Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Defending the Bully


I’ve been bullied recently. Someone I know really well harassed me on email and I wrote indirectly about it when I wrote “When I’m no longer little” earlier.

For those of you who know me f2f, you’d be completely shocked because I’m really difficult to bully. I mean, if I were someone else, I would be afraid of messing with me. I speak out against injustice and I am not afraid to do it in front of our uni’s highest admins. I spoke out against our uni’s admins repeatedly at the time I was negotiating my shift from staff to faculty contract. A critical time. Of course, I had the support of my immediate boss, but I also could not remain silent against injustice.

And yet, today, when someone told me the same person who threatened me last week had harassed others, and asked whether I would be willing to make a case, to report it, I hesitated.

Such a hypocrite, right? But it is a kind of empathizing with my oppressor. Dangerous.

And then I was reading bell hooks (in Teaching to Transgress), about how in patriarchy we are often victimized by those close to us.

When I think about that person and what made him act that way, I think of the following:
He lashed out at me because he felt threatened by me, by my influence
He lashed out at me because he felt hurt that I had not reached out to him in a particular way.
These are both power and control issues.
And only a weak person who himself felt threatened would need to bully another in response.

And yet, that person, in some other ways, was a benevolent presence in my life, has helped me through a lot, even though he has also hurt me in multiple ways. Sure, he bullied and threatened me, but he did not break me and cannot do so. I saw through him pretty fast and held my ground. On one hand, I feel the urge to protect other people from him, and yet I do not feel I could do this to him.

I know, I know. He’s done it to me, but i understand why he felt the need to do that. And I know about all kinds of pain and suffering he deals with. I do not want to add to that. In some ways, he has lost enough of his own self-respect by what he did to me and a few other things he did later. And I am virtually unscathed but for a momentary scratch.

And yet he could hurt others.

And I am in a dilemma. Is this what happens to women of abusive husbands, who understand why their husband is driven to alcoholism and abuse, who accept it, and then inadvertently allow the same man to later hurt their children?

Am I doing the wrong thing? Am I now reproducing patriarchy, by letting this not get further?

Do i have the right to personalize this at all? To say that given my history with him, I should let it pass? Or do I have a responsibility to report this so as to support and protect others he has bullied?

Or do I have a responsibility to help him, let him know that his behavior is unacceptable, that he needs to question his actions and apologize for what he has done to me and others? This sounds like a good plan. Except I am practicing avoidance until this calms down, and again, he’s already suffering a lot.

But how can a situation like this improve? I don’t know.

I’m torn.


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