Category Archives: Bullying

What a drunk-dialer revealed

A few years ago, I got an unexpected phone call from a stranger who used such a familiar tone and had such a common name that it took me a minute to realize he wasn’t any of a dozen casual acquaintances who might have my number.

The conversation went like this:

ME: Hello?
DRUNK DIALER: Happy Memorial Day!
ME: Um … happy Memorial Day?
DD: Huh-huh. Do you know who this is?
ME: No, can’t say as I do.
DD: Huh-huh. This is John. Huh-huh.
ME: John who?
DD: Huh-huh. You don’t know who this is?
ME: No, I really don’t. John who?
DD: Huh-huh. You mean, you talk to ALL these guys, that you’d know all these guys named John?
ME: I know a lot of people named John, but I’m pretty sure you’re not one of them. I think you have the wrong number.
DD: Oh, you know me.
ME: Really. Well, if I know you, then how did we meet?
DD: It was the other night. I think it was at a bar.
ME: I haven’t set foot in a bar in six years. You have the wrong number.

I hang up. Not five minutes later, Drunk Dialer calls back.

DD: So you really don’t know me?
ME: No, and I don’t want to.
DD: I know you know me. We were drinking, and —
ME: No. We were not drinking, because I don’t drink. I’m sorry, but you have the wrong number.
DD: Huh-huh. Are you bisexual?
ME: No. I am happily married, my husband is bigger than you, and if you call this number again, he’s going to kick your ass. *Click*

At the time, the conversation struck me as being a harmless annoyance. But in thinking about it now — in the context of national discussions about serial rapists, street harassers and mass shooters — I find it unsettling, because it’s full of red flags that reveal the same kind of self-entitled, women-owe-me-attention mindset that motivates the Elliot Rodgers of the world.

Let’s look at those red flags:

1. “You mean, you talk to ALL these guys?” How sexist do you have to be to expect me to justify my relationships to you, random caller?

2. “Oh, you know me.” If you’re so certain I know you but am pretending I don’t, that should be a pretty good clue that I don’t want to talk to you — so back off.

3. The second call. If a woman hangs up after repeatedly explaining you have the wrong number, there is absolutely no legitimate reason to call again.

4. “Are you bisexual?” Based on this question, I’m guessing a woman told him she was a lesbian so he’d go away, and when that didn’t work, she gave him a fake number. “I’m a lesbian” means “Leave me alone,” not “Keep trying.”

5. Stopping only after I mentioned my husband. Drunk Dialer didn’t respect a woman in a bar who did not want to talk to him. He didn’t respect a woman on the telephone who did not want to talk to him. The only thing he respected was the threat of a physical confrontation with another man.

Women should not have to justify our friendships, argue, lie about our sexual orientation, give out fake telephone numbers, or issue threats to deflect unwanted attention. We shouldn’t even have to say “No, thank you.”

If I’m busy or you seem weird, I’m probably not going to acknowledge you at all. And that’s OK. You are not entitled to a woman’s attention simply because you want it. Please keep that in mind and plan accordingly.


The effects of bullying, Part 3

This is the fourth entry in an occasional series on how being picked on as a kid influenced the sort of adult I turned out to be.

I have an extremely self-deprecating sense of humor. It comes in handy sometimes. It’s disarming. It can soothe fear, soften a blow, defuse anger, or help me relate to people when they need reassurance. But it can also be a liability, especially when I’m dealing with people who do not know me well and misinterpret my humor as flippancy — or worse, self-loathing.

In Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac, a man makes fun of the title character’s nose. Cyrano deflates his detractor by enumerating all the colorful insults the man could have dished out if he’d been smarter or more creative.

As a kid, I quickly figured out that if I pulled a Cyrano on a would-be bully, I could control the severity of the blow while taking the fun out of the game. If I beat a bully to the punch and said something funnier (and meaner) than whatever she was planning to say …

(H/T to the hilarious Luvvie of for the .gif.)


I was too small and weak to discourage bullies with my fists. But a battle of wits? Oh, bitch. You tried it.

I’m glad I found a means of protecting myself. And I’m glad I can laugh at myself, because frankly, I’ve done a lot of dumb crap over the years and probably would have gone off the deep end a long time ago if I couldn’t laugh it off. But looking back, it makes me sad to think about how I developed that ability.

It makes me sad to realize I have this sense of humor because a little girl spent most of her childhood inspecting herself for flaws and thinking up terrible things to say about them just so somebody else wouldn’t.

When you think about it, that’s a really effed-up thing for a little kid to have to do. And maybe it was OK for me, but it’s not OK for my niece, my nephews, my goddaughter, or anybody else. Children deserve better than that — and as adults, we’ve got to figure out how to make sure they have better.


The effects of bullying, Part 2

This is the third entry in an occasional series on how being picked on as a kid influenced the sort of adult I turned out to be.

I read an article yesterday about a nonprofit organization that picked up the tab for a 15-year-old girl’s rhinoplasty because she was tired of being “that girl with the big nose.”

My heart broke for her.

I very easily could have become That Girl With The Big Nose. I basically have the profile of an Afghan hound — all snout and legs and hair — and I was a spectacularly awkward child. I didn’t grow into my face until I was 23.

