Girl Bullying: Women Leaders Share Their Stories by Cassidy McMillan

GIRL BULLYING – WOMEN LEADERS SHARE THEIR STORIES
by Cassidy McMillan
@CassidyMcM

While girl friendships should be positive, many girls have found friendships with girls can be confusing, or at times, may lead to betrayal. A girl may find if she doesn’t “belong” to a certain clique, that group may target her. Girl bullying, also known as relational aggression, includes shunning, isolating a girl from others, telling lies about her, betraying her trust, or committing physical abuse. While the aggressor girl feels justified whether out of jealousy or anger, the impact to the girl being targeted can create lifelong effects, and in some cases, tragedy.

In my research on relational aggression for the documentary film I directed, Bullies And Friends which provides solutions to the issue and documents a court case in which teen girls stood trial for bullying, I’ve spoken with educators and students across North America. At schools where I’ve spoken on the topic, girls have asked what they can do when they’re bullied by other girls. Parents have asked me what they can do to help their daughters cope with girl bullying.

Building a daughter’s self-esteem and empowering her to believe in herself is essential for parents to do. It’s also important for girls to know they’re not alone in experiencing girl bullying, and to know other girls have overcome it and gone on to make a positive difference in the world.

With that in mind, I asked a few of my women colleagues who are leaders in their respective fields: TV network broadcast news, the judicial system, car racing, a non-profit education organization, to share their stories and advice on girl bullying, and I’m sharing my own story as well. I asked how they worked through girl bullying, found the self-esteem to become the leaders they are today, and why it’s important for girls to be supportive of each other. I also asked what advice they’d give their
younger self. Their stories were compelling and inspiring.

KYRA PHILLIPS
CNN News Anchor/Correspondent Investigative Documentary Unit. Author, Speaker, Radio Host

How were you bullied in school by other girls? Did you ever report the bullying to anyone? If you didn’t report it, what kept you from reporting it?

I’ll never forget one of the worst situations. It was in junior high school, and I told two girls that they were both my best friend. I still remember the moment when they teamed up and followed me home from school and were throwing rocks at me, yelling nasty comments and threatening me. I remember just walking home saying to myself “please let me make it home…” They knew my parents weren’t going to be home because my parents worked, and I went into the house. They followed me in, cornered me in the TV room and just went off on me. Now thank God we talked it out. I don’t remember how I talked out of getting my butt kicked to be quite frank, but I remember just feeling so ashamed, and scared and guilty. And that I caused it and for some reason I deserved to get beat up and I should have never told them both they were my best friend. I look back now and go, “Oh my gosh Kyra, how could you be so stupid or so naïve?” But you know, at that moment, I thought it was so real, and that I screwed up and that this was normal and that I did wrong. And it was the most awful feeling in the world, like I didn’t want to be alive in that moment. I was scared to death.

Other bullying happened when I had to wear a back brace because I had Scoliosis. The kids used to make fun of me, calling me “flat ass” because the plastic/metal brace wrapped around my entire mid-section and down my butt. I never reported instances of bullying because I was afraid it would get worse.

How did being bullied by those girls affect you, and do you still have any of the effects to this day due to that?

At first, bullying scared me and made me feel really empty. However, as I got older and gained more confidence, I started to have more of a forgiving attitude and worked on making the bullies my friends. I never thought killing them with kindness would ever work, but in high school, it did.

How did you overcome the girls bullying you and how did you find your self-esteem and determination?

I built my self-esteem and determination through excelling in things that I loved….sports, writing, student government and advocacy. I got involved in Special Olympics, Young Life, youth camp, and I started a chapter of Students Against Driving Drunk.

What advice would you give teen girls as far as how to communicate better and to not bully other girls?

Bullying comes out of our own insecurity and not feeling worthy. As soon as you start doing things for people less fortunate than you, it humbles you, makes you more compassionate and a better person. Practice being grateful, thankful and forgiving.

Why is it important for girls to be supportive of other girls?

As girls and women, if we don’t support each other, inspire each other and lift each other up, we’ll never be able to compete and succeed in a male dominated world.

