You may have read about Calvin Cummings, a high school gym coach in Ohio, who recently stirred up controversy when he argued against further funding for his school’s anti-bullying program, saying that bullying victims can sometimes gain from the experience. “Victims of bullying have a lot of pain, but it’s not a pain I necessarily would have spared them,” said Cummings. “I think ideally it helps toughen kids up and prepare them for the real world.”
But does bullying really help “toughen up” children? One study on bullying recently found: “Boys who stood up to bullies and schoolyard enemies were judged more socially competent by their teachers. Girls who did the same were more popular and more admired by teachers and peers, the researchers found.” (I can’t provide a link to the study, because the “Daily Mail,” in which I found this story, says only that this study was carried out by researchers at the U.C.L.A. And a quick google of “UCLA bullying study” brings up quite a mess of options.)
So I haven’t read the study myself and can’t judge its merits. But in any event, bullying turns my stomach, and I’m more than a little skeptical of a claim that it’s “good” for children. In fact, I can’t help but think that those who “favor” bullying are motivated at least in part by an impulse to cruelty.
Here I should mention that there is no such person as “Calvin Cummings.” I made that up. The person I was thinking about is “Catherine Comins,” who was at one time the assistant dean of student life at Vassar College. I don’t know how Dean Comins feels about bullying, but on the subject of men falsely accused of rape she said this:
“They have a lot of pain, but it is not a pain I necessarily would have spared them. I think it ideally initiates a process of self-exploration. ‘How do I see women?’ ‘If I didn’t violate her, could I have?’ ‘Do I have the potential to do to her what they say I did?’ Those are good questions.”
Although I haven’t taken a poll, I suspect that most women who identify as feminists would want to spare a man from the horror of a false rape accusation. Someone like Catherine Comins is an outlier, I hope. But there does seem to be a feeling, at least among some feminists, that other types of pain, stemming from social exclusion or a mild denigration of male sexuality, is somehow educational for men. It is a pain from which they would not necessarily have spared me, just as the traditionalist would not spare a child from the bullying, provided the bullying did not get out of hand.