I find it interesting that the NY Times published this article about bullying at school and then published this one about workplace bullies. I thought that this meant that the Times was doing a series, but unfortunately, they're not. Which is too bad, because I think bullying is an interesting area to explore. It's like there's two worlds in America - the officially recognized one where people are kind and polite, and the one lurking right underneath where bullying happens.

The article about Billy Wolfe from Fayetteville, Arkansas is really the sort of feature story that the Times still excels at. It really captures the essence of bullying. The kid selected is picked for reasons lost to the mists of time, or most likely for arbitrary reasons that were rationalized after the fact. The abuse is back-breaking and non-stop. Most school officials look the other way, because, let's face it, there's almost something biological in people that makes them dislike the unpopular even if the unpopular are unpopular for no reason at all.

But what I really liked about the article was that it really clues you in to why bullies bully. Let's face it; they're proud of their behavior. Picking on other people to make yourself feel more powerful has this ability to make other people believe that you're something special, at least for short periods of time. I got bullied in school a lot, but it really petered out in high school, and I think it's because kids grow up and the social rewards of being brutish start to peter out as kids get more sophisticated. But Wolfe is 15, and so he's in the thick of it.
A car the color of a school bus pulls up with a boy who tells his brother beside him that he's going to beat up Billy Wolfe. While one records the assault with a cellphone camera, the other walks up to the oblivious Billy and punches him hard enough to leave a fist-size welt on his forehead.

The video shows Billy staggering, then dropping his book bag to fight back, lanky arms flailing. But the screams of his sister stop things cold.

The aggressor heads to school, to show friends the video of his Billy moment, while Billy heads home, again.
And how the school officials side with the bullies over their victims, a facet of bullying that few people like to discuss:
Not long after, a boy on the school bus pummeled Billy, but somehow Billy was the one suspended, despite his pleas that the bus's security camera would prove his innocence. Days later, Ms. Wolfe recalls, the principal summoned her, presented a box of tissues, and played the bus video that clearly showed Billy was telling the truth.
People get better at putting on a more politer, more docile face, but the fact that many people basically love brutality and tend to side with bullies is a little discussed problem, I think. It's not just the way school officials side with bullies. I think this tendency goes a long way to explain why people gang up on rape victims instead of rapists, why victims of domestic violence find very little sympathy with friends and family in many circumstances, and really even why the Republicans keep winning with childish tactics. And if you are with the stereotypical domestic abuser, who can count on a lot more social support than you're going to get, that makes it even harder to leave.

The relationship of bullying and sexual violence seems obvious to me, but this workplace bullying article had this sentence in it that kind of made me grind my teeth.
This month, researchers at the University of Manitoba reported that the emotional toll of workplace bullying is more severe than that of sexual harassment.
Sexual harassment is a form of bullying. What difference there is in the workplace probably has more to do with adults' higher levels of sophistication than kids, so that many workplace bullies know how to bully someone without making it sexual. But kids don't obey such fine distinctions, as Billy's story shows.
It began years ago when a boy called the house and asked Billy if he wanted to buy a certain sex toy, heh-heh. Billy told his mother, who informed the boy's mother. The next day the boy showed Billy a list with the names of 20 boys who wanted to beat Billy up.....

In ninth grade, a couple of the same boys started a Facebook page called "Every One That Hates Billy Wolfe." It featured a photograph of Billy's face superimposed over a likeness of Peter Pan, and provided this description of its purpose: "There is no reason anyone should like billy he's a little bitch. And a homosexual that NO ONE LIKES."
Bullying or sexual harassment? Well, clearly it's the latter, but it's also the former. I think one thing that's always driven me crazy about the discourse around sexual harassment is that people think the sexual part is more important than the harassment part. And there's plenty of blame to spread around about this, but the result has been a lot of confusion about whether or not workplace flirting, hooking up with coworkers, or even talking about your dating life with coworkers are sexual harassment. To my mind, only if someone is being harassed. Which is why the hostile environment standard is so important, because bullies often work, as the Billy Wolfe story shows, by harnessing popular support for the idea that this person you've singled out is the scapegoat. And so they create this hostile environment, perhaps with pictures or comments designed to make the target uncomfortable while not directly attacking the target much or at all. If we understood that sexual harassment is just a form of bullying that draws attention to the target's sexuality so as to make him or her seem even more vulnerable, I think we'd know it better when we saw it.