If you could go back in time and talk to your younger self who was being bullied by the other girls, with the knowledge and accomplishments you have now, what sentence would you tell yourself?

You are going to make a difference in this world, so just do what is right and believe in yourself.

About: Kyra Phillips is an Emmy, Peabody, and Edward R. Murrow award-winning news anchor and investigative correspondent for CNN, and has garnered exclusive interviews with some of the world’s most public figures. Just prior to the Iraq War, Kyra became the first female journalist to fly in an F-14 air-to-air combat training mission over the Persian Gulf. She’s received S.W.A.T. training and specialized aviation training with the Navy’s TOPGUN School. In 2002, she filmed a CNN documentary in Antarctica, where she rappelled down glaciers, slept in an igloo and introduced viewers to a rare colony of penguins. Since 1992, she’s been a Big Sister for the national Big Brothers/Big Sisters program, and in 2013 received the National Global Down Syndrome Foundation’s Quincy Jones Exceptional Advocacy Award and is now a Global Ambassador. She’s the co-author of the “Whole Life Fertility Plan,” and co-host of the “Mom Squad Show.” She’s married to fellow journalist John Roberts and is the proud mom of twins. Find her on Twitter @CNNKyra.

Stacey Honowitz - Prosecutor, Attorney in FL

STACEY HONOWITZ Prosecutor/Attorney. Supervisor Florida State Attorney’s Office Sex Crimes/Child Abuse Unit. Media Legal Analyst and Author

How were you bullied in school by other girls? Did you ever report the bullying to anyone? If you didn’t report it, what kept you from reporting it?

I was bullied as a young girl, although I’m not quite sure we actually had a label for it then. I think we just called them “mean girls” because that’s what they were. I remember going home many times and crying about “not fitting in” and always wondering why people had to be so insensitive. I wondered why their parents hadn’t told them “if you can’t say something nice, shh, say nothing.” I want kids to understand that there will always be some kids that just can’t help themselves. They need to validate their insecurity with being nasty to others. I told my parents that kids made nasty comments to me and the response was, “sticks and stones may break your bones, but names will never hurt you.” Back then I didn’t appreciate those words but they really do ring true even today. The worst thing someone being bullied can do is keep it a secret. Kids need to realize they can get help if they just ask.

How did being bullied by those girls affect you, and do you still have any of the effects to this day due to that?

Being bullied by those girls just made me want to succeed in school and in my career. I won’t lie and say that there are no lasting effects, as there are still some insecurities that creep up every once in a while, but if you’re being bullied you need to take charge and realize what a special person you are. You need to push your energy toward something that really matters and know in your heart that whatever these people are saying to you means NOTHING in the real world. The best thing a victim of bullying can do is to rise above it and make the bullies take note of you and your accomplishments. Don’t ever let anyone ever tell you that you “aren’t good enough.”

How did you overcome the girls bullying you and how did you find your self-esteem and determination?

How do you overcome bullying is a great question, because everyone has their own unique way. I let them know their words meant nothing to me, and I surrounded myself with interests that were much more important than what they were doing. I also used my sense of humor to deflect their nasty words. I got involved with activities that I loved, ones which I knew the bullies would never be a part of and I started to get my self-esteem back. I knew some of these girls were trying to be part of the “cool group” and just going along with the others. You’ll see that as soon as you start ignoring them and acting like you don’t care you will recapture your self-esteem. Bullies want to see they’re making an impact and making your life miserable, don’t ever let them have the upper hand.

What advice would you give teen girls as far as how to communicate better and to not bully other girls?

My advice for girls being bullied: Remember you are worth something. Don’t let anyone ever take that away from you. And you only need ONE great friend who will always stand up and be there for you. DON’T keep secrets, it only will eat you up inside. If your emotional and physical well being is being challenged make sure to talk to someone. It’s not a sign of weakness, it’s a show of strength that you want to seek help. If you don’t communicate your feelings, nobody will know how troubled you are until it’s too late.

You need to realize if you find yourself bullying someone, that could lead that person to do something drastic. Treat someone the way you’d want to be treated, and put yourself in their shoes for a moment to know how hurtful bullying can be.

