When the adults walk away

It’s often remarked that women will fight savagely to protect their children. What is less often mentioned, but is just as true, is that women are significantly less inclined to lift a finger in defense of a child who isn’t their own:

I was 14, and went with a school group on a weeklong summer trip to the beach. Teenagers are cliquish and cruel, and though I had always been a popular kid throughout grade school, for some reason the ringleaders in the in-crowd in the grade above mine decided I was going to be one of their marks on this trip. I walked into a hotel room where a lot of them were hanging out, just to see what was going on. Suddenly, egged on by the older girls, a group of the older boys grabbed me and pinned me to the floor. They told me they were going to take my pants off and embarrass me in front of the girls. I don’t know that I’ve ever been so scared in my life. I was pinned and couldn’t move my arms to fight, and anyway, they were all bigger than I was. The group was having great fun watching me beg, in my terror.

Here’s the thing: there were two adult women in that hotel room, mothers of my classmates. They watched all this go on. I screamed at them, begging them to help me, to make the boys let me up. These two women literally stepped over me as I was pinned to the floor, and left the room rather than tell the bully children of the in-crowd to let me go.

There’s a good reason for this apparent callousness, of course. An adult woman isn’t capable of taking on a 15 year-old male, let alone a group of them. Rather than risk their own safety, they are inclined to protect themselves by leaving the weaker to their fate, just like adolescent males.

Physically capable adult males don’t respect either women or adolescent males, which is why you occasionally read of men getting themselves in over their head by confronting a pack of armed young thugs or being shot in the back while they sleep. I’d be interested to know if the women here consider the behavior of the chaperones to be reasonable; I know most of the men are reading the story a second time thinking, wait a minute, this all took place in front of the adults in charge?

But keep in mind that it’s pretty easy to be judgmental when you aren’t worried about your own skin. I wouldn’t hesitate to knock a few 15-year old bullies around, but you won’t find me telling off armed mafiosi either.

Reading Rod’s account reminds me of the benefit of learning very early on that no one was going to help and that you had to shut your mouth as soon as anything started to happen. Apparently it’s not as much fun for playground bullies when their victim is simply lying there staring silently at them. So, I waited patiently until one summer, I grew big enough to fight back, and that autumn I broke the ribs of the first kid that shouldered me into a locker.

I got sent to the principal’s office, where I was asked about my “overreaction”. But he didn’t have much to say after I explained that I’d been waiting a long time for the chance to defend myself, and that everyone could avoid getting hurt by the simple expedient of not attacking me. It was a pleasant surprise to discover that not only wasn’t I punished, but all the bullies except two left me completely alone after that.

It took me another year to take care of that situation, but it was resolved in the end. There are few sights sweeter than the dawning realization in a bully’s eyes that an erstwhile victim is ready to claim a little of his long-awaited revenge.

To this day, I cannot abide bullies. I had to make another trip to the dean’s office my senior year after there were complaints from the elementary school about my having picked up a fifth-grader by the throat and slamming him against a brick wall. The dean was pretty torqued until I pointed out that no fifth-grader caught beating up a first-grader has any grounds for complaining about his rough treatment at the hands of the first-grader’s older brothers.