Perhaps you’ve seen a recent event trending online – an instance of cyberbullying carried out via the Bumble dating app and an open letter from the company in response to the attacker. Did you know that, according to the Canadian Women’s Foundation, girls are 2x more likely to be bullied online than boys?
This is nothing unusual. A recent video from Upworthy shows the discrimination women face working as sports reporters.
Whenever I hear of an instance of a woman being attacked online for something unprovoked, it always stirs up of feelings of sadness because it happened to me and I hid it, feeling ashamed and embarrassed.
Long before the days of Facebook, there was an instant messaging program called ICQ. Those of us who used it will likely remember the sound of a high pitched “uh-oh” indicating you have received a message! Oh joy!
Growing up as a tomboy, sports were an integral part of my life and one of my greatest sources of self-worth and confidence*. One of the best memories I have as a teenager was playing baseball in a predominantly male league. In my hometown, there were softball leagues specifically for girls and boys separately however, to play baseball, no division existed for girls. And so I signed up for the boys league.
For the most part, I was treated like any other player in the league and I made some really great friendships.
But the experience also took away the rose-coloured glasses through which I saw the opposite sex. One particular instance stands out more than the others. My first experience of cyberbullying occurred as a result of my presence in the “boy’s” baseball league. A fellow player and school-mate belligerently and vulgarly began an unprovoked rant against me via instant messaging, essentially telling me I didn’t belong in his league and that I should leave. This was a boy who I had considered a friend at school and with whom I had other mutual friends.
Instead of telling anyone, I hid this attack. What had I done to make him so angry?
I was scared and embarrassed. If the people at school found out, surely they wouldn’t believe me. I was quiet and shy; he was loud and well-liked.
For years I played over the situation in my head – surely, I must have done something to provoke him.
Do you see what’s wrong here? I believed I had done something wrong.
It wasn’t my fault.
It took years of maturing to realize that the only person in the wrong was him. In attending an assertiveness course (yes, even girls who are beasts in the gym need to learn how to be assertive) I learned that how someone chooses to react to a situation is their issue – not yours. And while that was a personal attack, that boy had greater issues to deal with than me.
Reflecting back, despite the fact that I still think about that bully from time-to-time, I see this was the beginning of my journey as a leader. After I signed up to play in that league, one more girl signed up to play the following year. And another the year after that!
I’m putting this out there after all this time to let other girls who might be experiencing the same thing know that they aren’t alone and it’s not your fault.
And if you’re carving a path that others might not appreciate right now, know that you are digging the way for others behind you.
Be brave, girl!
*According to the World Health Organization’s paper “Girls’ Participation in Physical Activities and Sports: Benefits, Patterns, Influences and Ways Forward,” there is a positive correlation between physical activity and young women’s physical, emotional and sociological well-being.