Reposted from the YALSA Blog (posted October 28, 2013)
The best story I ever read about a girl who was bullied is Cinderella.
October is National Bullying Prevention Month, which means a lot of really cool people will tell their stories of how they suffered and overcame. I love the new voices that lend themselves to this effort every year, which remind us what bullying is and of all the good things that can come once that dark chapter is over. But, for me, the best bullying story has been with us all along.
What I love about Cinderella is that, when I was a kid, her story never struck me as being about a girl who was bullied.
Sure, I hated her evil step-sisters. I cringed at her stepmother’s super pointy eyebrows that seemed to plot new chores and insults on every page. But what I remember most is that Cinderella’s pureness of heart made her dreams come true.
I remember the dress, the coach, the prince, and the glass slipper that only belonged to her. She won. Everything that came before paled in comparison because her happily ever after was so, well, happy.
By any definition, Cinderella’s stepsisters and step-monster were bullies. After losing her father, Cinderella was taunted, rejected, and teased. When she sought love from those who should have loved her most, she found none. But what made her story special is what she did in response. She sang, “Someday my prince will come.” (Ok, that was the movie and not the book, but, whatever.)
Watching the story unfold, we experience the bullying as a mere plot device. It draws a contrast between bullies driven by a relentless pursuit of control and self-adoration against a humble orphan, who seems to treat the bullying as a mere distraction from her ultimate destiny and not an all-consuming deal-breaker. Cinderella doesn’t sing a song about the injustice she’s facing. She sings a song about the hope that is waiting.
Her defining moment comes not when her family tries to keep her down yet another time, but when she gets dressed and goes to the ball anyway.
Bibbidi-bobbidi-boo, Cinderella decides to be seen.
Girls everywhere know the risk she is taking. Her life experience to this point would have promised her that she would be mocked and cast away. But she risks it all, shows up, and the prince delights in her.
This to me is the greatest bullying story ever told because the bullies aren’t the focus. They impact her, sure. But they have nothing to do with her happy ending. Cinderella can live in wedded bliss and a flowing gown no matter whether her family changes their ways or not. The point was never them. (I am not stating that the point is finding the man of your dreams, either. But Cinderella found her destiny, which was her hope all along.)
I love that teenagers are getting comfortable with telling their stories of the evil step-sisters in their own lives, and there are great books that pull back the curtain on this world as it plays out in middle and high schools around the world. These stories are an important step in acknowledging and stopping what’s happening.
But great stories don’t stop there. Awareness shouldn’t be the only point of storytelling about bullying, whether in real life or in fairy tales. To end there, with the spotlight on what they are doing and how they are hurting, helps neither teens nor the bullies.
The stories I like—whether on my library shelves or playing out in my own neighborhood—are the ones where our teens don’t relinquish their pens to the bullies. They get help, stop it, or endure despite the high cost. But they go on writing their own story, singing their own song, toward a happily ever after that stands separate and apart from the attacks against them.
Truth comes when we admit that bullying is happening. But empowerment comes when we decide to go to the ball anyway. This month, I’ll be looking for stories that may begin with a bully, but end with a hero.