Friday, July 6, 2012

Justified Bullying

Rankism. AKA, justified bullying.
You may be wondering what is Rankism1? It is a term coined by Robert Fuller to define "abusive, discriminatory, or exploitative behavior towards people because of their rank in a particular hierarchy." This hierarchy may be one that really exists, or one that is simply perceived. It encompasses a huge realm of discrimination against many, in the name of racism, homophobia, sexism, classism, all the way to adult/child, boss/employee and teacher/student relationships. Rankism involves a well defined imbalance of power and importance and is a huge contributor to bullying behavior. Rankism, or ones perceived superiority, often gives one a feeling of justification to bully. Therefore, I feel it is well worth exploring.

Robert Fuller is physics professor turned social reformer. He identified and coined the term rankism, which led him to begin publishing books on the subject in 20032. Fuller asserts that rankism is the primary source of man-made suffering. He believes that if we abolish all forms of rankism, we will have an ideal society. While I agree that removing all forms of rankism could make the world a less conflicting place, I don't feel that this is a fully achievable goal. As humans, we compare. It's part of our nature to look at what we have, look like, do, etc. and how it relates to what others have, look like and do, and we cannot always suppress a sense of superiority when we have or are something that is considered more or better than someone else. That being said, rankism as it manifests through racism, sexism, classism, sexual orientation, etc. can be slowly eradicated so that the widely accepted beliefs of today can become the rare exception by tomorrow.

While we will never fully remove rankism from society - as you will always have those rare people or groups who perpetuate ignorance and teach their children that they are "better than" others due to their religion, color, gender or wealth; I look at the immense strides we have made in only the past few decades in regards to womens rights, racism, and sexual orientation.

As recently as the 1950's and 60's and even well into the 70's, it was not only socially acceptable for a white person to call a black person a nigger, it was totally ok to say it to their face. To be clear – it was acceptable within the white community. Now, almost all whites will admonish another for using that word, even in private homes. A lot worse than name calling happened to blacks, before, during and even after the civil rights movement. I won't go into the stories of lynching, cross burning, regular beatings and verbal assault blacks in that period endured. I will simply state that in todays culture - even though there are a few who hold to the lingering idea that their skin color gives them elevated status or importance; those attitudes and acts are now reviled and are no longer socially acceptable beliefs.

In that same time frame, it was considered acceptable for a man to hit his wife. There was a term for this, it was called "Family Discipline". If a man came home from work and found his wife had not cleaned, or had talked angrily about him, or had burned his supper, or had done anything at all to act "out of line" he was well with in his moral` rights to discipline her with physical force. This sounds ridiculous and shocking, and it is. This mentality is so far out of the accepted norm for our society that some may find it hard to believe.

But to give you a really good idea of how rapidly and drastically our cultural mindsets have changed, one only needs to turn on the television and watch some old programming from those times. You may well be horrified at the things they were allowed to say back then, or the overall bigoted attitudes. Take this scene from the very famous Clint Eastwood Movie, "High Plains Drifter".

Early in the movie, Eastwoods character is strolling through town, minding his own business when he is accosted by a pretty woman who has a nasty chip on her shoulder. This woman has a serious attitude problem and she has been nothing but a royal pain up to this point. As she purposely bumps into Tall-Dark-and-Handsome and begins to berate him about her now rumpled dress, he tries calmly to talk her down and even tries walk away. The woman will not let up and continues to insult him and knocks his cigar out of his hand. At this point, Eastwood's character becomes upset and tells her that she needs to learn a lesson in manners. He grabs her by the arm and begins dragging her to a nearby horse stable. She begins screaming hysterically and shrieking loudly to be let go. Inside the horse stable, he forces her to the ground and rapes her as she repeatedly says no and pleads with him to stop. Midway through the forced sex, she begins to relax and appears to enjoy the experience. Afterwards, she is a perfectly pleasant person and becomes an ally to Eastwoods character - who, you should know, is quite the hero in this story.

