The tactic of the bully
A guest post from Rosie Kay
Today in The Book Forge I’m delighted to introduce a guest post from the choreographer Rosie Kay. Many of you will have read her story of how she was forced out of the dance company she founded for asserting the reality and importance of biological sex. Rosie and I have become friends through our shared experiences of being bullied for our view that sex is real and immutable, and I am thrilled that she has offered to share some thoughts here on bullying and the experience of being bullied. This follows my own post yesterday on the same topic. Tomorrow we hope to record a podcast together - make sure you are subscribed so that you don’t miss it!
The tactic of the bully is to shun the victim into silence. The bully targets one person, recruits others to cheerlead and then attacks. They count on the fact that the victim is shocked and cannot immediately fight back. The bully hones in on what they know to be beloved of the victim - their career, their family, their freedom of expression - and takes these things away.
Like Kathleen Stock, I too was relentlessly bullied at school. Despite being Scottish born I was bullied due to my impeccable English accent after we returned to live in Edinburgh when I was 13 years old. I remember the school tactics then; one of the girls targeted me, and built a campaign, using other girls to do the dirty work. It progressed from verbal abuse and taunts to full blown punching, kicking, tripping over and pushing. It only stopped when I fought back.
Dance is a brutally competitive profession, particularly for women. Despite contemporary dance being less ‘perfectionist’ than ballet, there is a ruthless resolve a dancer must cultivate in order to not just survive but succeed. This takes many forms - the weight loss and low body weight are an obvious area where women and girls compete - but it can be as subtle as turn out, flexibility, body shape and the most insidious, mental distraction. Standing on one leg on a raked stage, memorising long complex pattern sequences; these things take remarkable mental focus and clarity. One distraction, one self-doubt, and a tiny readjustment becomes a wobble, a wobble becomes a shake, and this can lead to a fall or a misfire of attack. These errors on stage, in some companies, can be grounds for dismissal, or at the least, the loss of a coveted role.
Once, in a larger company, I had a female dancer who greatly resented my presence and my casting in a large production as a soloist. She made rehearsals painful, often banging doors while I was coached on my solo, or distracting the director’s attention throughout large cast rehearsals, implying I was in the wrong place, at the wrong time. I had to find great mental strength to block her out of my view and dance in, around and over her. But nothing prepared me for standing on an opera house size stage, in front of a sold-out live audience, preparing to start my solo, and seeing her tucked into the wings- in sight of me but out of sight of everyone else. She looked at me with utter disgust and mouthed ‘you’re shit’. Never has a triple pirouette or a prolonged balance on one leg felt so precarious, or so in a war zone.
Exploring the body and war, by joining an infantry battalion, many years later, I was prepared for some bullying, or at least, as they call it; ‘robust banter’. What was remarkable was how little outright sexism or misogyny I encountered. Sure, soldiers had been told what not to say to women, but uniform on, head down, trying as hard as possible to do the tasks asked, my sex seemed to fade away at moments, only coming back starkly the next. In some off time, I was asked to join hockey practice at a nearby garrison sports site. Running for the ball, a junior officer shouted, ‘Thank God we’ve got the ball girl today’. The other soldiers admonished him. It was the only outright sexist remark I heard to my face.
Mental strength to fight the bullies is essential, but what can be even harder to take than the bully is the collective silence that surrounds your victimisation. At school, I still feel the betrayal of friends who turned a blind eye, and the teachers who did nothing. Those were different days, I think, we are all so much more bullying aware.
But look at what is happening to women who dare to speak up for women’s rights. We are being bullied, ostracised, our livelihoods destroyed, and our reputations and careers threatened. Instead of standing up and supporting these women, there is a collective silence and even a collective de-platforming. More than the bullying, this level of cowardice from everyone else in your career fields chips away at your trust in the decency of people and the strength of collective good.
We see it in our political parties, we see it in the arts, we see it in universities, we see it across so many aspects of society. As Joan Smith said in The Critic, ‘accusations of ‘transphobia’ are a means of asserting power, a reminder that its dangerous to challenge the reactionary and unscientific ideology of trans extremists’.
But we are strong, intelligent women, and we are often at the height of our powers, and we feel compelled to speak out and to seek the truth and to protect women and girls now and into the future. There is nothing transphobic about the protection and safeguarding of women in vulnerable spaces, in prisons, in sports and in hospitals, and it shouldn’t take courage to say so.
Like Rosie Duffield MP, I too am a victim of domestic abuse, and like many women, I too suffered at the birth of my son. Women are our bodies, and we know it, we no longer need nor want to play games and pretend that sexism isn’t real and the oppression of women is not due to our biology. We need more people in positions of power to start to stand up and respect the rights of women and to ignore the nasty bully tactics of extremists who dare to silence and oppress our best and brightest women. We cannot allow a generation of brilliant women to be lost.
At its heart, we need to really think about what kind of principles do we hold true and strong for us a society. Recently, I was involved in curating a series of talks with military experts, artists, academics and cyber experts, entitled ‘The Mind is the Frontline’ with support from Army @ the Fringe. In it, my basic premise, quite apart from all the incredible new developments of info-wars, grey zones and human augmentation, was to ask; what do we ask our soldiers to fight for and to defend, if freedom and civilisation and democracy is not at the heart of our collective society? Can we, with the spirit of enlightenment still within us, argue that the quality of freedom is a universally good one? That as humans we are happier, more fulfilled, stronger, safer, when we have freedom of thought, freedom of speech, freedom of conscience? For the quality of ‘offence’ is far, far trickier to define. Qualities of offence are time specific, place specific and shift and warp through cultures. The debate on art, culture and freedom of expression is not one of ‘culture wars’; it speaks to the very core of our democratic principles and our ability to think, to debate, to question and to express. The arts are not, and never have been, a luxury; they are the very frontline of the human mind and deal with our dreams, fantasies, nightmares and our darkest impulses. Shut them down or censor them, and what kind of civilisation is left?
To support Rosie Kay’s new company K2CO, click here.
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