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If you've ever seen a nature documentary, then you've probably seen how lionesses go about getting their lunch: finding the easiest-to-kill member of a herd of antelope, spreading out and making sure escape routes are blocked, sending the strongest of the pack in to begin chasing their prey, and working as a team to weaken and exhaust that poor antelope as it runs as fast as it's spindly little legs can carry it. Similarly, if you've ever been a girl in a middle or high school, you know that "those girls" work pretty similarly.
They choose their prey based on a variety of factors.
- How likely are they to fight back?
- Do they have easy-to-spot "flaws", like glasses or braces or being overweight?
- Do they have their own "pack" who will protect them?
- Are they likely to go and tell an authority figure?
Okay, so no nature documentary I've ever seen has included an antelope going and tattling to a park ranger, but it can apply in a loose sense: they're probably not going to try and take down an antelope that's near to a human because of their perception that the human — authority figure — poses a threat to them.
So, if you meet these criteria — just like I did during my school days — you've probably been subjected to pretty heinous treatment at the hands of "those girls." Age fourteen, a girl who was part of the group that targeted me almost daily cut a chunk out of my hair from behind. Age fourteen, later in the year, that same group encircled me in the yard and accused me of calling one of their members fat. Not to put too fine a point on it, but given that I was too scared of them to tell anyone what they'd done to my hair, I obviously wasn't about to go inviting more of the same into my life, you know? That was irrelevant, as it turns out — the verbal abuse finished with the acknowledgement that I hadn't said it, they just felt like saying I did [insert their hyena-like laughter here].
I'm not going to tell you that they're jealous, that they envy your looks or intelligence or anything else so very cliche that you've likely heard many times from your parents before. What I'll tell you is the bare-naked truth of it all.
They don't like something about themselves. They're unhappy about something to do with them, not with you, but they (for some reason) think that making you feel worse will make them feel better. It won't — and if it does, it's temporary — but they'll keep doing it anyway because it's their fucked up coping mechanism and seeing their words make you feel bad gives them the satisfaction of knowing they aren't alone in their misery anymore.
Take the "fat" accusation I got — the girl in question was overweight and probably insecure about it (can you blame her with the pressure put on young girls to look perfect?), so the issue was projected on to me instead of being dealt with in a normal way — like talking to friends or parents.
I didn't handle any of this the same way I would now — and I don't love talking about it either, as it happens, but I've decided to open up about it in the hopes that my past mistakes and pain can help a new generation of "prey" to survive pack-attacks from "those girls."
They expect you to submit when confronted with their domineering personalities and to cower at the cold cruelty in their voices. All you have to do is subvert their expectations.
You don't have to suddenly become capable of giving as good as you get — it can be done in a way that make you seem just as weak as they see you as, but still gets to them.
There were about four Ashleigh's that did this to me through school, so I'll be using Ashleigh as the name for one of "those girls" in my examples from here on out.
Ashleigh walks into class, she's wearing an offensively loudly printed jacket and she hits you with an insult. I used to get called "goth" a lot for liking bands like Arctic Monkeys (I am fully aware that isn't "goth" music, but hey, they were pretty ignorant kids), so let's say she comes out with "Hey, got sacrificed anything to Satan lately?" — I was probably asked that at least once a week. Your natural instincts are going to be to deny it, to decry the question as false and try and seem appalled by it so as they don't ask again. Spoiler alert: this is part of their game. They're using it to weaken you and make you easy prey. It takes a lot of energy to fend off the same insults and questions day in, day out.
What they aren't going to expect is for you to agree with them. "Yeah, it was pretty messy though, clothes got all bloody and everything," you'll say, as they look at you incredulously. The game is ruined, the prey is now helping the predator in a manner of speaking, and they don't know what to do with that. As they stare at you in disbelief, I'd recommend employing the compliment-insult-compliment sandwich that men like to use to pick up women in bars. "I admire your individuality and bravery so much Ashleigh, I wouldn't have the confidence to wear a coat that didn't go with my skin tone but you are just so confident about it! Kudos to you, girl," you say, smiling innocently as if you really believe that you gave her a compliment. They can't accuse you of anything; you sandwiched that insult nicely between two compliments, but the insult is in there and they know it, just like you do.
Again, no predator expects their prey to be kind to them, so they're not getting what they want out of the exchange. If you keep this up, the exchanges give less and less satisfaction to your Ashleigh,\ and they become a futile waste of time.
As well as confirming any accusations they throw at you as true, spin it into a joke at your own expense. You get called four-eyes for wearing glasses? Grab a pair of goggles in science class and say "hey look, now it's six!" as you walk past them. Being called fat? Tell them you only need to gain a few more pounds before you'll be able to kill people by sitting on them, (even if you're not at all overweight, it's taking the power out of their insults). Being called "rake" or "stick insect" for being slender? Loudly celebrate about the fact you can hide behind lamp-posts.
You get the picture now, right? The point of all of this is to render their comments and questions pointless because you got to the punchline before them. Where's the fun in making fun of someone who does it to themselves? What's the point in asking questions designed to make you uncomfortable if you simply agree with them?
Pull the rug out from under their feet and defend yourself without seeming like you're standing up to them. You're ruining the "hunt" for them, but you aren't a threat because you're doing it without turning around and coming for them.
Being targeted by a pack of first-class bitches is tough and your instinct is going to be to do whatever stops them the quickest at that point in time — but these tactics are going to stop them long term. They may leave you alone for the rest of that period if you just ignore them or nod along, but they'll start again next period, because they saw that it got to you and are ready to start again. Ruin their game for them permanently by being a different kind of predator.
Some predators, like lionesses, hunt by being vicious from the get-go and hurting their prey. Others — like this pretty incredible beetle larvae — trick the very predator hunting them in to becoming their prey. The larvae actively attracts frogs — who believe they're the hunter — into coming closer in order to eat them, then dodges the attack of the frogs tongue (this is you, making a joke of their insults and dodging the attack) and hops on to the frog, attaching itself to the frog with its mandibles and eating it (this is you giving the insult-in-a-sandwich). Being beetle larvae may not sound as appealing as being a lioness, but the lionesses hunt in packs because they're not as strong alone — the beetle is clever enough to know how to work alone against bigger, stronger animals and succeed, so being beetle larvae is really much better.
You are strong, just as strong as (if not stronger than) the girls who must hunt in packs to get results, because you can strike back alone.
Never forget that while they may be picking up on things that are real, like weight or appearence or interests they don't understand, that doesn't mean the insult behind the truth is also real. You may be over (or under) weight, you may have braces, you may be taller or shorter than most or like a band no one has heard of — but just because they perceive these things as negatives, doesn't mean they actually are.
"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent" - Eleanor Roosevelt.
If you're struggling with bullying, verbal, or physical abuse at the hands of fellow students but don't want to "tell on them" — you can contact Childline here, if you're in the UK, and find a variety of support services here, if you're in the USA. You're also welcome to find me on Twitter if you're having problems and want to talk to someone who's been through something similar - @SRJWriter.