Why is it important for girls to be supportive of other girls?

If girls don’t support each other there’s a total breakdown of confidence and nobody benefits from that type of behavior. We have to look at each girl, as having one unique quality that we might not have. It’s so nice to be able to turn to someone who has more knowledge about something than we do and ask for their help.

Imagine if you were sitting next to someone in school who is the person that finds the cure for cancer and you bullied her, or didn’t support her in her efforts? We never know who we are coming in contact with whose help we might someday need. Bullying can take place at every stage of our lives, there will always be someone, somewhere who doesn’t like you for some reason, but know that you can rise above it and succeed.

If you could go back in time and talk to your younger self who was being bullied by the other girls, with the knowledge and accomplishments you have now, what sentence would you tell yourself?

I’d tell my younger self that one day you’ll be able to look at some of these girls and say “your nastiness did not affect my success, and despite your efforts to strip me of my self worth and ”popularity” I have come out on top.” I didn’t let the “mean girls” deprive me of a worthwhile career, good friends and the support of my family. There will always be people in your life that will try and take you down, call you names, make fun of your looks. You have to have the confidence to rise above it, and forge ahead. Walk tall, and know that you can do anything and if you find yourself not being able to deal with things on your own, it’s okay to ask for help.

About: Stacey Honowitz is a Supervisor in the Sex Crimes/Child Abuse Unit of the Florida State Attorney’s Office, and has been an attorney/prosecutor for 28 years. She has prosecuted high profile cases in Florida, and cases including child molestation and rape, adult rape, cyber sex crimes. Stacey’s been a legal commentator for media outlets including CNN, HLN, Good Morning America, Dateline NBC, CBS News, MSNBC for over 15 years. She attended high school in Philadelphia, undergraduate school at University of Maryland and received her law degree from Nova Southeastern University. Stacey’s a blog contributor for The Huffington Post and has written various articles and contributed to periodicals. She’s a guest lecturer and teacher, and has authored children’s books about sexual abuse. Find her on Twitter @StaceyHonowitz.

Jowharah Sanders - Founder, Executive Director NVEEE

JOWHARAH SANDERS Founder/Executive Director, NVEEE Organization. Speaker and Advocate

How were you bullied in school by other girls? Did you ever report the incident or bullying to anyone? If you didn’t report it, what kept you from reporting it?

I’m Cherokee, Blackfoot, and African-American. In school I was taunted by other girls because I wasn’t “Black” enough for them. I didn’t have all the mannerisms of a girl my age who lived in my type of neighborhood. I never truly belonged anywhere I went. My hair was long and naturally curly (a shorter version of Diana Ross) and when I would walk by they would call me Michael Jackson and make his infamous “he-he” sound because I suppose my hair resembled a huge curly perm. I wanted to enjoy being in school because I craved knowledge and I had a love affair with words and poetry of any kind. English was my favorite class – I could write for hours and felt like I never had enough books to read. But school was made miserable for me when I was labelled an “Oreo” by other girls.

When I confided to a friend that I might be attracted to girls, I was called anti-gay slurs. The friend I confided in organized a personal physical assault against me. I reported the incident to school personnel and law enforcement, but they failed to do anything about the bullying and threats. So I stopped reporting the bullying and tried to just get through school.

How did being bullied by those girls affect you, and do you still have any of the effects to this day due to that?

Due to bullying, I’ve always been incredibly sensitive. I learned early on the power of words and I never believed that sticks and stones would hurt more. I knew my threshold for pain and it was always words. So if I couldn’t be “black” enough, I figured I would be the best Oreo they knew. I began bleaching my skin with multiple products, which oddly enough, are readily available in neighborhoods where people who looked like me grew up. I wanted to be a lighter version of myself because I understood, even as a teenager, the concept of white privilege.

The constant state of despair and bullying led me to attempt suicide. I think anyone who has ever been made to feel less than for an extended period of time, will forever live with the effects – both positive and negative. While those girls tried to make me feel less than due to my heritage – today, I wear it proudly, and am glad to be an advocate for others.

How did you overcome the girls bullying you and how did you find your self-esteem and determination?

