“My Little Pony” Ethics, Blaming the Victim, and the Dilemma Of The Bully Magnet

Rainbow Dash...awwww!

Rainbow Dash…awwww!

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

Facts: WLOS

Graphic: Deviant Art

65 thoughts on ““My Little Pony” Ethics, Blaming the Victim, and the Dilemma Of The Bully Magnet

  1. Each further post on any related topic is noticeably more refined and sophisticated. I note how you anticipate most of the objections (especially false analogies) that have been raised before and would likely be raised again.

    Where’s the dad in all this?

    Also: who says the boy is even gay, for his mother to be making a gay rights statement? She’s probably just pissed her little boy is being harassed for liking something.

    • Sadly, what you have pointed out is how the daily time requirements of a blog lead to too frequently half-baked analysis that is only fully baked after more commentary, discussion and thought. On the bright side, that’s the point of the exercise.

    • The Dad? Good question. Either leaving the child’s upbringing entirely to mom (wrong), silently complicit (wrong), in another family and uninvolved (wrong), or hanging in the closet. (Sad.)

      • You left out the possibility of an anonymous sperm donor unless you are including that in the third option, but I would add the possibility that he’s uninvolved but not by choice. Since the mother is being a hard ass to the point of stupidity here, I wouldn’t be surprised if she had done so under the circumstances of a divorce or unmarried breakup.

        On a side note, the article says the school asked him to leave it at home. The petition suggests the school is forcing him to leave it at home. Any idea which is correct?

  2. I too did not realise that appreciation of My Little Pony outside of the target audience was particularly a gay thing, I thought it was more of a geeky / Internet-community thing (at least among the older fans). But I don’t have any evidence one way or another.

    • Today anything with rainbows is presumptively a gay thing. I also have been so told, but it is hearsay. There are apparently frequent inside jokes and allusions on the show, but I haven’t ever sat through a five minute segment, much less an episode. I’m a Teletubbies fan, myself.

      • Fair enough. Rainbow Dash is quite a tomboy too, which I suppose fits. I’ve only seen the first season and that was a while ago, so I’ve forgotten all but the rough details of the episodes.

      • Finnian’s Rainbow? I hope not…one of my favorite musicals. And my wife and three sons would never believe I’m gay.

    • No so much “gay” as “rather suspicious”, as it is a show that is targeted towards young girls – the 30 year old brony (male fan) shouldn’t be shocked at the suspicion.

  3. “Grayson’s right to use Rainbow Bright’s feedbag”

    Rainbow DASH! Gonna sic a Bronie on you.

    I especially like the wheelbarrow full of money analogy. It’s almost gotten ad-lib at this point:

    Yes, you probably should be able to walk down the street in full blown victim-to-be mode. But in reality, it probably won’t work out too well for you. Therefore, once you are a victim, we will prosecute your victimizer, and offer you condolences. But uh… have you ever thought of perhaps changing your actions to avoid unnecessary risks?

    Of Course not! You horrible victim blamer! We have an absolute right to do stupid things and not be called out for our actions! Don’t tell us not to be victims in waiting! Tell them not to victimize.

  4. 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.

    In an ideal world, a 16-year-old girl in Steubenville should be able to get drunk to the point that she is not aware of what is going on, without getting raped.

        • Why wouldn’t I? It wasn’t germane in the Steubenville case, as the attacks on her by the thugs that raped and defiled her were beyond any rational explanation. A woman or man getting voluntarily incapacitated is per se irresponsible; it does not invite rape and urination unless one gets drunk in a prison for the criminally insane.

          • There are some people who claim that girls and women taking safety precautions effectively place the responsibility for avoiding rape on girls and women. They ask why not teach men to not rape.

            While we must continue to reaffirm our legal, moral, and ethical traditions, and maintain the integrity of our criminal justice system, this does not obviate the need to take safety precautions.

  5. There seems to be a lack of good parenting across the board here. Yes, the parents should suggest to their son NOT to bring this lunchbox to school. (On a side note, I LOATHE this show.) But the parents of the bullies also are dropping the ball here.

  6. There’s possibly, I say possibly one missing piece of the puzzle here. What if this kid is an Aspergers person or has a similar problem where he doesn’t “get” why carrying a lunchbox he thinks looks nice is a problem? Building on that, what are your thoughts on mainstreaming kids with those kinds of issues whose behavior, especially problems “getting” humor and managing anger can make them magnets for problems? Is it more ethical to put them in a special needs setting, where their specific issues can be addressed but there might be a stigma attached after they are no longer school age, or to mainstream them and tell them to tough it out?