When I was a kid, a favorite game among some of the boys in my class was to pick an unpopular girl (frequently me) and pretend to have a crush on her. The ringleader would shower his target with wildly exaggerated compliments and over-the-top professions of love. The goal was to find a girl gullible enough to take him seriously, because what could be funnier than an unattractive girl mistakenly believing somebody loved her? That’s right up there with fart jokes and belching the alphabet.

I never fell for it. Instead, I learned to be deeply skeptical of compliments on my appearance, especially from men. I was well into my twenties before I could acknowledge such compliments without inwardly cringing, and I’m still not comfortable accepting them.

But in my skepticism, there was something else I never fell for, either: the sexist notion that my value depended on my appearance.

I figured out pretty quickly that once the pecking order was established, I would be considered the ugliest girl in our class whether it was true or not. But I also understood that looks weren’t everything — so while I couldn’t help being the Ugly Girl, I could make sure that wasn’t the sum of my identity. I was the Ugly Girl, but I was also the Smart Girl, the Feminist, the Journalist, the Artist, the Liberal, the Hippie and several other labels I chose for myself, and I was just noisy enough that people had to acknowledge them.

I hope our young rhinoplasty patient has a few other identities to fall back on, because if she doesn’t, “that girl with the big nose” is just going to become “that girl with the big nose who had plastic surgery,” and her detractors — having learned that she can be bullied into making life-altering decisions just to get people off her back — will find another excuse to target her so they can feel powerful.


The effects of bullying, Part I

This is the second entry in an occasional series on how being picked on as a kid influenced the sort of adult I turned out to be

One-on-one, I’m as extroverted as anybody you’ll meet. I can and will talk to anybody: judges, Hell’s Angels, presidential candidates, preachers, drag queens, strip club managers, cops, clowns, garbage collectors, gun dealers — you name it. I’m an old journalist. Talking to strangers is my specialty.

That’s why it makes no sense that I spent 25 years dodging large-group social settings.

One evening about a year ago, I had an epiphany.

I was working in public relations, and I found myself at a holiday open house for a local radio station. The girl who’d invited me was a lot of fun, and I enjoyed being around her, but I didn’t know anybody else, and I cringed at the thought of making chitchat with strangers all evening.

I sucked it up and put on my quirkiest scarf, hoping it might start a conversation or two. It worked, and I had several nice visits with several nice people.

Everything was going fine until I introduced myself to two women who were taking a tour of the station with me. The conversation was pretty standard-issue, but through their body language and the pointed pauses they inserted before speaking to me, these women made it clear they didn’t want anybody to see them talking to me.

I felt exactly the way I’d felt every time I made the mistake of striking up a conversation with a more popular girl in junior high.

A few weeks later, I was having lunch with my friend from the station, and I asked her whether she had any idea what I’d done to offend these women or make them uncomfortable.

“Nothing,” she said. “They’re just bitches.”


Every social event I’d ever attended suddenly came into sharp focus. In my mind’s eye, I replayed scene after scene, and lo and behold, they all looked exactly like that evening at the station: I made some polite small talk, and some hateful wench responded by going out of her way to make me feel as if I’d done something wrong by speaking to her.

I still recoil against the idea of attending a social event without a press pass and notebook. It still feels weird to me. But it doesn’t scare me, because I now know I’m not “terrible at parties,” as I’d long believed; I’m simply terrible at socializing with snotty bitches who have the emotional capacity of a 12-year-old.

I think I’m OK with that.


Bullying: Prologue

There’s been a lot of discussion in recent years about the effect of bullying on kids. I don’t know whether it’s gotten any worse since I was a kid. I do know its consequences have become more apparent, forcing adults to pay more attention to it and make a better effort to intervene when they see it happening. The issue has come up again on my Facebook timeline because a 15-year-old boy in my dad’s hometown committed suicide last month, citing bullying as the reason.

Beginning when I was 7, and continuing for the better end of a decade, I endured near-constant ridicule by my peers.

I don’t think it occurred to me at the time that I was being bullied. In the ’80s and early ’90s, a bully was someone who shoved you down or beat you up. People who called you names weren’t bullies; they were just a pain in the ass. (As a society, we took a while to figure out that sometimes a pain in the ass is a serious injury.)

Admittedly, my ugly-duckling phase was spectacular by any metric, and asking a bunch of immature brats to overlook it would have been a wholly unrealistic request — but regardless of the relative accuracy of their comments, my peers’ tactless behavior left scars, some of which I’m just discovering 20 or 30 years later.

For instance:

I am desperately uncomfortable in social settings that involve large groups.

I rarely trust people when they compliment my appearance — and if I do believe them, my first instinct is to deflect the praise.

I have an extremely self-deprecating sense of humor.

I don’t dance.

I cuss like a sonofabitch.

I would rather chew off my own leg than let anybody see my tears.

That last bit is why I am not particularly looking forward to the project I’m about to do.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to take a closer look at each of these battle scars — partly to satisfy my own curiosity about the shapes they took, but mostly because I’m sick of hearing about kids closing the book before they get to the good parts, and if the story of how I survived a decade of verbal attacks and grew up to have the world by the tail can keep even one kid from killing himself over somebody else’s bullsh*t, then I need to suck it up and tell that story, even if it means giving up some secrets I’d rather keep.

Stay tuned. We’re finna kill some dragons.