High Plains Drifter is only one great example of how culturally established acceptable practices can be drastically changed in a relatively short time. I first saw this movie in 2006 and was so upset by this scene that I left the room and have refused to watch another Eastwood movie since. Of course, there are some men out there who still believe they are superior to women and even that they have the right to dominate them physically. I personally know a man who objectifies women and teaches these values to his son. But I take great comfort in knowing that his mentality is not only uncommon - it is heavily frowned upon by the overwhelming majority of our society.

It seems, that as we continue down the path of eradicating rankism, the end of one prejudice opens the door to focus on another. Rather, the prejudice was there to begin with, but as racism and sexism (which must always be combated) take a step aside, it leaves our community open to tackle other forms of rankism. Currently, we are fighting for gay rights. I, for one, am happy to see that fight is gaining ground. Looking again to our recent cultural past: There was a time in the past century when homosexuality was classified as a mental illness and those who displayed tendencies towards this behavior were forced into mental hospitals and subjected to many perverse forms of "treatment" including electric shock therapy and tactics that would be considered torture by todays standards. Even as recently as the 1980's, homosexuality was simply not tolerated and most gays hid their orientation. In 1997, Ellen DeGeneres broke major ground by coming out her show "The Ellen Show". The show itself did not recover and was immediately canceled as sponsors such as Chrysler and JC Penny's pulled their funding. Our society, as a whole, was not yet ready to accept people being openly gay only 15 years ago. Today, there are now 34 shows featuring gay characters in leading and supportive roles3 . And just today (the day I am writing this article), the president of the united states has declared his support for same-sex marriage.

 As more and more people change their mentalities every day. Currently, LGBT (lesbian, gay, Bisexual, Transgendered) people are still being targeted by political groups, in schools, and by some religious sects. Gays are currently among the highest targeted victims of bullying in schools, the workplace and everywhere else. But I do believe that just as has been done with minorities and women, this community will win their rights and gain equal status as mentalities continue to change.

While there will never be a world perfect and free from all forms of rankism, I do believe that we are well on our way. We have so much farther to go, but one only need to look back 30 or so years to see how far we have actually come. It takes pioneers and brave advocates to stand up for the rights of those perceived as Less Than. It takes parents teaching their children, teachers teaching their students, clergy teaching their flock, and all of us teaching each other what we will and will not accept in our world. The more of us teaching and practicing tolerance and acceptance, peace and limitless friendship, the more we will all learn and grow into a truly evolved race of beings.


Do you sometimes feel smug when you have something or are something that society has deemed "best"? Do you ever catch yourself looking down on others for their lifestyle or personal choices, or even by what they are, as defined by our society? Do you ever express these ideas in front of your kids?


  1. I wish to be the first to comment and say that I do sometimes feel that there are mentalities that are better than others. There are ideals - we all have them, of standards that we ourselves meet and we try to instill those into others. While I do not subscribe to racism, sexism, classism or homophobia, I do look down upon those who do. I also find myself looking down on others who are lazy, place importance on material possessions, or adhere to practices that have no logical value for no other reason than because they are told to. I do express my opinion to my kids because I want them to understand my world view. That does not mean that I think I am better - just that I have a better idea of things. That probably sounds smug.

  2. I try really hard not to point out differences in people to my children. In my opinion, I teach them our values and I teach them that other people do what they do and that it is all normal and acceptable. That I don't need to go around looking into what everyone else is doing any more than I want everyone else telling me whether I am doing things the way they would or not.

  3. I would add in ablism to your list of things I'm against. This is the belief, "Because I can, anyone can." It takes another life out of context and labels that person as 'lazy', 'inferior', 'crazy', 'weak' and implies that the person is therefore useless or worthless.

    What you may call laziness could in fact be a result of someone experiencing intense physical/emotional pain performing a task you take for granted as being simple, easy or 'worth the work' (they may not agree that that part of their life is best spent doing that work--particularly if they know that their life is compromised: short or regularly full of pain).

    I could easily place myself in a position of superiority over other people with depression, for instance. I have lived with it for 19 years, in the most severe form and I do not take medication for it, nor do I let it always rule my life. But I don't. I offer what has helped me, other options that are available and in the end, I don't judge the person if they are not in a place of strength to recover.

