When I was a kid the internet was still this weird and nebulous and misunderstood thing. Computer screens were green and DOS was king. I slowly grew up with the internet. I got my first AOL username when I was thirteen and I’ve had my current AIM username for more than twelve years.

But the internet I navigated in the mid to late 90s is not the same place that’s available now. Back then anonymity was du jour. You relished your anonymity. You could go on the internet and be anyone and it was intoxicating.

Slowly the internet became a place where people were their most honest and their cruelest. Back then if someone threw a slur at you it was easy to let it roll off.

“Yeah,” you think, “you don’t know the real me. You know nothing about me.”

And it was true. You might have been a high school junior at a backwaters school in the middle of nowhere but online you could be a senior at MIT and getting ready for med school. So what if they mocked you? It wasn’t really you they were mocking. Just a character you created.

Then blogs and Friendster and Myspace and Facebook came and suddenly the face people put forward on the internet were their real faces. Fanfic authors started using their real names and people would call people “faggots” and “niggers” using a Facebook identity that showed you their likes, dislikes, and the people they loved.

The internet stopped being that epic cyberworld posited by people like William Gibson and it became an extension of the real world.

Thousands of Tumblrs and Livejournals and Facebook pages feature real people with real hopes and dreams and real insecurities. Now when you call someone a nasty name it’s not some nebulous entity in the ethers but a real person.

And when reality sets in the weight of your words change.

What’s scary is as our internet “world” grows smaller and less anonymous the language used in it has become more virulent.

More than half of people between the ages of 14 and 24 regularly engage in the use of slurs online. Over half. Go into a high school classroom. Half of those kids have no problem using words like slut, faggot, nigger and spic in a casual online setting.

Somehow they missed the memo on why it was so easy and cool to be nasty back in the day. They say these things and they’re aren’t anonymous. And when they say these things to people they know–even if it’s only in passing–it means something.

This weekend Jamey Rodemeyer, a 14-year-old boy, hung himself because he was fed up with bullying he suffered in school and online by his peers. He was exhausted from being told day in and day out that

JAMIE IS STUPID, GAY, FAT ANND UGLY. HE MUST DIE!”

The internet isn’t the same place it once was and the words used in it are all the more potent. As these kids normalize these nasty slurs online they let them eke out into the real world where they shove kids against lockers and call them fags and have a good laugh.

Bullying is no longer just a trope used in shows about high school. Now it’s real and it’s deadly.

In 1970 after years of gay bashing and on the heels of the Stonewall Riots the first Pride Parade was held in New York City.

“[I]n order to be more relevant, reach a greater number of people, and encompass the ideas and ideals of the larger struggle in which we are engaged-that of our fundamental human rights-“

In 1976 Take Back the Night began as a way for women to publically protest violence against women and remind the world that women often didn’t feel safe walking alone at night.

Recently Slutwalk has become a movement much like a Pride parade. A place where women proudly where what they want as they remind people that women should be able to dress and act how they please without worrying about victim blaming.

Maybe now we need a Take Back the Hallways. Some way to protest the nasty language that has pervaded schools. A way to remind people that their words carry immense power and that they half to be used responsibly. Let’s not fetishize the dead in our struggles to fighting bullying, but let’s start holding bullies accountable. “Boys will be boys” and “girls are just catty at that age” can no longer be an acceptable excuse. “That’s high school. Suck it up,” can no longer be the mantra we preach.

If you see bullying take place stand up and say no. If you hear that language online be vocal. Too often we’re all meek in the presence of such nastiness. “It’s just a stupid teenager. They don’t get it.” That doesn’t mean you can’t say something. Report them. Engage them. Be active.

“It gets better.” True enough. Most of us grow out of adolescence and learn the value of a word and all that hateful language dissipates. It becomes the hallmark of the immature. But we can’t just wait for an entire generation to “grow out of it.”

So take back the hallways and say no.


Fatal error: Class 'Simple_Attribution' not found in /home1/fempopco/public_html/wordpress/wp-content/themes/valenti-child/single.php on line 65