Is pink the answer to bullying?

Sleeping off a bender, I awoke to our mother hollering, “Time for school, find something pink to wear!” Like they wouldn’t anyway. Ninety percent of Misses P and V’s wardrobe is pink, but the exhortation to dress for anti-bullying day got them moving, which was Mum’s cynical intention. Usually she has to beg the kids a dozen times to don clothes for school, but in this case she could invoke novelty—or at least the idea of novelty.

Pink Shirt Day 2-bsh-2018yriFor boy children, dressing in pink might have been novel. Most boys don’t have a stitch of pink in their closets, either because they learn early that pink is a “girl’s color” or worse—because their parents shun pink on their behalf, fearing its possible potential to confer homosexuality on their male offspring. But bring on Anti-Bullying Day, and boys are expected to strut their pink threads.

My mum was relieved she didn’t have to purchase pink duds for a male child and/or bully said son into wearing them. Yes, Anti-Bullying Day is an excellent idea, but its execution is inevitably imperfect.

Girls typically wear pink; boys typically don’t. Therefore a “wear pink” campaign puts only boys out of their comfort zone. But of course that’s not the point—pink wasn’t chosen to single out boys. It wasn’t even chosen arbitrarily; it was prompted by an incident in which a male ninth grade student was bullied for wearing a pink shirt during the first day of school. The point isn’t to make kids uncomfortable; it’s to make them think. Which is great.

But whereas it’s not much of a stretch for girls to put on a pink shirt, just ask any parents who tried to wrestle their boys into pink this morning without success, and it’s a whole other story. As one of them commented to my mum, “My boys aren’t bullies. Most kids aren’t bullies. Wearing pink feels like a punishment to them.”

??????????????????????????Okay, so bad on society for gendering the color pink. That’s something to chip away at, for sure. And over the years, Anti-Bullying Day may well help with that. But for now, many boys—especially young ones—don’t “get” Pink Shirt Day. All their lives they’ve learned that pink is for girls. (One day we even witnessed a dad in Toys R Us heatedly refusing to allow his two-year-old son to try a pink bike.)

Moreover, those pink shirts parents bought their sons for Anti-Bullying Day won’t see the light of day until next year, reinforcing the notion that pink is not ordinarily for boys.

“How many boys in your class wore pink today?” I asked P after she’d trussed me up in a pink dress for the occasion.

“Um, zero,” she said. “But J wore a pink armband and W clipped a piece of pink paper to his shirt.”

“Good for them.”

If anything this illustrates the nascence of Anti-Bullying Day. Inaugurated in BC in 2008, the event has only just recently locked into February 27 as its official day. Depending on the proactivity of schools and teachers, it could well gain traction over the next years and decades. For now it’s in its awkward infancy, still seeking across-the-board buy-in.

Bullying is bad. This sort of thing really shouldn't happen.

Bullying is bad. This sort of thing really shouldn’t happen.

But again, if wearing pink is the signature outward emblem of participation in Anti-Bullying Day—ignoring for the moment how stupidly arbitrary it is to equate pink with femininity—are we not asking more from boys than from girls when we urge “all” kids to wear a pink shirt? P and V most likely would have done so anyway, but their male cohort would not have, which makes the exercise unfair—at least until we actually do chip away at the pink-for-girls and blue-for-boys stereotypes that underpin the bullying incident that kicked the whole idea off.

Lastly, we shouldn’t forget that bullying is not the sole domain of boys. Small percentages of both genders dish out intimidation and physical violence (just ask V, who has a female five-year-old tormenter). If wearing pink demands no effort of girls and considerable effort of boys, is the underlying message that girls are exempt from bullying?

Obviously the answer is no—it’s not the intentional message. But it is a message that could accidentally be inferred. Although schools do a good job of explaining Anti-Bullying Day and emphasizing that no one gender has a monopoly on abusive behavior, the anti-bullying message is riding on a raft of socially constructed implications—much the way gay-rights issues sometimes get swept along with rainbow themes that don’t necessarily resonate with all gay people. Hitching your wagon to a color or spectrum of colors is a great way to get attention and promote a cause, but in our society colors are laden with value assumptions that sometimes muddy the message.

PICT1885Bottom line at LBHQ: We don’t mind pink; three-quarters of the humans wear it all the time. When P draped me in my pink frock today I did get the impression she was trying to make me look prettier. Or maybe she was making a political statement—who knows?