    I was diagnosed with a slew of conditions that left doctors believing I would be totally nonfunctional by this point in my life. Anyone who is not informed otherwise tends to believe that I am normal and mostly healthy (I'm fat and plenty of people see THAT as a symptom of laziness/unhealthy choices). The reason that this belief existed is that most people can't function with half of what I fight through every day.

    I will not assume that I could survive someone else's set of circumstances--what I fight, what I LIVE is my own personal demons and my path. This is what I have learned to deal with and where my situation, environment and choices have led me. Yet, I've been flat out told that I've 'wasted my potential' because I do not make the same choices that others do.

    And "Lazy" is probably one of the first words most people would use to describe me. I would challenge anyone who would say that to live one month in my body, in my mind and psyche and see if they even come out of it alive, much less as productive as they feel that I should be.

    Ablism is one of the most prominent -isms in this country. It's everyone who feels it's a waste of time to build a wheelchair ramp. It's everyone who says that no one should complain about the TSA searches, because that's just whining and if they don't like it, they shouldn't fly (because, you know, a rape victim should never have a job where they might have to travel regularly!). It's everyone who says that everyone else's house should be as clean as their own. It's everyone who says that disabled people should just get a job or mimic one (a family member once mentioned "pushing a button all day so that they are as miserable as I am at my job." Because being ostracized, looked down upon and in constant pain/discomfort/numbness/inability to function isn't enough).

    Ablist are bullies that don't even realize the extensive damage they are doing every time they open their mouths.

    Just food for thought. Certainly an unpopular one.

  4. I don't think it's unpopular, Heather, no one wants to be judged. And you're absolutely right - we should never make assumptions about people. Even those we think we know well may only tell us part of what they do or why.
    When I used that word in my response, I was not referring to people that I see in public. I was mainly talking specifically about someone who once bragged about being lazy and how she sleeps all day and only ever does anything if someone forces her. I couldn't understand her mentality at all. I thought she was joking, but she told me several times and would constantly ask my father in law for money. It made him so miserable.
    I should have been more clear when I said it. You're right that we all have hidden disabilities. This is something I toss around in my head when thinking of my parents, and how I was brought up. How much responsibility do they bear for their actions or at times, lack of action? It's easy to say: Hey, they were the adults they should have known/done better just because they were big and I was little. But then I reason: my stepped was all kinds of jacked up. The stuff he went through as a kid is the stuff they make horror movies out of. As a kid it was fine for me to point my finger at him and judge him for how he treated me. But as an adult, I can see exactly where he was coming from. My mom.... I'm still working that one out. My point is, I know what you're saying and I agree. Thanks for the response.

    Kellie, that's a great mindset. Something we should all try and practice. Where do you draw the line between "that is what they do and that's ok" and "that's just not acceptable"? What I mean is, considering situations they may be presented with as they get older? If they were to hear about or witness a parent abusing or neglecting a child, stealing, cheating or taking drugs, would you use those instances as teaching moments? Not necessarily condemning the person but condemning the behavior? If so, How would you differentiate the two so your child understands what you mean?

  5. I just realized that I wrote all of that without answering the question specifically, d'oh! I have definitely done that in the past. I still do on some subjects. Whenever I do, I try to think back to when I WAS there (or, if I was never there, what it would take to BE there). I'm FAR from perfect there, but I'm constantly stepping on myself for snap judgments and first impressions.

    It's funny, I can sit and listen, non-judgmentally to a long story that, had I heard second hand, I probably would have judged the shit out of the person for. I don't know what it is about being in personal contact (or even via the internet) that changes my reactions... maybe it's going into clinical mode if they're asking me to be their counselor or friendship mode otherwise.

    I'm still bad about it when people make choices without even TRYING to be informed or knowing that what they're doing is going to hurt someone else. People who defend doing things I find reprehensible... I don't know if I feel smug? I remember that feeling from childhood and young adulthood and I don't think I've felt it in years. I more just feel FRUSTRATED that they can't see how the choice is hurting someone, kwim?

