Nine-year-old Grayson Bruce likes “My Little Pony,” a long-running animated children’s TV show that has a cult following in the gay community. He decided to show his affection for the show by carrying his lunch in a “Rainbow Dash” themed bag featuring a popular equine character. Now some of Grayson’s fellow male students at the Buncombe County (North Carolina) elementary school he attends have stepped up their harassment of the boy as a reaction to his tastes in entertainment and accessories.
“They’re taking it a little too far, with punching me, pushing me down, calling me horrible names, stuff that really shouldn’t happen,” Grayson says. It’s not like he doesn’t understand why. “Most of the characters in the show are girls, and most of the people put it toward girls,” he notes. His mother complained to the school, and it says it is taking appropriate measures to deal with the bullies and bullying in general. It also told Grayson to leave Rainbow Dash at home, caliming that it is a “trigger for bullying” and a distraction. Mom, Noreen Bruce, objects.
“Saying a lunchbox is a trigger for bullying, is like saying a short skirt is a trigger for rape. It’s flawed logic, it doesn’t make any sense,”she argues, and insists that her son should be allowed to bring his provocative lunch bag to school, with only the bullies, not the bullied, being punished. Naturally, a Change.org petition has been launched in support of Grayson’s right to use Rainbow Dash’s feedbag. The petition* argues…
“Please sign and tell Buncombe County Schools that this decision tells Grayson that he is entirely responsible for the bullying and that is called victim blaming. Victim blaming has no place in a school’s response to bullying and Grayson needs to be protected from his bullies, not held responsible for their actions.”
“Victim blaming” is one of those self-contained short-hand arguments that conveniently by-passes reality. Yes, in an ideal world, I should be able to leave my home’s doors unlocked all day and night long, and never risk a burglary. In an ideal world where ethics reign supreme, I should be able to walk along the darkest streets of Washington, D.C. carrying money in a wheelbarrow, and never experience a robbery. In an ideal world, I should be able to swim off the shores of Amity with a slaughtered and bleeding chicken tied around my neck, and never fear that I will end up like the kid on the yellow raft in “Jaws.” And in an ideal world, I should be able to send my son to the fourth grade carrying a Barbie Doll, sporting the blush and make-up he enjoys wearing, in an “America’s Next Model” T-shirt, and know that bullies will leave him alone.
It is not, however, an ideal world, and this is one of the basic life lessons that the schools and parents have a duty to convey to children. Mother Bruce doesn’t seem to grasp that insisting on one’s rights while defying the more unpleasant aspects of human nature involves courage, sacrifice and the realization that provocative—not wrong, but provocative—conduct has predictable and often unavoidable consequences. Courting those consequences without being prepared to experience them is either naive, dumb, reckless, negligent, or irresponsible.
Young boys cannot be instantly transformed into politically-correct mini-citizens, made tolerant of peers who vary from the norm through edicts and threats. The human species, and the socializing process naturally encourages conformity; the rejection of non-conforming members of a group is hard-wired into our conduct, and has its beneficial, indeed essential features. Yes, bullying is not one of them, but the conduct is real, predictable, and like the conduct of the Great White in the waters of Amity, not to be treated as something that can be wished away, or clapped into oblivion like Tinker Bell’s peril.
The school should not order Graham to forgo his girlie lunch bag, but a request to leave it home is a responsible part of a valid institutional solution. Graham should understand that he will be making a choice that no 9-year-old should have to make. He will be allowing himself to be defined by a children’s TV show, when there is much more to him than that. He should be taught that if he learns how to become popular and influential without surrendering his values and character, he might be able to not only celebrate Rainbow Dash, but even to persuade other children, even boys, that there’s not anything wrong with that. He needs to learn that not every battle in life is worth going nuclear over, and that sometimes discretion is the better part of valor. He needs to learn that compromise, even when one is right and the other side is wrong, is a tool of any successful society, and any successful member of one.
I know the response to this from the petitioners: How is this different from demanding that gays stay in the closet so they won’t be harassed? Well, to begin with, being gay isn’t a choice, but carrying a “My Little Pony” lunch bag is. Being able to be oneself in an environment is important, but it has logical and rational limitations. Just as an employer may reasonable tell an attractive young woman in an otherwise all-male workplace to eschew plunging necklines and short-shorts, a school may ethically ask a student not to wave a red flag in the faces of the bullies there. It is also unreasonable to expect fourth-graders to act like adults and understand the virtues of kindness, tolerance and autonomy. How is this different from the right of a student to wear an NRA T-shirt? In those cases, it is the school administrators and teachers doing the bullying.
It is not blaming the victim to point out that he set the stage for another’s predictable misconduct, and that part of the route to ending the misconduct may be to avoid the provocation. I will, however, blame the bully’s mother for choosing to make what should be a relatively minor school incident into a cause celebre, turning her child into some kind of gay rights symbol before he’s old enough to know what that is. She is certainly incapable of teaching her son to pick his battles, since she never learned how to do it herself. This premature national exposure could have worse long-term consequences for Graham than any playground bullying.
*NOTICE of Correction: In the original version of this post, I mistakenly suggested that this the White House petition site. It’s not: I’m jumpy because the public increasingly believes that every problem, injustice or controversy needs to be addressed in some way by the President of the United States, and the current President is prone to think so too. Thanks to Alexander Cheezem for flagging my mistake, for which I apologize.
Pointer: The Blaze
Graphic: Deviant Art