Update 3/21/14: Buncombe County Schools says Grayson Bruce can bring his book bag back to Candler Elementary School. You can read the full release here.
Adults of the world, we need to talk.
I know you’re doing your best out there. I’m not sure who decided that grown ups should be in charge of everything, but I do know that we’re all just trying not to burn this thing to the ground. But really, we need to stop shoving our gender issues onto kids. It’s not doing anyone any favors. I bring this up because, apparently, boys can’t like pretty pink and purple ponies without expecting a little bullying.
Grayson Bruce is just a 9-year-old boy who likes the My Little Pony cartoon, “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.” Like a lot of kids that age, he wanted to express that on his school supplies, in this case a bag. (Rainbow Dash? This boy has taste.)
The result? Intensified bullying for liking what is widely perceived as a girl’s show. If you’re unfamiliar with My Little Pony, it’s a sweet little cartoon that extols the virtues of friendship. That’s it. It is, on the surface, stereotypically girly, but the characters run the gamut. It wouldn’t be hard to find a character to relate to.
So instead of friendship, Grayson gets bullying. The irony abounds.
Now, you’d think that once this has been brought to the school administration’s attention the situation would be dealt with. It was, but not in the way you might think. Instead of punishing the bullies, Grayson was told that he couldn’t bring his bag to school anymore. Why? Because it’s a “trigger for bullying.”
Congratulations, Buncombe County, N.C., school officials! You are the worst.
Grayson’s mom, Noreen was exactly right when she said: “[S]aying a lunchbox is a trigger for bullying, is like saying a short skirt is a trigger for rape. It’s flawed logic, it doesn’t make any sense.”
Bingo. This is gender policing, just in a slightly different form. Grayson isn’t doing anything to deserve bullying. (I’d be hard pressed to find a kid that deserved bullying, really.) The bullies have complete control over their behavior. There is nothing about Grayson’s My Little Pony bag that is provoking anyone to do anything. The bullies have been taught that it’s OK to treat people who don’t conform to a very narrow definition of what it means to be a boy horribly, and now school officials are reinforcing that lesson.
It’s not like this is the first time something like this has happened. In February, an 11-year-old boy attempted suicide because of My Little Pony-related bullying. And it’s not like My Little Pony fanboys don’t exist. They are an actual, legitimate phenomenon. My Little Pony even has crossover appeal with the Doctor Who-inspired Dr. Hooves.
The school issued a statement, saying that they were just trying to mitigate the problem and are continuing to address the issue. You’ll forgive me if I’m skeptical. A serious response would be to punish the bullies, not the bullied. A serious response would be to immediately address the actual cause of the bullying, which, in case you haven’t been paying attention, is not the bag.
Whether they meant to or not, the adults in these kids lives are projecting their gender issues onto the kids. They are telling them that it’s OK to treat people with less respect if they don’t conform to a narrow idea of “normal.” The bullies are clearly a little jerky, but they are a symptom of a larger problem. It would be great if we could be more mindful of how we infect young minds with this way of thinking and do what we can to mitigate it.
You can show your support for Grayson and his amazing taste in cartoons on his Facebook page.
Photo Credit: rjrgmc28 via Flickr