    I've certainly gone off on people for an annoying behavior that I've seen 50 billion times on the internet (just did, yesterday). I didn't feel superior, just angry because I was tired of it (in this case, it was about a statistic on unnecessary inductions robbing babies of time they need in utero and someone going off about someone they know needing an emergency cesarean with a preemie... aka, TOTALLY unrelated).

    Maybe part of it is that for every good choice I make, I'm plagued by the dozens of bad ones I've made before it. I still make snap judgments and time varies on how long it takes me to get over it. I'm definitely not where I'd like to be there, yet. Maybe I never will (judgment is a natural human survival tactic, after all).

    I had not thought about this form of bullying in a while (although, apparently, I had some stuff built up in there! Sorry about the vent, lol!).

    To be continued...

  6. My first experience with racism was as a child in foster care, when I was the only member of my race and when my foster mother spoke of me, that's what she called me. Not my name, my race (one of them, so I should specify: my skin tone).

    Classism... well, I'm poor, so that's always been there. I've just always rejected it.

    Gender... I definitely suffered that. One of the reasons I'm alive today was the mistake made that I was to be born a boy. I grew up wanting to BE a boy. I hated being female. I bound my breasts when they grew in and was sad that my penis never appeared. I eventually came to terms with it (as I'm not transgendered). I went to an all boys school and had to prove my masculinity (not hard for this tomboy) just to survive. If I wore a skirt, I was held down and they pulled at my clothes until they were satisfied that I was wearing shorts underneath (and then, I had to beat the holy hell out of all of them to assert my alpha status). I was challenged by every boy that came through as "not good enough" because I was female.

    As for religion... yeah. I dealt with constant fear for not being a member of the dominant religion in high school.

    I was called a faggot by my first brother-in-law. Frankly, I thought it was hilarious. I don't know why, but his ridiculous term didn't hurt me. Boys Don't Cry traumatized me, on the other hand. I knew better than to talk about my orientation in high school. In fact, I hid behind a shield of homophobia early on, hiding from my attraction to my best friend when I was 8, my (female) teacher when I was 9, etc.

    I guess I will always fall to the bottom of the barrel when it comes to ranking. It sucks in a lot of ways, but really, I don't give a shit in a lot of OTHER ways ;) I think there's a point where you've been bullied so much about something that you learn to steal the power or it kills you. For me, it kinda went the other way (when I couldn't kill me, I had to learn to take that power away), but however it works out in the end, the best way to take that power is to embrace who you are--the good and the bad.

    And I think that once I could do that, I was able to more readily embrace it in others.

  7. Destany, I talk to my kids about how they feel, about how they would feel, what they think about things that are blatantly wrong. I don't know that we've ever discussed child abuse, because my kids are VERY sensitive and that would just scar them at this point. The appropriate time for that will come. But, as an example, we went into a public bathroom the other day and a woman was in the bathroom smoking in a stall. Here in OH, it is illegal to smoke in public, so I'm sure she was hiding out instead of smoking at the entrance. At any rate, we walked into the bathroom and the kids couldn't wait for another bathroom, so we had to go on in even though it was stifling. I saw the woman who had been smoking, but I didn't say anything to her. Instead, I just spoke to my kids about how we don't smoke because it isn't healthy, and also about how hard it was for me to breathe, with my breathing condition, in that smoke filled bathroom. Without pointing out the person who was smoking and blaming them, I did take the opportunity to instill in my children that when we make choices, they affect other people and that in OUR family, we choose to be mindful of those other people. But, you know, without it sounding condescending. ;)

  8. Insightful as ever Kellie! You make a really good point about explaining the consequences of an action. In our country, the things that are illegal are so because they are harmful to others. I think it would be a more effective deterrent against wrong behaviors of they understand how they are hurtful - rather than simply admonishing them, " that's awful, they shouldn't be doing that!" and leaving the child confused. When the time comes and they are presented with the option of choosing that behavior, an educated person can at least be more aware of how that choice can hurt others. Many kids - and here, I specifically mean teenagers, are more apt to follow these behaviors when they don't have all of the facts and believe (perhaps subconsciously) that they will be hurting their parents and therefore asserting their independence.

    I'm not sure where I'm going with this. But it's got my brain working this morning as I examine how my language may be perceived by my kids.