    I ask because I faced a situation similar before AS was even a diagnosis, and was told don’t do the things that attract attention, develop a thicker skin, etc., but in the end that was just coping with the problem until I was an adult and no longer in a setting where I was going to get slammed up against a locker during the school day or attacked while walking home. In my opinion if you don’t address the problem and leave it to the kids to tough it out among themselves, to some degree the resposibility falls on everyone else involved when a victim gets bullied once too often, decides he can’t get relief from the system, and hits back, sometimes out of proportion, and bad injuries result.

  7. 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 agree. One way of dealing with this is that he be forced to leave his bag at home, and the scrotes who attacked him be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, ending up with criminal records and being put in reform school..

    Or alternatively, that he be allowed to carry the bag, and they merely be expelled. A compromise.

    It seems to me that a compromise requires both parties to give up something, not “what’s mine is mine, what’s yours is negotiable”.

    • Or he us the lunchbox as a weapon like God intended and brain the first one to come within arm’s reach, and continue to do so until he is pulled of the broken and bloodied face of the tormentor.

      And then it all gets called a wash as someone defends themselves and everyone goes about their business.

      And he should continue until all the bullies need new teeth, or they learn to stop.

      This prissy bullshit about “oh, well they should just stop” is ignorance. Bullies don’t stop until they are MADE to stop, and they only respond to violence. Crush their barbarism with violence and they will learn valuable lessons, not the least of which is the amount of pain that is possible from a lunchbox swung by a young boy.

      Anything else merely delays and magnifies the problem. Stopping has to be the bully’s idea, you just help by administering pain.

      • Those are the combinations: stop bringing the bag while the bullies are properly punished (the kid will be bullied anyway, of course); bring the bag and have mom complain ad infinitum, so that for the kid school becomes about lunch bags, or teach the kid karate and boxing, and have him break the nose of his next tormenter. (HE’LL be suspended, of course.) Sometimes the old fashioned ways are best. Ralphie showed the way when he pounded Scut.

  8. Umm… what the Hell does the petition have to do with Obama? Change.org isn’t the White House’s petition site (that’s another one), and the petition isn’t going there anyway.

    • Yes, I got the stupid and pointless petition sites mixed up…thanks. I’ll correct it.
      Then again, what did Trayvon Martin or the Henry Louis Gates arrest in Cambridge have to do with Obama?

  9. I don’t know why but I don’t agree with you at all, Jack. It feels wrong to make him stop taking his colourful lunchbag. If it were only the mum wanting him to continue taking it to school even after he was bullied, then I would understand and agree.
    But if it is the boy himself, willing to face the crap, for taking the girlie lunchbag, then I don’t agree.
    Shame on the parents of the other boys…

    • Well then, tell me: would you think it wrong to tell your child not to walk around your neighborhood with all of his most valued possessions in his wagon? Because they are going to get taken, and he may get hurt. If he’s willing to lose it all, find. Let him go. Same with the lunch bag. he WILL get bullied, just as if he wore a dress. If it were my child, I’d tell him to leave the bag at home, and explain the facts of life.

      • Aren’t the comparisons you draw those between a negligent act (carrying any amount of money openly around in a wheelbarrow, if not stolen it could be carried away by a strong but not criminal gust of wind) and the simple fact that a boy likes his cartoon character and his classmates don’t…
        To call that provocative behaviour is just too much IMO.
        Now, Patricia Campatelli’s behavour on the other hand – I would call that provocative.
        And in that same blog entry you as good as quoted “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”.
        The bullies and their parents at Buncombe County elementary school are not the good people in this story.

        This isn’t good-natured teasing. If those boys don’t experience any kind of modification of their behaviour now that it could still make a difference, imagine what they’ll be like in college if they face an actual gay man.

