A few days ago, a chica guapa sitting across a boardroom in a roomful of people stopped the conversation right pat and asked me: “Were you bullied as a child?”
I took a massive pause. I needed time to think, think if the honest answer was also the right one. At the very least, I need to figure out if the honest answer would cast me in the best light. I get those moments. Vain faux feminist diva moments.
I wasn’t bullied as a child. In fact, I might have been the bully if it wasn’t for the fact that I would be too busy reading books and quite liked my own company. I was long as a child. By long I mean, tall, gangly, with long uncoordinated limbs. I was also the youngest in my class. Still, I never quite felt intimidated by anyone. If anything, my mother had to spend extra time teaching me to be kind and considerate to other people.
I wonder whether my need to please my mother might have anything to do with my hesitation to be mean in adulthood. It probably is. But does it explain why I would became a victim of work-place bullying in adulthood?
In childhood, going into my larguirucha tweens I countered my ‘long’ status by begging my brothers to teach me how to play ‘boy sports’. I went into soccer, and then rugby for a while there. By the time I was 14, an attempt to intimidate me left me two options; burst into tears or send a punch right smack into the intimidator’s the nose. Thankfully this did not happen often. In fact, the one memorable incident involved the broken bloody nose of the son of a man who became quite powerful 10 years later. My mother talked my ear off for that one. I think she was too shocked to ‘smack me to next Friday’.
By the time I turned into 16 year old muchachita, I was so tough I had my own ‘gang’. We didn’t rob anyone and use drugs, but still… beach soccer & weekend jobs painting homes for pocket change…
I still have a hard time reconciling my 16 year old self to my current self. I sure wasn’t the run-and-hide-under-a-rock kinda girl at 16. But I definitely did find myself running from a bully, and hiding under a rock for a few months as a grown-ass woman. In fact, I was so traumatised by that period of workplace bullying I practically have to relearn how to be confident and professional in a group setting.
The thing that terrified me was the realisation that the bile from a professionally compromised workplace had spread into my personal life. I wonder now if perhaps I may have reacted much more strongly[or not enough] to personal situations because of what was going in my workplace.
Other than understanding the position I was in, and fighting to get my feet back, I am still not certain why I let myself become a target. I wonder if we go through phases, if the person I am this second is different from the person in the next second.
If you think about it, what makes a strong ambitious professional woman enter into a relationship with a weak abusive partner? How does she get caught up in a vicious cycle of abuse that she hides possibly for years until she turns up dead in her own living room? Could it be a symptom of the same psychological disease I may have suffered?
We have talked about bullies, what makes them and how to deal with them? But what makes targets?
A somewhat (un)related thought:
It is funny that I chose those two words as the title for my piece. Someone really close to me is a pretty good marksman(he is a perfectionist and often berates himself). A few years ago he tried to introduce me to target shooting. And while my aim was steady enough to hit several close points, it was nearly off the target. I have sneaked into the shooting range at Langata several times for sessions with an air pistol. My aim remains steady, but my marksmanship is still seriously off.
This article first appeared as part of the Storymoja Hay Festival Conversations.