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Kids Can Be Cruel: The Effect of Peers On One’s Full Potential

When I was a little child, I was very smart for my age. I was always considered the teacher’s pet, and I always did my homework as soon as I got home from school. I came from a family of all older brothers and sisters, and I constantly heard language that was more advanced than a normal infant would be accustomed to. I read by the age of three. I seemed to have a good ability for math, and my memory retention was above normal. Teachers from my grade wanted me to skip a year of school.

I also didn’t have a hard time getting along with others. I was always friendly (at least as far as I can remember), and I enjoyed having fun. However, it seemed as if other children had a hard time getting along with me. I would be picked on a lot because I was smart, and I never understood why - for there were quite a few smart boys in my class as well. I don’t think it was because I was very different from them because I was smarter, for I think I acted like a kid just as much as everyone else. I think other kids didn’t get along with me and picked on me because they didn’t like the fact that I was a girl and I was smart. I could always beat the boys in any academic competition, and it was very easy for me to do so. I think that is why the people that picked on me the most were the boys.

I don’t think I acted like a boy, and I don’t think I was any less feminine because I was smart. I never picked fights with these boys, and I was never too aggressive (generally considered a masculine trait). Every day I would receive a series of cut-downs because I was considered smart. Every day I felt these blows, trying to stop me from being what I really wanted to be - what I really could have been.

Once I got to high school, I never tried as hard in any of the work I did. I became a procrastinator. More importantly, I noticed a change in the way that I viewed myself - I suddenly became overly conscious of looking and acting like a girl, and not a boy. I’m sure that others go through these changes in opinion, but I don’t think that the reasons are the same. I notice the changes now - there are differences in the way that I keep myself, for example. I make a point to always wear make-up and jewelry. My nails are always manicured - to the point of giving me difficulty in writing this. My hair has been long ever since I left the third grade. I haven’t cut my hair in four years.

For the time I spend making myself look “pretty”, I could be doing something more constructive. I could be working harder to achieve my full potential in academics. I can’t help but wonder if I could have been any better if I wasn’t cut down when I was a child for doing something that was particularly masculine. I’m sure I could have.

I don’t know why the other kids treated me the way that they did. Maybe it was because the other boys felt threatened by my success. Maybe it was because the other boys thought that I was a girl that didn’t fit into the role that she was supposed to be playing. Maybe something different startled them, and maybe they felt that the only way to cope with that problem was to try to eliminate it. I don’t know what the reasons could be that a society would do that to a person, but those damages can be far too great.

I know that the things that have happened to me have had a great impact on my life as it is now. An example: I like to wear mini skirts. I must admit that they’re not particularly comfortable, and I often get annoyed by the stares that I get when I wear them, but I wear them anyway. Why? Because I feel that mini skirts will make me feel more feminine, and if more men notice that I am feminine, I feel better. Then I know that I will never be mistaken for a man again, or made fun of because I carry masculine traits. I find myself often playing the role of a “dumb blonde” around men-- I even find myself talking in a higher voice in an effort to make myself sound more feminine.

Once I grew older, I grew taller. Much taller. Five feet and ten inches is very tall for a woman to be - at least by today’s standards in society. This presents itself as another blow to my feminine ego (which is already damaged), and so I think I often feel as if I must overcompensate for these traits that I carry. I slouch more than the average; I try to act meek.

When I don’t gain acceptance in a feminine respect, especially after I’ve tried to (for example, when I’ve tried to look pretty and nobody notices the fact that I’ve made this effort to look “sexy”, “cute”, or “womanly”), I feel very dejected. I feel as if I haven’t done what I should have, and I feel like a failure. I feel miserable when I don’t have a boyfriend, for a woman can’t be a woman without a man. All my other female friends can’t understand why I want to have a boyfriend so much.

But I know why. Society tells me that I am supposed to be feminine. I am supposed to have a man, and if I don’t I am not a complete woman. I have accepted these notions, for they have been ingrained into my head for all of my life. I have already received blows to my fragile female ego-- I have been made fun of because I was smart (for that was a masculine trait), and I have been made fun of because I was tall. Maybe, because of this society and because of the things that have been said to me, I feel the need to make myself feel feminine.

And maybe that’s not right. And maybe, as I gain self-confidence, I will be able to change that and be myself in front of others. Maybe I will yet be able to grow to my full potential.

Look in advertisements today. There are women dressed as women in pretty pink dresses. There are men dressed as men-- in gray business suits. Women cook the meals, men go to work. Women are passive and submissive, men are strong and aggressive.

Children can see these signs at very early ages. Society - everyone that they know - accepts this and tells them that they should accept this as well. If a child sees something that doesn’t fit into this picture of a model society that everyone has construed for them, it can be considered understandable that the child may grow hostile to it, and want to make fun of it if it is considered something different.

Look at the influence that parents have over their child. Many children come from homes where the father works and the mother stays home and takes care of the kids. As soon as the child is born they are thrown into a nursery room with a color scheme that matches the baby’s sex. Girls are given dolls as opposed to trains, they are told to play inside instead of outside and they are appreciated when they act “feminine” instead of “masculine”, and they are cut down when they deviate from society’s norm. Picture books even impact the child’s beliefs: Male and female role models can be found in these books, and they are particularly masculine and feminine. In the picture books What Boys Can Be and What Girls Can Be, children are informed that boys can be firemen, policemen, businessmen. Girls are informed that they can be school teachers, nurses, and - don’t forget - mothers and housewives. The effect these childhood experiences can have on children can have a great impact on them for the rest of their lives.

Not only can these things influence a child’s attitudes toward their own sense of self, but it can also have a great influence over the child’s view of others. If another child is acting in a way that seems to go against all that had been taught to that child from everyone and everything else, they may want to act out against that behavior, in a passive, conforming context. The behavior of making fun of someone that has characteristics that are different from that of their assigned sex (according to society) can reaffirm a person’s belief in their own masculinity/femininity.

But that’s not the only thing that the action of teasing does. It also has a very negative effect on the person that is being made fun of.

Copyright Janet Kuypers.
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the book the Boss Ladys Editorials - 2005 Expanded Edition Blister and Burn, Janet Kuypers 2007 book