The wolf and the lamb

By Legal Eagle

I am generally a pretty gentle person. The other day, my daughter found a spider in the corridor, and I guided it into a glass and tipped it out on the veranda. I have difficulty hurting things.

However, everyone has something which pushes their buttons. For me, it’s bullying. A British teenager has become the first Briton to be jailed for bullying via Facebook:

Keeley Houghton, 18, said she would kill Emily Moore, who she had bullied for four years at school.

On her personal page, Houghton wrote of her victim: “Keeley is going to murder the bitch. She is an actress. What a ——- liberty. Emily —-head Moore.”

Houghton pleaded guilty to harassment and was sentenced to three months in a young offenders’ institution. She was also banned from contacting Moore for five years. Apparently she sobbed in the dock.

Well, I’m glad she sobbed. What’s more, I hope that she thought about the ramifications of what she had done to her schoolmate (although the nature of bullies is that they lack empathy for others).

It’s times like this where I feel all medieval and think that maybe the village stocks should be re-instituted, and that some pelting with rotten vegetables would be in order, so that the biter is bitten, and feels what it’s like to be humiliated and scared.

I know that’s not very enlightened or forgiving of me. But you can guess from this that there’s a few people from high school who I wouldn’t mind pelting with rotten vegetables, even to this day. Just so that they’d know how awful it is to be publicly humiliated by one’s peers. It’s amazing – you think you’re a lamb, and then the inner wolf emerges…


  1. Posted August 24, 2009 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    Now LE where would the Greater Public School system be without bullying? 🙂

    I’ve never enjoyed hurting anyone altho’ I have. When growing up I had a big mouth and no fear. Lots of time spent down the creek fighting [insert name here]. I only ever really enjoyed it once.

    Nicholas Williams. English dude. Head and shoulders above me and always on my case. He knocked me over and held me down one lunchtime. But I turned tables and kept him there the whole hour. Cairo is very hot and Nicholas was very English, lily-white skin that did not tan.

    He had it coming. And Judo comes in handy.

  2. John Greenfield
    Posted August 24, 2009 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    I post on blogs using my real name to “keep it real”. But these “social networking sites” with all these anonymous people, particularly humanity’s vilest people – Year 9 Girls 🙂 are just too much, for even me! I want my god-daughter to close hers immediately. Message from her and her parents? “Fat Chance”! 🙂

  3. John Greenfield
    Posted August 24, 2009 at 2:28 pm | Permalink


    I detected it when I was in Year 11, and I even asked the Girl’s Counsellor/Mistress if I was right or just a sexist pig. She said, “a bit of both, I’d say”. 🙂 She said it is a well-known problem across the nation and beyond, for obvious volatile hormonal changes at that age.

  4. John Greenfield
    Posted August 24, 2009 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

    One of my best mates at school, Tracey and I were both prefects. We’d walk around the playground looking for people to pick up papers, go on detention, and such. She had what she called her “whore detector”. So we’d be walking around the playground, and she’d be making noises ‘tick tock, tick tock”. When we walked past a gang of Year 9 girls, she was burst into a fire engine siren noises. I asked her if she had actually skipped a few grades in infants school, and was in reality a Year 9 girl herself! 🙂

  5. Lang Mack
    Posted August 24, 2009 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

    What do they look like? can they be declared noxious?.
    I feel rather nervous about going to town on week days now.

  6. Dave Bath
    Posted August 24, 2009 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

    (Yeah, I’ll probably get castigated as an antediluvian troglodytic insensitive advocate of violence for this, but what the hey)

    I think that there is only one class of people that truly gets advantage from rules that prevent bullying between young kids: those who can be labelled with “borderline personality disorder” and “corporate psychopath”.

    Like many social skills, exposure at a young age (early primary school or earlier) is critical.

    Without learning how to handle bullies young (when to joke to deflect or defuse, when to threaten back, when to just wear it, when to ignore it, when to call in allies) , you end up with people who are easy prey for bastards in the workplace.

    It’s worth thinking about young primary school bullying (and fighting) differences between boys and girls when I was a kid. With boys, the unwritten laws (breaking them absolved a “dobber” in advance) were things like “no biting, gouging, scratching, kicking when down, going for the nuts, continuing once blood drawn, ….”.