        • It’s not too much for children to be aware of social norms and the kind of volitional conduct that will attract unwanted attention. Non-conformists have a long and interesting life ahead of them, and they need to learn the consequences of non-conformity. When it creates persistent discipline problems for the school, the school has a responsibility to point out that tolerance also needs to be balanced by avoiding gratuitous confrontation. This episode has been compared by some to a “heckler’s veto,” a comparison that rigs the argument. “I like My Little Pony” is speech, but it is hardly critical, significant or useful speech, any more than my shouting that my house is wide open and ready to be robbed. There’s a quote from one of the Home Alone movies where Kevin reminds an adult that peer awareness of certain 4th grade conduct will get a kid in big trouble. It’s something a kid needs to know.

          The post does not suggest that the bullies be unpunished.

    • Except it’s a fight for the mother to get him to go to school now. I find it highly likely that if it were up to him he would have just gotten a different bag by now, and the mother is using him as a pawn in this.

  10. And may I assume that Greta White does not want to swim off the beach in Amity because of the Great White that lived there?

      • Actually, I owe you an apology for the note. The only reason I posted it in the first place is that I had to re-read it several times before I figured out what had happened. Mostly, I was trying to figure out who Greta White was, say maybe a character in the movie. Dumb in several different directions on my part.

  11. It’s the school’s job to stop the part where they’re punching him and pushing him down stairs, full stop. They have no right to ask him to modify his behavior- if he’s not physically provoking a physical response, then it’s not on him to stop what he’s doing. If he’s running to the teachers because he gets called a mean name, then it’s time for someone to sit him down and explain that he can either deal with name calling or modify his behavior to get called fewer names.

    The physical part, though? Fuck the school if they have to tell students to stop being so punchable. This poor kid’s parents need to give him Scott’s advice. You only need to make one or two bleed before the rest realize you’re too crazy to play with.

    • They have an OBLIGATION to ask him to modify his behavior if it is trivial and involves minor sacrifice. It is the liberals’s fantasy that basic human nature can be repressed and altered. A kid who attracts bullies by acting eccentric should be told “If you don’t want to bullied so much, don’t be so eccentric, OR find a way to get popular or earn their respect while being eccentric. Or learn to fight. The school’s job is to solve the problem as painlessly as possible. So he can’t use his favorite lunch bag. As I said. Every setback isn’t Waterloo.

      • So, ship the aspies or other ASD folks off to special school? I know you don’t believe that, Jack, that’s the Michael Savage approach that says that autism is b.s. and the sufferer just needs to cut the act out and “stop acting like a putz.”

          • One: Rip isn’t the only expert on that topic who frequents this forum.

            Two: Asperger’s doesn’t exist. Even before it was giving the effective deathstroke by removal from official existence with the release of the DSM-5, the interrater reliability of the “diagnosis” was poor enough to render it meaningless.

            That being said, just about anyone on the spectrum is *going to* learn coping skills and strategies unless they’re totally sheltered (which leads to the problem of kids graduating high school or college totally unprepared for the real world). At the same time, they *can’t* change who they are, and the sort of bullying we get is… well, really, really awful (and traumatizing, and destructive to our futures).

            And that’s without getting into the fact that an obscenely large number of us get through high school *literally* not knowing what it’s like to be in a social environment where you are accepted as themselves.

            I should add that this goes beyond social norms. There’s a difference between disliking, ostracizing, or otherwise rejecting someone for a choice they make, and doing so for fundamental aspects of who they are.

            Rejecting an autistic kid for being autistic, rejecting a deaf kid for being unable to hear, rejecting a gay kid for not liking girls… is very different from rejecting someone for bringing a “girly” lunchbox to school.

            From a policy standpoint, there’s also a huge difference between a kid simply not being accepted by his or her peers and said kid being actively bullied, hounded, or harmed… but I’m getting off-topic.

            The sorts of “special schools” you mention are a trade-off of sorts. I semi-jokingly refer to them as “write-off” schools — because the people sent there are usually functionally written off as productive members of society. On the other hand, some kids *do* need a specialized environment to help them reach their full potential. For the most part, I think that kids with disabilities should be included in class — normal, mainstream classes — to the maximum extent they can… not just for their sake, but also for the sake of their classmates (who have to learn about the range of human differences *somewhere*).

            Anyway, I’m starting to ramble mentally, and need to do something about this headache, so I’m posting. If you have a bit more of a specific question, I might be able to address it.

            • Did I say Rip was the only such expert? I happen to know he has a great deal of experience in this area, personal and professional, and cares deeply about the issue.

