harassed me was a “bitch.” Sure, I was bullied, though not to the extent that kids today are. And I am also ashamed to admit that I am pretty sure (thought I can't remember), there was probably a kid or two who I gave as good as I was getting [though I doubt I ever threatened to fight anyone — when you weigh 70 or 80 pounds, it's just not a smart thing to do…]. At some point by the end of high school, no one really seemed to care that I was 90 pounds at 5'7″ [with the exception of (1) this overweight girl who used to call me Olive Oyl every day; and (2) my friends who would get visibly upset watching me scarf down enough lunch for two people without putting on a single pound, while it was all they could do to keep their weight in check], a complete drama geek, and vice president of our chapter of the National Honor Society. Nor did anyone care that I didn't have a cool bone in my body. By college and law school, I was actually (gasp!) one of the popular gals. With all those traumatic years of middle school and the beginning of high school far, far behind me, I thought I had long left the days of bullies. Boy was I ever wrong.
I was reintroduced to the world of bullies shortly after becoming pregnant with Pop Culture Toddler. I joined a parenting message board. Although my time on that site was generally wonderful, and I have made some great and hopefully lifelong friends out of the process, I also witnessed behavior that I thought was left behind junior year of high school. I was pregnant with Pop Culture Toddler during an election year. Now, politics and pregnancy hormones generally don't mix as it is; however, some of these ladies took things to the extreme. I witnessed a now-friend of mine (a lovely lady who I have hung out with in person a number of times, who I know to be a loyal and generous friend) called “terrorist,” simply because she is Muslim. There were a few girls on one of my expecting boards who prided themselves on being the Bad Mommy club, who would pick fights with other moms just to entertain themselves. When the admins cracked down on the drama on our board, they started picking fights with other expecting months and even a competing website. I also witnessed one crazy mother on my other expecting board who, in addition to bragging about throwing a television set at her husband, constantly harassed other mothers, called one mother the “N” word in her “happy birthday” message, and made comments about vile things (which I will not repeat) that she did while looking at pictures of our children. I have also seen people come to board designated for blended, bi-racial/multi-ethnic, and (unofficial) LGBT families and make either racist, bigoted, separatist or homophobic comments, just to get their jollies. I have seen all of this by people who are allegedly there to have support during their (or their partners') pregnancies and life as parents. Yes, these crazy people (assuming the majority of them weren't true trolls) are raising children. Sad.
This wasn't the end of it. As a Featured Blogger on that same website, I would often get comments from people who apparently had nothing better to do with their time than pick on the bloggers. Although I have always been that mother who maintains that things I do and advocate are what's right for my family and my family alone, I would get several comments either accusing me of thinking I'm “always right” or just outright attacking me for things I did — very personal parenting choices. Whether it was my decision to practice attachment parenting, following my pediatrician's advice for calcium substitutes for my milk-allergen carrying kid, my husband's and my decision to pierce our infant daughter's ears, or my choice to breast feed in public, there was always some parent (not always women, mind you) who had something snarky and hateful to say.
I saw my other mommy friends attacked, too. One of my friends was attacked for daring to enjoy a vacation with her husband while her in-laws watched her children. Recently, I have watched with horror as one of my dearest friends gets attacked on a constant basis. In some cases, we know or at least suspect who some of these cyberbullies are. In others, it's the same sort of cyberbully who attacked me — idiots who think that the anonymity provided by the Internet gives them free license to be hateful. I have even recently heard the case of one mother who was basically attacked as an “accomplice” in her child's accidental death, while his pictures were stolen off her blog and co-opted as a poster child for their cause by the same group attacking her. It's all immature, deplorable behavior.
Now there's nothing wrong with expressing an opposing view, but there is something wrong with being hateful and ugly in expressing that view. Not to mention, it gets you nowhere.
This is why I was so glad to hear about the Mommy Blogger Pledge. It's time for bloggers to take control and bring civility back to discourse. Sure, we cannot control the actions of others, but we can take control of how we react to it. I can't stop someone from calling me names or harshly criticizing my actions, but I can choose not to engage in similar behavior and to delete the offending comments before a comment thread gets out of hand. I will not feed the trolls.
If we want to teach our children that bullying is wrong, it's important that we set a good example. If you have a blog, I invite you to take The Pledge, and if you don't, I implore you to consider The Pledge when leaving comments on others' blogs.