I didn’t see my own worth in my heritage, and it took therapy, education and patience to be where I am today. I had to learn when it comes to bullying, other people’s issues are 100% theirs and it’s never about the person being bullied. Just as I had the power to give them control over my feelings, I had the power to take that control away, and I didn’t need permission from anyone to do it. Not a school principal, teacher, friend, District Attorney or anyone could give me back my voice and control because they never had it to give. So I took ownership. I learned many coping skills and I don’t allow those thoughts to take up residency in my heart or soul and they definitely don’t have the power to dictate my actions anymore. Nevertheless, it still hurts sometimes when I remember those awful things.

What advice would you give teen girls as far as how to communicate better and to not bully other girls?

It’s remarkable how one of the easiest things to do is often times the most difficult. My advice to girls who bully is to put yourself in the other girl’s place. Imagine, or remember, how you would feel/felt if someone spread rumors that weren’t true and lies about you, made you feel you were less than, or isolated you from the group. With the organization I founded and am Executive Director of, NVEEE (National Voices for Equality, Education and Enlightenment), we’ve taught girls to do just this. I’m happy to say that with peer mediation and communicating their authentic feelings, I’ve witnessed first hand how this process works over and over again, even in the toughest schools with the reported “toughest” teen girls.

Why is it important for girls to be supportive of other girls?

We live in a world where women are often times treated as lesser partners in business and even in our own homes. We fight for the right to make decisions about our own bodies. We fight for equal pay. We fight for the equal opportunity to prove we can do the job, even with less pay. Our world isn’t set up for inherent equality for women, much less girls. But we should not be our own worst enemies. It’s important for women to stand together and support one another and the best practice is to start doing it as girls. If we can’t treat each other with empathy, respect and kindness as girls – it will be more difficult to embody those traits as women.

If you could go back in time and talk to your younger self who was being bullied by the other girls, with the knowledge and accomplishments you have now, what sentence would you tell yourself?

I can’t tell you that everything will be perfect, and that you will live the life you think you want to live, but you will absolutely never fulfill your destiny if you try to end it. You can and will help others, so in the words of grandma…’Keep Living.’

About: Jowharah Sanders is the Founder/Executive Director of the nationally recognized non-profit education organization NVEEE, National Voices for Equality, Education and Enlightenment. She’s a bullying prevention expert, speaker and advocate for children. Jowharah has dedicated the past decade of her life to mentoring children and families impacted by bullying and suicide. As a bullying survivor herself, Jowharah’s vision and drive launched NVEEE, which is the first of its kind national organization aimed at preventing bullying, suicide, and school violence through direct service mentoring and prevention education. NVEEE, now in its 6th year of operation, has supported nearly 20,000 teens and families throughout the United States, has been recognized by Congress multiple times, and been featured in media outlets including ABC- TV’s “Secret Millionaire,” “Education Nation,” and “The Talk.” Follow on Twitter @National Voices.

Cassie Gannis - Race Car Driver

CASSIE GANNIS: Professional Race Car Driver. Spokesperson, Media Commentator on NASCAR, Advocate

How were you bullied in school by other girls? Did you ever report the bullying to anyone? If you didn’t report it, what kept you from reporting it?

The first time I was bullied was in 1st grade. We had “read out loud in front of the class” day which I dreaded. The other kids were reading books at a higher level than me. When I got up and read mostly picture books the class would call me stupid saying I read “baby” books. I never forgot how that made me feel. I told my mom. From there, before each day it would be my turn to read out loud, my mom and I would practice a small book and I would literally memorize it so that I could “read” it in front of the class. My mom hired tutors for me to help my reading. After I was bullied, I got very quiet and tried not to bring any attention to myself, so people just sort of forgot about me in school. It was my way of disappearing.

In high school I was diagnosed with scoliosis, and had braces on my teeth. I was frequently told I was ugly by boys and girls. I covered myself up with sweatshirts all the time, and in Phoenix that’s not a comfortable thing to do when it’s 100 outside! I didn’t report the bullying, but my family was my strength. My sister stuck up for me. If she ever heard anyone say anything about me, she was on it! She was a basketball star at the school and people respected her. Without her I’m sure my high school years would’ve been worse.

