telling stories, hearing lives

Empathy and Friendship as Bullying Prevention summer WGS

Empathy and Friendship
Posted by Lea Kozulic, Emily Tyler, and Susan Smith at Friday, May 22, 2015 4:59:32 PM CDT

The course materials shed light on bullying by showing the connection between bullying and reinforcing gender stereotypes. Bullying, especially in males, came as a way of reinforcing a certain idea of masculinity in the degradation of homosexuality and an exaggerated sense of heterosexuality with a male gaze. They acted to limit people to a certain idea of gender roles, a limitation that the 2nd Wave Feminism Free to Be Me series attempted to break down and create greater diversity through. The series worked to acknowledge differences within gender and make them more acceptable so that bullying would not be such an issue in aligning with only certain ideas of gender roles.
Free to be content challenged gender roles, race and class. It focused on overcoming the large gender divide that was represented in children’s literature. The good thing was that those songs from the album were catchy and easy to learn so teachers could use them in school as well to create a sense of new ideology for kids starting from their early age. That way they would create a common way of thinking for children, a common sense of ideas which would help with empathy. Empathy would be much greater and kids would understand each other better which would reduce bullying and also, raise awareness about it to other teachers and parents. It’s really hard for parents to force their children to just stop being who they are, just like’ve seen it in the movie Bully. You need to gradually teach them how to behave and that’s why Free to be was great for nurturing. It was great how granny, the member of older generation, was the person who helped in breaking the barriers in the movie. That shows how wide audience the content of Free to Be had. The era of second wave feminism was the era of new ideas and liberty where noone was supposed to be afraid of what they truly are and not be afraid to show it. Free to Be served as a friendly and accessible point of entry for the feminist message of gender equality and self-atualization. Many feminists argued that children’s gender indentities were shaped primarily by their social environment so they wanted everyone to embrace the differences between people and encourage them to not be afraid to show if they are different than someone else.

Because gender expectations are so stringent I think it could be hard to make friends. Pascoe showed that it is not only aggressive bullying that attacks gender roles but friends joking with friends too, as we see in 40 Year Old Virgin, “you know how I know you’re gay…” Friends would have to be constantly guarding themselves from displaying any kind of feminine behavior to avoid this. Putting on an act at all times of who they are socially expected to be, not necessarily who they want to be. This robs people the opportunity to be true to themselves but also build meaningful friendships. Being in a constant act also can lead to an actual belief of this is who I am, we saw this problem in 5/20’s readings. It is important for kids to be able to find other kids they can identify and empathize with. A moving scene in the film Bully was when one of the young boys who is friends with 12 year old suicide-victim Ty discussed his journey from second to fourth grade wherein he talked about how he went from being a bully to understanding the effects of his actions and changing them. By Ty taking the opportunity to empathize for other kids he ceased bullying himself and was able to make friends.
Pascoe looks at bullying not as a matter of individualistic behavior deviations, but rather results of structural inequalities which therefore need to be dealt with on a large-scale, systematic manner rather through personal corrections. It’s occurring because of the gender socialization. It’s not just gay kids that are bullied because they are gay. It is a part of boy’s gender socialization where they try to shape their masculine behaviors so they would call someone gay just because that boy would cry or express the sensitive behavior. Pacoe showed that middle age boys were the most common bullies, that being a bully was like a “rite of passage” to becoming men. This rite of passage mostly consists of young boys being homophobic. She explains that homophobic is not just the fear of gay men but a catch-all for anything seen as unmasculine. This homophobic taunting she explains plays an important role in boys’ gender socialization process. Because this behavior is done much more than the traditional bullying manner, by friends joking with friends for example’ Pacoe states that she believe bully programs are too short sighted, that rather the focus should be on addressing structural inequalities regarding gender and sexuality. The video showed that children who were seen as others struggled from bullying, if you are defined as being other then society doesn’t have to befriend you or show you empathy. The young girl was forced to quit basketball because they were concerned with touching her. They young boy was forced to switch to a different bus because of the constant verbal and physical abuse he was subjected to. During the town hall meeting a young boy stands up and state that the administration doesn’t do anything because they act like the kind themselves must have done something to deserve the negative attention or that they will.
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. If we as individuals took the time to consider others feelings, then after this consideration prudently decided how we act the world would have the opportunity to achieve social justice. Social justice is the view that everyone deserves equal economic, political, and social rights and opportunities. If we do not take the time to display empathy and consider others feelings, we will not be able to achieve social justice. In the movie Bully, noone felt/experienced empathy with Alex besides his parents who went to see the principal because they didn’t know what else to do and they were devastated and desperate because they knew what their son is going through and they couldn’t help him. Principal on the other hand, didn’t really show signs of empathy with the parents because she said she would help them in fall and she did not. Finally, she intervened and asked her assistant to work on the case but it didn’t end up being very effective because children kept teasing him and the boy ended up being scared even more. Same thing with the girl named Kelly who was a lesbian. In the end of the movie, she said that “maybe there’s other place she could go and make a difference”. But, not here.

A social justice approach to bullying can be done through increased empathy. When people can see what others are experiencing in an emotional way, as the documentary Bully allowed people to do, it becomes harder to ignore the problem. More things of this nature- things that allow people to connect with victims and feel their pain- should be used in creating empathetic understanding and hopefully through that reduce if not eliminate bullying.


  1. Sandra Patton-Imani

    I thought that the distinction between friendship and bullying was interesting in the readings as well. I think this ties into the kids on Alex’s bus saying that the kids were just messing around and even Alex himself mistaking this attention for friendship. Angela Giannetto

  2. Eric Olsen

    Do you think that asking for empathy to be ‘increased’ is a viable strategy due to the fact that it would require a sizable shift in behavior? Asking people to change their behavior can often be a difficult task that takes a very long time to see results, but if empathy were to see a rise and people were determined to make a change, I think a Social Justice approach, like you are suggesting, would have great success.