              Also, “it” clearly exists, whatever you call it. The vote of a bunch of doctors doesn’t mean it does or doesn’t exist. Mildly autistic individuals who can’t read social cues, are unusually intelligent and tend to concentrate obsessively on certain topics are an identifiable group, especially in academia and the arts. It’s nice to have a name for them. I had to deal with friends and colleagaues who had these issues long before I heard of Asperger’s.

              • I have been trying to post this for a good while now — with “technical issues”. Apologies for the lateness.

                Psychiatric “diagnoses” aren’t ontologically things. They’re constructs — descriptive constructs, to be more precise. They have no existence other than what we give them.

                Put another way, it never existed in that sense even when the term was part of the official vocabulary.

                What it was was a description — one which is and was essentially meaningless. It was — and is — impossible to draw a meaningful distinction between “autism” and “Asperger’s”.

                As the joke goes — an “aspie” is an autistic who could speak when they were four.

      • The problem is that schools don’t have the time or manpower to properly explore nuances. It SHOULD be reinforced that someone doesn’t have the right to punch you down a flight of stairs, and if they do it because of your lunch box it’s their fault, and then punish the little JDs right out of school for assault charges if that’s what’s needed.

        Then you explain to lil Timmy the weird kid that sometimes people call you names, and you can either toughen up and deal with it or act less weird. There should be a line, where the school is in the right to say “Act less weird and people will stop teasing you, if you’re not willing to do that then they will probably keep teasing you” and in the wrong to say “sorry they are committing assault and battery, Timmy, but you’re a weird kid, and we can’t be bothered to stop them from beating you.”

  12. It’s never suggested we should actually teach kids not to be bullies by anyone but the victims parents. Why is that. Why are we such a callous hate filled society nowadays that doesn’t give a damn, that has no real morals. School staff are always too lazy these days to ever do what’s right.

    • Wildly broad, unfair and inaccurate assertion. There is more attention to the issue of standard school bullying from the media, school administration and parent groups than any time previously. But the conduct will never be eliminated, because it is a feature of the socialization process. It needs to be watched, but telling kids that they should behave as if the phenomenon doesn’t exist is irresponsible magical thinking.

  13. Jack the schools answer was make the boy pretend to be someone he’s not. That’s always the answer. They never hold the bullies to any accountability.

    • Not true. The focus has been on the bag, but the school has not neglected to do what it can to admonish the bullies. Who says the boy is defined by his girlie lunch bag? I went to school with a kid who picked his nose and and ate the snot. The bullies were all over him about that. Was that “who he was”? Was a teacher wrong to explain to him why that got him bullied, and to tell him not to do it?

  14. “…has a large following in the gay community?” You are very wrong on this one. A survey showed that 84 percent of Bronies are heterosexual. Why don’t you do some research before writing about something you know nothing about?

    • You do realize that there is nothing inconsistent in those two statements, right? The gay population of the U.S. is a lot less than 16% according to most surveys. The polling methods that produced a higher percentage than the 10% usually estimated were presumably not used in the MLP stats, so the 16% might well be higher….if it’s twice as high (as some believe the 10% would be if people were candid), then that 16% might really be 32%. I said a large following in the gay community, which is true. I didn’t say an exclusive following or a wildly disproportionate following, or that MLP only appealed to gays. I said large following, which my research backed up.

      Why don’t you pay attention to what is really written before issuing knee-jerk, unjustified criticisms?

    • Garbage. That would be true if the average reader here COULDN’T READ. What I actually wrote was “has a cult following in the gay community.” If I write that Bette Midler or Judy Garland “has a cult following in the gay community”, the clear meaning is that Bette Midler or Judy Garland have a cult followings in the gay community, not that only gays are fans of Judy and Bette, which is untrue (I’m fans of both of them.) It was obviously NOT my intention, because I am more than capable of writing what I mean. You, therefore, are ridiculous.

        • Diagnosis, not name calling. You are, as they say, welcome to your opinion, not to your own facts. A clear statement cannot be fairly or reasonably be said to have been “intended” to mean its opposite, and anyone who seriously asserts otherwise is cognitively impaired, or, if you prefer, a liar. Truth is truth. Moreover, you cannot have an “opinion” regarding what I intended when your opinion is inconsistent with the clear meaning of what I wrote. My knowledge of my intentions trumps your fanciful and unsupported “opinion” to the contrary. “Ridiculous” was kind. I suppose I could have used “jerk.”

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