When I was 15, during the summer, I underwent extensive corrective scoliosis surgery, and grew 2 inches in surgery as they straightened my spine. And my braces were removed. When I returned to high school the next year, no one had any idea who I was. And I was featured in a teen magazine that year for racing. It was only then that boys came up to me and said they had no idea how “hot” I was. But I had been the same person all along. The bullying wasn’t easy and I felt bad, but my family always believed in and supported me, and were the greatest support.

How did being bullied by those girls affect you, and do you still have any of the effects to this day due to that?

For the longest time I was quiet and never wanted to bring attention to myself. It was after my scoliosis surgery and getting my braces off that I started to feel better about myself. I took a public speaking class and that helped my confidence. To this day, I’m self-conscious about my reading. I also am one to support the underdog because I know what it’s like to be the underdog.

How did you overcome the girls bullying you and how did you find your self-esteem and determination?

My coping mechanism was blend in, be quiet and not bring attention to myself. Did it hurt, YES. I’m so lucky I had a great support system at home. I also had racing to make me feel better. On the track I could forget what was going on in school. I was there on my own, racing against the best. That’s where I found my self-esteem and determination.

What advice would you give teen girls as far as how to communicate better and to not bully other girls?

Be positive! I feel women don’t compliment each other enough! If you see someone wearing a color you like and they look great, tell them! If you see someone doing something nice for someone else, thank them. We need to focus on the positive and support each other as women. We all come in different colors, sizes and shapes. We are all truly beautiful in our own true way!

Why is it important for girls to be supportive of other girls?

Because we need to be! There’s too much negative in the world. There are expectations in magazines and on TV to be things that aren’t realistic. There’s no benefit to being mean or negative. We need to accept each other as we are! I feel it’s essential for women to support each other. Together we can change what the expectation of what beauty really is.

 If you could go back in time and talk to your younger self who was being bullied by the other girls, with the knowledge and accomplishments you have now, what sentence would you tell yourself?

Trust me, it gets better!

About: Cassie Gannis began car racing at the age of 10 in quarter midgets. She moved quickly through the early racing ranks Bandoleros (Arizona State Champion) and Legends (Rookie of the Year). She excelled in the NASCAR Whelen All American Late Model and Super Late Model Series. In 2012, she made her mark in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series as being the Most Popular Driver because of her fan reach. In 2013, she was chosen by Michael Waltrip and PEAK to attend the PEAK Stock Car Dream Challenge. She’s Lead Driver for Cassie Gannis Racing and is currently approved/ready to race at the competitive level with the very best in the ARCA, Camping World Truck and Xfinity Series. Cassie supports animal causes, her own ‘Don’t Text and Drive’ Program, and is a spokesperson for the medical condition Scoliosis. Find her on Twitter @CassieGannis.

Cassidy McMillan, Actress, Director, Producer, Writer. Speaker on Bullying

CASSIDY MCMILLAN: Film Director/Producer. Actress, Writer, Media Contributor, Speaker and Advocate

How were you bullied in school by other girls? Did you ever report the bullying to anyone? If you didn’t report it, what kept you from reporting it?

I started at a new school when I was about 10 years old. A girl in class who was taller than me, seemed to be a self appointed leader of a group of four other girls. One day as students were returning to class after lunch, she yanked my arm, pulled me into a hallway that was empty except for the other four girls and a 3-foot tall round trash can. She and another girl tried to lift me off the ground to put me in the trash can. I called for help but with noise in the other hallways no one heard. The main girl was shouting “any new girl” in class had to be taught they were in charge. Fortunately, somehow I was able to wrangle free from them and I ran to class. I didn’t tell my teacher because I thought I’d get picked on more by them. After class, I told them I’d tell on them if they ever tried to hurt me again. I wasn’t sure I would actually tell, but I figured telling them that might make them stop.

When I went home I told my mom only that some girls picked on me at school, but said I didn’t know their names. I thought if my mom reported them it might get worse as I didn’t know who else the girls were friends with. My mom tried to enroll me in another school but there was no space available. The girls left me alone the rest of the year except for mean looks, and I made friends with a few nice students but kept to myself for the most part. I remember it was difficult to focus on school work in class because I was worried about being bullied again. I went to a different school the next year.

