October 22 is Unity Day, otherwise known as National Bullying Prevention Day, where we are all encouraged to wear something orange and stand up to bullies. Before you assume that bullying is consigned to the playground, just take a look at the news in the past few weeks.
Cricketer Kevin Pietersen, 34, has been all over the UK press publicizing his recently released autobiography, KP, where he details alleged bullying by his then-colleagues. The former England batsman tells reporters of the parody Twitter account that poked fun at him in 2012 as “horrible bullying” that caused him to “break down” when he discovered it was coming from men on his team. His book also reveals the existence of bullying culture in England locker rooms, with reference to the players asking teammates for a forced apology in case of a dropped catch or error in the game, behavior Pieterson thought was utterly ridiculous and unnecessary. Pietersen reveals, “I was crying in a room with Andy Flower during that Test match, saying, ‘How the hell has it come to this?'”
Let’s remember this is a grown man who captained the England cricket team and is hailed as the greatest batsman of his generation, weeping because he felt bullied by his teammates — people he no doubt thought of as friends. If there is bullying at this age and level of sporting achievements, then surely it could happen anywhere?
Personally, I was never bullied at school. No, I had to wait until the age of 24 before I got my first taste of it. I was working at a cable TV channel as a fashion reporter and my producer, a bitter woman 10 years older than me, made my life hell. Even though I was the most experienced reporter there, she insisted on watching every piece I did and spent hours picking me apart. The only way to placate her was to ask if she’d lost weight or compliment her outfit; deeply insecure, she resented anyone better and younger than her. She was the first boss to make me cry, but sadly not the last.
My next encounter with a bully came in 2003 when I presented a travel show — a job that sounds glamorous but was anything but. It involved long hours of filming and living away from home in anonymous hotels, surrounded only by the crew and producers. My director had a young family at home and being away from his four kids was proving so difficult that he decided to take out his angst on me. While he would spend ages telling my male co-presenter (who had an ego bigger than Britain) what we were about to film and what he wanted him to say, he barely glanced my way. He would routinely humiliate me, question my choice of outfit, and reprimand me for making jokes — ones that he would have laughed at had they come from the mouth of my co-presenter. I was beyond miserable. In fact, it started making me ill; I couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep. I missed my (then) boyfriend, my home, my friends and family. I have a vivid memory of filming at Disney World’s Magic Kingdom and being so upset I had to excuse myself to throw up, I was so sick with nerves and fear. Known for being loud and chatty, I became a shadow of myself; I barely spoke, kept my head down, and willed the days away until the whole series was over.
Why didn’t I speak out? Why did I — a grown 30-year-old woman — let this happen to me? Well, bullies are clever. They disguise their tactics, often in humor or jest, so at first you think you simply didn’t get the joke. I knew that to complain or report him would only make things more difficult for me, as I still had several trips left to make and would be living and working with him 24/7. I can honestly say that this was the worst time of life. I felt that terrified, that miserable.
Then the shoot ended, the big bosses took me to lunch and asked me to present the next series. I refused and then broke down, finally admitting all that had happened. They insisted we all have a “round table” discussion to try and work out the issues. My director remained impassive and refused to accept what he had done while I sobbed and looked slightly mad for three whole hours. I never saw him again.
The whole experience haunted me for a good few years afterwards. It shook my confidence, my ability to connect with people, and made me question any job that involved being away from home. Looking back, I don’t know how I could have handled the situation any better. Perhaps I could have tried talking to him, asking him why he felt the need to be so abusive towards me. It’s hard to explain why I didn’t stand up for myself, but I swore that it would never happen again.
Bullies rely on your passivity — on you doing nothing. They’re cowards who get off on having a power over you and taking out their frustrations in life on you. DON’T LET THEM. If there is one thing I will teach my kids, it’s that bullies only have power if you let them. While I don’t subscribe to my Aussie husband’s way of thinking — telling our son that if someone hits you, “Hit them back — harder” — I do believe that you need to stand up to bullies. I’ve encouraged them to either tell someone above them what is going on — a teacher, a bigger boss, another colleague who can witness the behavior, someone in Human Resources — or directly tell their bully that their behavior will not be tolerated.
Whether it’s on the playground, on a TV set, in a hospital, on a bank floor, or in your office — no one has the right to make you feel bad. The first thing that bullies are counting on is you not telling. They rely on you always acquiescing to their will. Don’t. I always tell my son to speak up for himself, to not let anyone walk over him, and if he feels unhappy about anything, to tell me. I hope he never endures what I had to because bullying is such an underrated form of attack. Having to face your bully every day and pretend to be OK, when inside you’re wasting away, is so destructive. Hand on heart, I would rather go through anything else in my life again than that period.
Later, I heard that the director did the same to a girl who replaced me. Clearly, he never changed; some people never do. But I did. I’ve never been bullied like that again — nor will I. Ever since I became a mom, I decided to heed the words I was imparting on my kids: Stand up to bullies. Stand up for yourself. Never let anyone make you feel anything other than great.
So on Wednesday, October 22, I’ll be wearing orange. How about you?
Join us in celebrating Unity Day on October 22 by “going orange” to take a stand against bullying. Post your orange pride on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram using #UnityDay2014!More On