Rachael Berkey
October 29, 2013 6:00 pm

“Bullying is the worst thing that happens to me.” Alice Cahn at New York Comic Con discussing survey results from kids talking about bullying.

Bullying sucks.

There’s no getting around it. It’s never a good thing. I think it happens a lot more than we think it does though. I know I’m guilty of it on occasion.

New York Comic Con concluded with a panel on bullying that I actually felt was so universal I chose not to sell it as a “Comic Con” kind of event – which is why I’m writing about it now, more than two weeks after the convention is over and my con-induced respiratory infection is banished to the dark side.

The End Bullying!: Responding to Cruelty in Our Culture panel at New York Comic Con was wonderful. The speakers included NoH8‘s Adam Bouska and Jeff Parshley, Brad Bell of “Husbands“, Star Trek & Doctor Who‘s Chase Masterson, FanTV’s Jenna Busch, Cartoon Network’s Alice Cahn, Her Universe creator Ashley Eckstein, Bonnie Burton, author of Girls Against Girls: Why We are Mean to Each Other & How We Can Change, and Jason Sirois of the Anti-Defamation League. The panel was moderated by Carrie Goldman whose first book, Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher, and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear, just came out.

As panelists told their stories and answered questions put to them by an enthusiastic audience, the overwhelming message from host Chase Masterson remained clear: “It’s important and valuable for you to speak up for each other and for yourselves when bullying occurs. We want to create advocates and allies out of everyone.” The atmosphere was incredibly positive and rather than arguing whether something was or was not offensive (a frustration I beat my head against on the internet every single time geeky women issues surface online), panelists and audience had honest discussion about what bullying is, what it means to a community and how to confront it. Here are some of the big things they talked about:

Jenna Busch spoke about having a voice and having a community. NoH8 held their very first photo shoot at a pop culture convention. Chase Masterson spoke about inclusivity and the spirit of conventions that bring people together rather than pushing them apart. Carrie Goldman reminded everyone that there are many ways to be an advocate and an ally. Brad Bell talked about stereotyping and tropes in the media. Ashley Eckstein talked about the skepticism and the challenges she faced when she started Her Universe, a clothing company with fandom merchandise that is female-friendly, and the great community that has sprung up on HerUniverse.com where women are recognizing other women for their place in fandom with FanGirl of the Day.

Alice Cahn discussed Cartoon Network’s Stop Bullying: Speak Up! campaign and the lasting lessons that we are taught by the media. (She has the coolest title: Social Responsibility VP. Who doesn’t want to change the world from within? I think that’s the dream, at least for me.) Jason Sirois talked about the power of simple words and how they build up when misused. It may be the first time you’ve heard that teasing but it may be someone else’s hundredth time. Words have an impact you may not understand. And Bonnie Burton talked geek-on-geek hate, a cruel reality in a world where you hope you’ll always find acceptance. That’s where I found my personal connection to the world of bullying and realized, oh crap, I’m not always on the sad side of this story – sometimes I’m the bad guy too.

Bullying comes in all different shapes and sizes. There’s purposeful bullying, the kind that can also be labeled harassment and terrorizing depending on the situation. And then there’s the more nefarious type, the kind that I honestly don’t even realize I’m doing half the time.

As a geeky girl, I have spent a lot of time watching movies, reading books and generally squeeing with excitement over fictional characters and worlds with my friends. I get so excited I don’t even realize when I publicly become that thing I hate the most: a bully.

“How have you not seen Star Wars?”

“You haven’t read Harry Potter? We can’t be friends until you do.”

(Yes, I’ve said both of these things…to the same person…in the last two months. I’m not proud.)

I’m not actually serious when I say these things. I’m using the mockery and teasing I frequently employ with my friends to tell them that Oh My God they need to get on experiencing these magical worlds as soon as they possibly can because I want them to be as happy as I am. Who doesn’t want their friends to be happy?

But you know what? I’m basically shaming them for not being as in the know as I think they should be. I’m making them feel bad for something they may or may not have any control over. I’m making the choice to ridicule instead of encourage.

Chase Masterson put it very well at the very beginning of the panel: “You can never underestimate your place in the world, your ability to make a huge difference.

I think it goes both ways. We need to be advocates and allies and help each other stand up to people who are choosing to be jerks as Carrie reminded us half way through the program. She said, “The next time that you think to yourself, I’m being bullied because XYZ, think to yourself, “I’m being bullied because the other person is being a judgmental person and I’m okay.””

She’s right. It’s someone else’s choice to bully you and be mean, just like it has been, I’m sad to admit, my choice to mock a friend for their choices instead of encouraging them to experience something.

So I’m going to take my first steps towards changing bullying culture, and I’m going to stop doing the gasp and awe over someone else not having seen what I have seen or not having read what I have read. I’m going to encourage instead of shame, and I’m going to start speaking up when I see other people making the choice to bully.

How can you make a difference?

Feature Image via Ableton Forum other by me

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