    With girls, butter-never-melting-in-mouths (supposedly, along with “sugar and spice”), there were no such widely understood rules, so when catfights DID occur, they were absolutely filthy.

    Adolescent girls are pretty nasty – psychological bullying is rampant… and innocents haven’t learnt do deal with it in kinder or primary school, and so can be destroyed by it.

    So, perhaps just as there is war, and there are war crimes, perhaps “within bounds” bullying between young kids should be allowed to develop resilience and the skills needed to deflect or at least not be cut-to-the-quick by bullying. Of course, this also means that the line between “bullying” and “bullying crime” by analogy to war needs to be developed, and be developed reasonably… so that the skills needed later on in the workplace to deal with corporate psychopaths are in place.

    (And by the way, as to the year involved, my teacher father used to say the peak of nastiness got gradually younger and younger as the decades rolled by.)

  7. John Greenfield
    Posted August 24, 2009 at 5:13 pm | Permalink


    There is probably something in that. Haven’t girls started menstruating younger and younger since WW2?

  8. Yvonne
    Posted August 24, 2009 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

    My daughter was a victim of pretty vile kind of bullying in late primary.

    Took me quite a few months to figure out what was happening, because that something wasn’t right I knew.

    The school was pretty pathetic. ‘Zero tolerance’ eventually meant-on my insistent questioning-to ‘counsel the bully’. Made things truly horrid for my daughter then.

    We read Queen Bees and Wannabees together then . It was an eyeopener for her. It had all been done before by other people to other people. She could name all the ‘roles’ that the various participants played-including her own.

    It took the personal out of the equation for her and the bully lost all power to hurt her.

    The school rewarded the ‘reformed bully’ a few months later by naming her Class Captain for her ‘Leadership’ skills.

    That’s when I had fantasies of bombing principal’s offices etc.

  9. Posted August 24, 2009 at 9:39 pm | Permalink

    [email protected]: Wasn’t just the girls… he also taught at all-boys technical schools.

    [email protected]: Counselling works real well in most bullies…NOT. Threatening suspension gets a response from a typical brat of “yes please!” In other words, the only available options to schools can be seen as a reward by the budding sociopath. Personally, I reckon the only option that wouldn’t get schools into trouble is by having a special “selective entry” school… only accepting those labelled bullies by their normal school, and “sentenced” to a month there, doubling for every repeat offence at the normal school. They’d either learn from the more obnoxious of their peers how nasty they had been, or were going to end up in juvi anyway, in which case the “special school” would at least give them SOME survival skills.

  10. Genevieve
    Posted August 24, 2009 at 9:58 pm | Permalink

    Dave Bath: sorry to nitpick, but ‘borderline personality disorder’ is in no way equivalent to or commensurate with corporate psychopathy (if that’s what you’re implying). As hoary chestnut cliches of mental illness go, that one’s up there with schizophrenia = split personality.

    Severe bullying is, if anything, a potential contributor to the development of borderline personality disorder (among many other things) – I’m sure you can appreciate the cruel irony here.

    A little inoculation is appealing in theory – all that doesn’t kill you makes you stronger etc. However, in the case of bullying the dose-response relationship is probably an inverted U-shape, i.e. too much might make it even harder to deal with snakes in suits later in life than none at all.

  11. Posted August 25, 2009 at 1:28 am | Permalink

    Puberty has been getting younger in both sexes for a while — it used to be around 14-16 depending on gender, but now seems to be 10-12 and is tied to diet for both genders (we eat too much fatty food too young apparently). Lots of studies have been done, initially on girls but now guys as well.

    It used to be a good rule of thumb (speaking as an ex-teach) that year 9 was when girls were at their vilest and year 10 was when boys reached their vilest, but like Dave’s dad I noticed that dropping over time. In my last year in a classroom the horridness (including the horrid smell of large numbers of children who had not yet grasped the importance of BO killer) had coalesced around year 8.

  12. Posted August 25, 2009 at 2:03 am | Permalink

    I feel rather nervous about going to town on week days now.

    Don’t worry Lang Mack, their appetites tend to be cannibalistic.

  13. Posted August 25, 2009 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

    As someone whose had to deal with more than my fair share of bullies Dave and his opponents are both right. It does give you the capacity to recognize and deal with them if you’ve successfully dealt with them in the past.
    But it does scar no matter what.
    There are bullies who just have problems. But a lot of them are just arseholes and counselling is not going to work. A swift and regular kick in the yarbles is how it’s done.

