*Tina experienced bullying because of attitudes towards her accent, upbringing and background
I went to the Kings School Ely, a private mixed boarding school near Cambridge from the age of eleven to eighteen and for the most part I have very happy memories of boarding school. Whilst some of the stereotypes of a private education are pretty spot on, for the most part it was a very normal school.
I did experience some bullying in my GCSE year from a boy for who for eight months continually made rude and hurtful comments based on my appearance. On reflection this was quite painful and without knowing it, what he was saying was affirming some underlying fears I had about my physical appearance.
When it became too much I reported it to a teacher. They took action and thankfully it was resolved quite quickly. I left school feeling excited for my gap year and my future. I was confident I would never be bullied again as I wouldn’t allow anyone to treat me like that again. With the beauty of hindsight I now know being bullied is never something you can control or avoid as it is never about you.
“I now know being bullied is never something you can control or avoid as it is never about you”
At nineteen I went to Brighton University to study Criminology and Sociology. I felt confident and happy to be leaving my family home. As a fresher I was randomly allocated a room in a flat with 9 people, each building had two floors of nine rooms. I remember hugging mum and dad goodbye with equal parts nerves and excitement.
There was quite a diverse mix of people over the two floors. Included within the group of people I would spend the next year living with were five girls. They were all eighteen, all had never lived away from home, all had attended similar state schools and spoke with similar accents and all dressed the same. When I met them it never occurred to me that they would perceive me as different to them or that, that difference would cause a problem. I carried on with my Freshers Week oblivious of what was to come.
“It never occurred to me that they would perceive me as different to them or that, that difference would cause a problem”
Understandably they connected instantly with each other and very quickly formed a group. I spent some time with them initially and they seemed friendly enough. However, that changed very quickly. During the second week I was about to walk into the kitchen and just before I did, I overheard them really laying into someone. I listened for a few moments and my heart dropped when they said my name. They were laying into the way I spoke, the way I dressed, the food I ate – everything about me was up for cruel scrutiny! Each nasty comment was received with laughter and approval. In their opinion I was ‘posh’ and therefore they very wrongly assumed I thought I was better than them. My punishment was to be excluded and ridiculed.
“In their opinion I was ‘posh’ and therefore they very wrongly assumed I thought I was better than them. My punishment was to be excluded and ridiculed”
This was not the first time I had experienced negative attitudes towards my accent or background. I was fairly used to it, even if I did think it was unfair and untrue. However, this was the first time I had lived with people who from the second week of knowing me had made huge, totally unfounded, sweeping judgements about me because of my upbringing.
The term used to describe this type of judgement and bullying is ‘inverted snobbery’ and it is much more common than I think people are aware. It can be defined as someone who looks down their nose on those that might be wealthy, simply because of that fact.
“‘Inverted snobbery’ is much more common than I think people are aware”
The bullying that I experienced to begin with was subtle and centred around ways to exclude me. I sought friends I could trust outside of the flat, so it became harder for them to exclude me as I never looked to be included. As they were not getting the reactions they wanted from me, the bullying became more obvious and their behaviour more hostile. It left me feeling very alienated from the whole flat and I socially withdrew from everyone. My drinking increased as a result and when I was on my own in my room I felt unsafe when I could hear them.
One very painful night I tried to stand up for myself verbally in the kitchen. They all had their boyfriends there too, so I was totally outnumbered and I remember feeling very shamed, powerless and deeply hurt by their behaviour and continual judgement of me. I got through that year through blocking them out as best as I could and thankfully after that I never had to see them again.
With hindsight I am shocked it never occurred to me to report it or at least discuss it with a member of staff at University. Moving flats would have really helped and I wish I had taken action around it instead of toughing it out and thinking it was entirely my problem. I can also see that through having me as a common enemy it really bonded them as a group. They were young and nervous to be out of the family home and putting me down made them feel better about themselves.
“I think all bullying behaviour comes from a place of fear”
I think all bullying behaviour comes from a place of fear. Maybe they feared I would judge the school they went to, or their accent, or the food they ate or where they came from. Had they taken the time to get to know me they would have seen that I was raised to be open minded and accept people for who they are, not where they come from.
Ditch the Label has really helped me to understand that being bullied is never your fault and the importance of not suffering in silence.
If you are being bullied and need help please contact us here.