The real bottom line is that Anti-Bullying Day, no matter how it’s observed, is important. It’s important enough to warrant a “theme drink” such as this mouth-watering Pink Lady. But then of course we’d have to worry about what such a drink implied.

pink-lady-gin

Oh damn it, let’s just buy the gin anyway and make one.

The impossibility of medicating with alcohol

It’s normal (for us anyway) to put away more booze than usual during the holiday season. But a realization dawned on us throughout this last week—that our drinking was a bit more debauched than usual. Naturally we pushed this realization back, rationalizing it as a concern about excessive liquor spending. When Nana and Papa offered to keep the kids on the island for an extra week and we went home without them, we had friends over and drank every drop of alcohol in the house, rationalization was no longer possible. We weren’t just drinking. We were medicating.

Why?

It was a stressful year. Work has been demanding, commuting sucks, and there are always expenses. But these are manageable stressors. Even if you can’t predict a client will renege on a contract or your dishwasher will flood the kitchen, you can predict that this sort of shit happens, and you cope with it.

News items like Sandy Hook are another matter. The massacre threw out our equilibrium—the sense that you can rely on unthinkably horrific things not happening. The idea of sending your children to school every day at 8:30 and collecting them safely at 2:30 felt unshakably secure before December 14.

It’s not that we think a similar event will happen in our neighborhood. In almost no sense is our personal sense of safety compromised by what happened in Connecticut.

And it’s not that we expect something that cold-bloodedly horrific to happen in the US again any time soon. The odds are vanishingly small, the event devastatingly random. Who would think of targeting small children?

It’s that it did happen—anywhere, at all. It’s that nothing in this world can make it not have happened. That 26 families have experienced an inconceivable loss. That nothing can make it right. That nothing can explain it.

It’s the unbearable empathy tied up in thinking about the massacre. Just as it’s difficult to hear a child crying in a playground, it’s orders of magnitude harder to think of a little girl or boy being shot to death. It’s unbearable.

As parents there’s so much to fear already. Parents worry that their children will get injured or abducted, that they’ll get leukemia, that they’ll commit suicide in their teens. Just thinking about them being unhappy is excruciating—but to think of them being gone is incomprehensible. There are so many things parents fear—and the Sandy Hook shooting is one that probably didn’t cross a single mind as they dropped their kids off at school that day.

I’m ashamed to have been wallowing in the grief of these families. I’m ashamed of the sick fascination with which I watched CNN’s coverage, then scoured YouTube for information on the shooter, devouring every item including vids from Second Amendment nutjobs positing that the massacre was a “false flag” event staged by the Obama government to put gun control on the agenda, and conspiracy theorists drawing a tangential “Batman” connection. I’m ashamed of having ingested every morbid fact and messed-up theory I could about the shooting. I thought it would help me purge the dreadful and overwhelming sense of empathy with the families—as though I could ever know what they’re going through.

I can’t sleep at night. Not because of fear—I don’t fear this happening to our family. I just can’t sleep knowing that it happened to other people. I can’t stop wondering what they are feeling, and wishing this whole thing could be undone.

I find myself compulsively playing “Would you rather?” with myself. “Would you rather lose something precious—say, the ability to walk—for the chance to reverse what happened?” “Would you give up all your money to make this not have occurred?

To these fucked-up hypothetical questions I would say—from the safe position of knowing no one will demand I fulfill the promise—I would have to say yes. If, through some bizarre magic, I could choose, I would feel morally compelled. Until, late at night, this question occurs:

“Would you rather give up one of your own children to make this not have happened?”

No.

I couldn’t. I wouldn’t. And no one would expect me to. And that’s what makes the massacre so painful to think about.

 ♦

Apologies, friends—this blog is obviously the wrong venue for obsessing about Sandy Hook. This is a site for booze reviews, and I am surrounded by drained bottles to describe in future posts. But—as it occurred to me suddenly and recently—if anything, this site is about the intersection of alcohol and parenting, and it’s not facile to say those subjects have collided for us lately.

What can a Canadian say about Friday?

After a CNN binge, cuddles with kids who have no idea why they’re suddenly being held extra-tight, and a gamut of complicated feelings following the Connecticut shooting, I thought the best thing I could do for my readers yesterday was shut the fuck up and not post anything.