How did being bullied by those girls affect you, and do you still have any of the effects to this day due to that?

Being physically bullied by those girls made me think school wasn’t a safe place, and it affected my being able to focus on schoolwork in class. It also made me realize kids could be abusive to other kids just for the sake of being mean. While that experience made me cynical, at the same time, it contributed to my deciding to make a positive difference. And it’s why for the documentary Bullies And Friends I worked to provide solutions. I want kids who bully others to know it’s hurtful to be abusive, that their actions can have lasting effects, and to consider how they’d feel if it was them. I want kids who are being bullied to know help is available and they can overcome the bullying.

How did you overcome the girls bullying you and how did you find your self-esteem and determination?

The first step was telling the girls I wouldn’t allow them to bully me. I also overcame it by seeing there was kindness in the world through becoming friends with kids who were nice, and by my family and I “adopting”/caring for pets, including cats, a dog, rabbits. I saw how kind animals are, and how protective they are of each other and people. I think humans can learn a lot about empathy and kindness from the behavior of our animal friends. As a result, throughout middle and high school, I stood up for kids who were bullied and befriended kids others marginalized.

I found self-esteem especially in high school when I was accepted into the advanced acting program, acted in plays, and wrote for the school newspaper. My senior year, the school’s administrators selected me to be Editor-in-Chief of the school newspaper. The assistant principal told me that students looked up to me as a leader, and I really took that to heart. I was determined to always do the best I could to help others and to report on causes and issues in my journalism work.

What advice would you give teen girls as far as how to communicate better and to not bully other girls?

If girls are feeling jealous of, disagree with a friend, they need to talk about it with that friend and not go behind her back and say mean things or lies about her, because they’ll hurt their friend and lose the friendship. If girls talk to one another honestly and directly about any issue that arises in a friendship, the issue can be solved or understanding established. The aggression of telling other girls lies or confided secrets about a friend is damaging. Girls need to treat friends how they’d like to be treated. And girls who are bystanders to bullying should understand that being a bystander is allowing bullying to happen instead of stopping it.

Why is it important for girls to be supportive of other girls?

Today, throughout the globe, women and girls are marginalized. It matters to be supportive of each other. Girls who don’t support other girls will become women who don’t support other women. It’s important to remember that women weren’t allowed to vote in a U.S. election until 1920; weren’t allowed to get a credit card until 1974 when the  Equal Credit Opportunity Act was established; and women runners couldn’t be acknowledged in the Boston Marathon until 1972. In various industries today, women aren’t paid the same working the same job as male colleagues, and in the 200+ year history of the U.S., there’s never been a woman U.S. President. Supporting each other and working toward positive achievements that help our world is important.

If you could go back in time and talk to your younger self who was being bullied by the other girls, with the knowledge and accomplishments you have now, what sentence would you tell yourself?

Have faith that you are enough. You won’t hear from those mean girls again, so you can focus on class work and enjoy school. You’ll achieve things that make a positive difference.

About: Cassidy McMillan is an award-winning filmmaker, writer and journalist. An actress/member of the Screen Actors Guild, she’s acted in theater, film/TV projects including for 20th Century Fox, Discovery, etc., in which she’s worked for directors including Academy award-winning filmmaker James Cameron. Cassidy’s director/producer of the documentary film on bullying, Bullies and Friends. The film, noted as an education resource, is being prepped for distribution. She made the film when she learned children across the globe were committing suicide due to bullying, and wanted to make a film that provided solutions to prevent future tragedies. For her work, she’s received recognition including the United Nations UNA Impact Filmmaking Award. Cassidy’s a speaker, expert and media contributor on bullying, and works with schools on prevention initiatives. She’s Communications Director for the education organization NVEEE, and an advocate for animal rights/adoptions of shelter cats and dogs. Find her on Twitter @CassidyMcM.

About the Writer: Cassidy McMillan’s bio is featured in the above article. Drop her a line on Twitter to let her know your thoughts on girl bullying.
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