  14. Posted August 25, 2009 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] is correct that borderline personality disorder and corporate psychopathy are not identical, but they both require intelligence, self-interest, insight into others (manipulative and acting skills), combined with a lack of care of (or even enjoyment from) the damage they cause.

    Her “U curve” idea is, IMHO, correct… both for the degree of the bullying and the frequency… but as the exact points for most good/least harm… I have no idea.

    [email protected] is correct (“Dave and his opponents” are both right”), although I’d not see it as opposition but counterpoint.

    I’ve dealt with those easily labelled corporate psychopaths (but don’t think it’s in the DSM, and certainly haven’t known anyone diagnosed thus to my knowledge), but have had to deal with the damage to myself and others from someone diagnosed with, among other things, borderline personality disorder.

    Genevieve is also correct to cast doubt on the label “borderline personality disorder”, although I’d say that until aetiologies are better characterized, it’s better to talk of the plural form (“borderline personality disorders”, as I do with “schizophrenias”, or “cancers” – there are many causes for each).

    If there are numerous aetiologies, a combination of natures and nurtures (and distinctive fMRI results in the frontal lobe when presented with moral situations don’t indicate whether those pictures indicate cause or effect of repeated network “training”), then it’s difficult to develop a single effective strategy to control/moderate a bully.

    The problem is that it is likely to be an intractable condition, the result of tens of millenia of bullying, both physical and psychological, giving selective advantage to the bully. Taking out easy “prey” can help consolidate dominance over others who are not so easy. And how often does jealousy determine a target to be “taken out”?

    It’s worth noting that some recent work (Jane Goodall’s, I think) on the nastier sides of chimpanzee behaviour documents extreme psychological bullying by females… including the murder and eating of children of the female viewed as a competitor.

    It would be little less difficult developing a successful strategy to extinguish greed.

    Obviously the corporate psychopaths do relatively well accumulating wealth (and this in turn increases the availability of mates). It’s also possible that the insightful but uncaring manipulators in
    non-work environments have increased reproductive rates: the deadbeat dad “Cassanova” sucking in one woman after another, the serially-partnered mother that offloads children to different fathers
    one after the other – but I have no data to confirm or deny this notion.

    So, if I’m correct, and there is an innate predisposition to bullying, and one that has given reproductive advantage in the past (and the difference in frequency of bullying strategies – physical/mental –
    between the genders might support this idea), then is it realistic to hope to “cure” bullies – or is the best option ensuring that everyone has a coping mechanism or adequate means of recovering from bullying?

    And if bullying tendencies can be blamed, at least in part, on the reproductive advantages of such behaviour, then to some extent, how do we view the bullies? (I’d imagine “natural” bullies behave the same way in both work and non-work situations.) Even with compassion for bullies as the partial victims of genetics, then does this alter any intervention to modify their behaviour?

  15. Caz
    Posted August 25, 2009 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

    Those former Year 9 girls are alive and well, vigorously moving from one target to the next, commonly found in their grown-up incarnation in the corporate world.

    Quite surprising to read the observant men here, as, most often, men in organisations are oblivious to the shenanigans and rampant psychological bullying perpetuated by women against other women in the work place. Although, in fairness, women are extremely sly in their bullying practices – “cat fight” is never ever the standard modus operandi.

  16. Tim Quilty
    Posted August 25, 2009 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

    Dave – I’d just give give the bullied kids handgus – they’ll sort out your reproductive advantages for you…

  17. Yvonne
    Posted August 25, 2009 at 8:24 pm | Permalink

    Legal Eagle and any parents with girls, I can recommend Queen Bees and Wannabees.

    My daughter read several chapters and role descriptions over and over until she didn’t need to anymore.

    It is a great tool to help identify what is happening and also allowed her to ‘rehearse’ beforehand actions she armed herself with.

    It is a shame there is not more pro-active work being done in schools, where kids are taught about certain kinds of behaviours and how others very likely wil respond. Bullying is played out in pretty consistent forms year in year out, only the actors change, not the roles.

    My daughter found indeed that when she spoke up in defense of another victim, the victim herself would actually turn on her. She figured out, with us reading through the book that this is understandable. It’s a survival technique.

    She went through years 8, 9 and now 10 as a very aware young lady with a wide circle of friends.