Most of my readership is American. I live 67 blocks from the Canada-US border. I watch American TV, consume American products, and inhale American politics perhaps more voraciously than Canadian politics…

People often ask why Canadians follow American news so closely and are so openly invested in what goes on south of the border. Plenty of writers have addressed this question much more eloquently and with much more intellectual rigor than this blog ever could. Suffice to say that, culturally, we marinate in the same juices. And while plenty of Canadians (and other western nations) are asking “what the fuck?” about American gun laws, American mental health provisions, and the general economic desperation in which America finds itself, it would be sheer hypocrisy for me as a Canadian to say our nation doesn’t incubate its own complement of psychos who, if as easily weaponized as their US counterparts, would easily achieve the same percentage of horror.

So what the fuck, then?

Leaving aside desensitization and disenfranchisement and alienation for discussion by all the douchebag talking-head psychologists rising to their 15 minutes of fame being interviewed by famous lisping reporters who should retire instead of prodding nine-year-old children for interviews about escaping death, what the fuck is there to say to my friends in the country to the south to which I feel so culturally connected?

I’m sorry.

My first impulse was to say “what the fuck?” about your gun laws and your mental-health legislation and the dominance of the NRA, but what I really need to say to you is I’M SORRY. I’m sorry this awful thing happened. I’m sorry these things continue to happen. I’m sorry so many of your population do not feel protected without weaponry. I’m sorry that weaponry falls into the wrong hands. I’m sorry the NRA is responding to Friday’s tragedy by proposing handgun laws be relaxed so teachers can pack a weapon in class. I’m sorry you will never be able to feel safe dropping your children off at school again.

I finally turned off the news yesterday when I heard the quote from a little boy who had just learned his sister had been killed. “Who will I play with? I don’t have anybody to play with.”

I felt…I couldn’t function in a world where that was a reality. It can’t be like this. Really, it can’t fucking be like this. There must be something we can do to make it not be like this.

What can people from other nations do?

Treasure our friendships with Americans.

Some of the coolest people I know are from the US. We have family in the US. It’s a pleasure to correspond with smart, funny, interesting Americans knowing that we share values of kindness, fairness, honesty, and humor. We’re all fighting the good fight—raising kids to be decent and striving for a good society, trying to be kind to each other and feel safe. We need to show support for that good fight—because it’s hard to feel strong when your most vulnerable citizens are targeted.

Try to understand the problem.

Watching Obama’s speech following the shooting, I had the overwhelming sense that he, too, was thinking What the fuck? How can this keep happening? It’s not a simple problem to shut down, and powerful interests are involved. Obama gets blocked on just about everything he tries to accomplish. The Second Amendment is sacrosanct despite its archaic origins. Not only that—the Second Amendment aligns with all sorts of other polarizing issues. The whole thing is a fucking hornet’s nest.

Express our wishes, no matter how naïve.

I would like to see Obama, having just won a four-year term, say out loud: “The right to bear arms is untenable.” Maybe he can’t, and probably he won’t, but that’s what people from other nations are saying. Paradigm shifts do happen, but sometimes we have to make them happen.

Pressure the US about gun control.

If the world is a village, it’s our job to make our voices heard, even if they are small. Gun violence represents a national emergency in the US. Just this week two potential mass shootings were averted (Indiana and Colorado). How many more bad ideas are smoldering in the minds of heavily armed, mentally disturbed individuals? What does it take to ignite a bad idea such as shooting up an elementary school? One bad day?

Following the 1996 massacre at Dunblane Primary School in Scotland, handgun ownership was banned in the UK. But the discussion can’t even get onto the US table without people screeching about Second Amendment rights. Sorry, my American friends, the Second Amendment is killing you.

For most of the civilized world, curtailing handgun ownership is a no-brainer. How many more children have to die for it to become a no-brainer in the US?

So I’ll sign petitions, I’ll write letters—I will do whatever it takes to poison the idea that carrying or even owning a handgun is normal.

As a Canadian the number one thing I want to express to the US is compassion. We wept watching the news this week.

The number two thing is outrage. The aphorism that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” is bullshit. People kill people when they have weapons.

I know this space isn’t the place for a long rant about gun control. This blog is intended to be a humorous space, or at least it tries. But I couldn’t think of anything else except: holy shit, America, I want you to be safe.

Connecticut shooting victim names