Bullying: A year after Pottygate

Wow, I got some new readers lately! It's not just me inflaming my trolls or having the odd success with murdering the Elf On The Shelf. We're quite a family here. Welcome! Now is also the one year "anniversary" of sorts of something really crappy (a pun! stay with me!) that happened and now's as good a time as any to address it. If you didn't know this about me, I'm pretty staunchly against child abuse. Not that anyone is necessarily for child abuse, but I'm one of those people who forgives and loves and finds the humanity in every individual on earth - except for child molesters. For them, hell is too good and I don't even know if I believe in hell. I also don't really subscribe to religion. Hey, wait, where are you going?! I thought we were a FAMILY!

What happened last fall was I wrote about an unorthodox practice at my daughter's co-op preschool where the volunteer parents are tasked with taking a child to the potty, one-on-one, in a secluded bathroom. Something didn't sit right with me and I'll admit, it was the volunteer dads that bothered me. Men in a ladies' restroom? My two-year-old was in that gray area: out of diapers, but not big enough to go to the bathroom all by herself and my gut pinged the situation as suspect. I did a little research. Apparently at every preschool I checked (and day care center for that matter) it was standard policy that no adult is ever alone with a child, in the bathroom or out. It's just too much of a liability. And every public building with more than one bathroom stall backed me up: Ladies go in the ladies' room. Men go to the men's room. (With the exception of taking their own small children, of course). I asked the school administers to see to it that my child only be taken to the bathroom by staff, not the other parents. For the record, because this has been a point of contention, I did not ask the school to change their policy nor did I ever threaten or lobby or escalate the situation in any way. It was all very peaceful and simple in real life. On the Internet, however, the canary was just starting to sing.

I blogged about my problem with the volunteer men on baby girl potty duty, used a later-contested statistic from a book by Abel & Harlow and a shit storm that continues to this day began. It started as online attacks from a "rights" group, then a package arrived at my home, I received threats of bodily harm and along the way an under-informed person in my family harboring petty grievances actually joined in the milleu and as a result, some fractured relationships became permanently severed. I moved. I continued writing. Astonishingly, my marriage is intact (to be honest, I can't say how I would have reacted it if my husband had inadvertently invited this threat to our lives) and I am much, much stronger for the experience.

I'm not always likable. I am a woman with opinions and a strong mama bear instinct. My perceived loftiness and willingness to put controversial opinions on the Internet happened to intersect with the agenda of this obscure "rights" group. Now that it's been a year since the debacle began (as recently as yesterday I continue to get hate mail) I'd like to mark the occasion with some thoughts about bullying. And what bullying isn't. It isn't the nice police.

Recently, a video went viral of a news reporter unleashing a tirade against a viewer who had criticized her weight in an email. She really let him have it. It became an anti-bullying champion video and everyone cried, "take that, bullies!" I agree the email was rude and anyone can see it hurt the reporter's feelings. But it was one email from a private citizen to a public figure, an email that in no way intended to harm or coerce the recipient. The recipient was more powerful than the emailer. It may have stung, but was not bullying. Let's quit diluting the word "bully" by applying it to news reporters who get criticism in a solitary email.

I will share my example of true bullying. This fringe "rights" group under investigation for hate crimes put my profile on a pseudo sex offender registry that includes a directly false narrative about me. (Having it removed would involve a lengthy libel suit I cannot afford). Bullying is when someone says they hope your daughter gets molested to "teach you a lesson" and hundreds of their friends agree and you watch conversations unfold on Reddit trying to pin your home address. And the location of your home is discovered by your bullies and you have to move away in order to feel safe again. My incident was written about in an intelligence publication that first named the Neo-Nazis as a hate group, The Southern Poverty Law Center (paragraph 19). That is bullying.

When you are bullied, you don't rant on television against your bullies. You are terrified to draw more attention. You don't go out of your house, you don't stop crying, you second guess yourself. You hate yourself. You are scared. A bully victim is repeatedly harmed. A bully victim is afraid for their physical safety.

If we're ever going to take action against bullies (school rules, legislation, regulation of the Internet) we're going to have to come up with something more concrete than hurt feelings. No one has an obligation to be nice. I've been told I have a big nose, that I'm insufferable and tone-deaf. Just last week my mother-in-law said my figure is "pleasantly round". The people saying these things are not bullies. They have criticism of me, some more valid than others. To be a functioning human being you have to be able to take a little bit of unpleasantness. I once had an acquaintance walk into my baby shower and say, "Jenna! You got so fat!" To call a spirited lady making a single comment a bully because she hurt my feelings dilutes the term.

Bullying is a real problem. Internet bullying is a real problem. My husband initially dismissed what happened to me last fall as an "internet problem". When your client calls with a grievance, you do not have a phone problem. When you watch your team lose, you do not have a television problem. People on the Internet, for all their exaggerations and photo cropping and shopping, are real people who, when angry and threatening, can scare the living shit out of you.

I'm cautious what I write now. Could they find me again? Sure. But now I have a rottweiler, an expensive security system and mace in my diaper bag. I have the Chicago Police on speed dial and email, as well as the FBI Internet Crimes Division. Oh, and there's my tall, wide, angry husband. I guess all I need is a tinfoil hat and automatic weapons.

So why do I write? And why do I write under my real name? As Michael Brutsch, who was exposed last week for creating Reddit forums such as ChokeABitch, Jailbait, PicsOfDeadJailbait (which invites users to lust after deceased underaged girls) and other such filth, is learning, you are who you are and you're accountable for what you say. Of course he spent five years contributing more than 20,000 pictures and links to stomach churning garbage and probably has a lucrative career in porn ahead of him and I wrote a single post about not digging dudes in the ladies room and gained a lifelong flow of hate mail, but the point is we are all accountable. I do make mistakes and what I believe today might not be what I believe next year, but to have any credibility for what I try to do right in the world, I have to show my face.

Off to make a tin-foil hat!


Unrelated, but as promised, here are pictures of the night stand I refinished:

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