  18. Posted August 25, 2009 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

    Like Tim (who I know is being tongue in cheek) and LE, I do think there is a time and a place for a violent response to the worst female bullying. I did it myself at school, and actually had one of the bullying girls in question thank me years later, because — she maintained — it had taught her not to treat her husband like that.

    A good swift clip round the ear made them back off quick smart; that said, this was something I could do because I had ‘male size advantage’ (6′ and sporty). I realise that for many women it’s not an option.

  19. Genevieve
    Posted August 25, 2009 at 10:10 pm | Permalink

    Legal Eagle & Caz: your comments at #22 and #24 have helped me put my finger on some of the confused thinking here. Like everyone on this thread, I’ve witnessed the shenanigans of Year 9 girls and continue to have the occasional brush with their “grown up incarnations in the corporate world”. (While I’ll admit – reluctantly – that a lot of this nonsense tends to come from women, it’s worth pointing out that some men have quite a line in it as well.)

    However, I’d have to agree with LE that many of these girls don’t go on to enjoy the same social status they did in their teen years. I’m sure some of them are still pushing ’round the work experience kid at the small town beauty salon where they work two days a week, but by and large they seem to end up in less than enviable positions, in both work and life. (And they suddenly want to be your friend on Facebook.) All this begs the question, where do the adult corporate queen bees come from? Could it be that they are not the same girls who picked on us in high school? Do bullies really constitute a discrete, immutable sub-category or natural class of persons, born a bully, die a bully? This, and the playing (and switching) of ‘roles’ by multiple parties depicted in Queen Bees and Wannabes would tend to suggest otherwise.

    I hate this kind of behaviour as much as anyone else who’s had to cop the brunt of it, but it’s important not to essentialise or reify it too much by reducing it to some highly speculative innate predisposition or bastardised ‘personality disorder’.

  20. Posted August 26, 2009 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know who turned out to be a corporate bully from school but I remember there two types of (male) bully at my school. The one’s who were outcast and the ones who were in-crowd.

    When the cops showed up for their career talk the room was filled with 90% in-crowd bullies.

  21. Caz
    Posted August 29, 2009 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

    Genevieve – the thread was about women, more than men, and the quip about Year 9 girls was catchy. The corporate world is full of male bullies.

    For the first time in my life I quit a job over one such male bully, only last year, right in the midst of the global economic meltdown. It’s not that this was the first time that I’d ever encountered a noxious manager, on the contrary, I have worked for many – both male and female.

    Male bullies outnumber women by far, albeit, purely by the fact that so few women occupy senior management positions.

    I was being flip when I suggested that those Year 9 girls all turned into the corporate bully-girls. I don’t actually believer that’s true, and didn’t intend to give that impression.

    I’m sure many nasty skanks turn out very nicely. I’m sure many bullied children turn into bullies when they get their chance as adults.

    I don’t think our schoolyard-selves necessarily reveal much about how we will behave in our working or personal lives as adults.

  22. Posted March 28, 2011 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

    There have been many cyber-related bullying/harrassment/ cases resulting in harm. It isn’t a new phenomenon. Megan Meier, Jake Baker. More recently an incitement to commit suicide case where an adult male raised a right to free speech in the US after going into suicide support group forums, coaching and watching others commit suicide.

    The legal definitions may be different. The commonality is the harmful impact and the medium. Do you blame the medium and how do you respond?

    In the US prosecutors in an attempt to prevent sexting have declared 18 year old boys paedophiles, and prosecuted both female ‘victims’ and perpetrators for exchanging pornographic images.

    There are many more.

    I feel the same way as SL about bullying. Until you actually go over to the Facebook page on the dickileaks girl, you have no concept of how putrid the hate speech is.

    There have been specific and veilled death threats. The comments have been intense and perpetrated by a mob of angry fans and it has been going on for 10 months now without anys signs of abating. It has been happening across FB, Twitter, and other social networking sites.

    Head on over.

    Wonder why nothing has been done

  23. Posted March 28, 2011 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

    For a thread that’s supposed to be anti-bullying there is a hell of a lot of dumping on children of a specific age, with no exceptions or qualification.

    I enjoyed my daughter’s friends in year 9 (and 10, 11, 12…) They were pretty OK. Young people, as always, are pretty much blanket condemned.

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