  3. Sandra Patton-Imani

    Torina Gedler: Empathy and Friendship

    “A social justice approach to bullying can be done through increased empathy. When people can see what others are experiencing in an emotional way, as the documentary Bully allowed people to do, it becomes harder to ignore the problem.”

    I thought that this line, in particular, really hit the nail on the head. As a whole, the entry had a good discussion of how Pascoe and Bully both addressed this issue. Hearing voices and seeing faces that sound and look human like your own (with the addition of emotionally manipulative music—rightly used, in this case) indeed leads to deeper understanding of others’ pain.

  4. Sandra Patton-Imani

    Reed Timmer: The formatting of this one was a bit different with just numbered it 1-6 and answering the questions but overall it had some good points. It really is amazing how much of an experience it is to really try and understand how someone is feeling in a bad situation, especially bullying. If the victims of bullying had more people to show empathy and to have good friendship ties to people around them the affects would surely be minimized. They would always have someone to turn to and get them out of that dark place they so often are in.

  5. Sandra Patton-Imani

    Hannah Hennessey: I wonder if there is more that can happen with this particular topic in how it relates to bullying. I always attempt to look at things from others eyes or points of view. Even people I don’t like because of how they treat other people, I wonder what happened to that person to make them like that. I think maybe establishing a cause or event for this subject would help engage students into learning something about someone they don’t know well. To have empathy, you must first relate yourself to that person.

  6. Sandra Patton-Imani

    Ally Calvert: In this post, you talk a lot about how the children’s literature and songs that were produce was a really good thing. I do agree with this, however, I would like to see what you believe the trouble might have been with producing a strong album like Free to Be… You and Me? Increased empathy is something that is very strong and can be looked at in a completely different way. If people can start to realize what is going on and feeling the emotions that other people are feeling, then it changes the way people feel for the subject. Good Post!

  7. Sandra Patton-Imani

    Anna Burns: I thought this was a good blog post but it would have been easier to read if it was synthesized into a more coherent essay instead of numbered responses. I also think they should explain empathy and friendship more and its relation to bullying.

  8. Sandra Patton-Imani

    Zachary Berman: I like emphasizing empathy because although a problem may seem negligible to adults, a child may be struggling greatly and needs help dealing with it.

  9. Sandra Patton-Imani

    Pamela Mulhern: Unfortunately then and now, gender divides did not exist in only children’s literature,
    but in toys and other places, including adult objects such as pens, deodorant, and razors. I’m curious now if Free to Be was meant to only focus on the children’s literature, or on other things as well, considering the whole gender stereotype of dolls being
    only for girls in “William wants a Doll”. I could be misunderstanding your message, but from what I’ve read, you’re suggesting that parents have to stop their kids from being “who they are,” which I’m taking as kids are born bullies, victims, etc… Which
    I disagree with heartily I fully believe that any behavior by children is entirely learned from their surrounding environment, so instead of parents having to teach children to not be “who they are,” I would suggest teaching children to be “who they are” with
    limits of course, and to not follow their parents examples 100%, especially if their parents are reinforcing harmful gender stereotypes.

  10. Sandra Patton-Imani

    Marial Williams: You guys talked a lot about the Free to Be Me series and its emphasis on breaking down gender roles. I think you have a good point in saying that by having more children’s literature and song that include girls and breaks gender stereotypes, it would create more empathy in kids. Do you think that is enough though? Was it really the lack of literature and song that played a big part in the divide, or are there other larger things that Free to Be Me could have focused on?
    Also, when you talk about “you know how I know you’re gay…” from 40 Year Old Virgin, and in our daily lives, do you think that any amount of joking like that is okay? Or does it all contribute to bullying and stringent gender expectations?

  11. Sandra Patton-Imani

    Tasha Alexander: I agree with what they said and it is very helpful to see real life accounts like the ones in the movie Bully because it shows people what really happens. I always knew bullying was a problem but I didn’t really ever empathize it because I have never seen in first hand and to see the stories on the movie made me very empathetic for children who do get bullied. I think one of the strongest things the kid who is getting bullied can have is a friend because they can help you with the bully and show you that you are loved and the bully is just trying to make himself feel better.

  12. Sandra Patton-Imani

    Good post and good discussion. How could empathy contribute to a systemic approach to bullying prevention? How can we connect empathizing with “others” to changing the way children learn to understand “difference?” In my work on bullying prevention I use the term “critical empathy” to talk about the importance of exploring other people’s lives and understanding where they are coming from as part of the process of empathy. It is not just about feeling others feelings, but also about learning how to see the ways that people in different social locations learn how to see the world in particular ways.
    One of the important contributions Pascoe makes is that she connects this behavior to socialization. If this is learned behavior we can learn differently right? Socialization suggests a systemic approach to teaching children how to become certain kinds of people–appropriate citizens. Children learn how to relate to other children from books, teachers, tv, parents, and peers (among other public and private cultural representations), so she should ask questions of society about why kids learn to make friends with people who they perceive as “like” them. Why don’t we all learn to make friends across differences? How can the readings we have done so far help you think through some of these questions as your project develops?

  13. Kelly Read

    I agree with this post, social justice approach. What we need to look at as early education in this area. Right now, the view is from middle to high school. Catching these children early in school, setting a precedence for behavior and teaching children differences in each other and acceptance of those differences I believe, would curb bullying. We really do not hear of bullying being done at the elementary level, but it has to start somewhere.