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Reaction Time: My Little Bullies

Ariana Aboulafia |
March 20, 2014 | 9:45 p.m. PDT


Grayson Bruce poses with his banned "My Little Pony" backpack (BileRico.com)
Grayson Bruce poses with his banned "My Little Pony" backpack (BileRico.com)
You might want to sit down for this one. 

Recently, there has been an apparent increase in the number of male fans and viewers of a television show called “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.” The TV show, produced by Hasbro, is the most recent incarnation of animated television shows and movies based on the line of small, brightly colored toy horses and unicorns also created by Hasbro. The show revolves around the life and adventures of a pony named “Twilight Sparkle” and her five close friends, “Applejack,” “Rarity,” “Fluttershy,” “Rainbow Dash” and “Pinkie Pie” and focuses on moral lessons of friendship and helping others.

Basically, “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” is your standard kid’s show - and, unsurprisingly due to its subject matter, it is mostly marketed towards young girls. However, there is a group (perhaps a sizeable one) of male fans of the show, many of whom are adults. They call themselves “bronies.” Although the term originally only referred, somewhat ironically, to the older male fans of “My Little Pony,” it has come to encompass any male that enjoys the characters, toys or television show in general.

SEE ALSO: Tara Strong, Meghan McCarthy, And A Room Full Of Bronies At The Festival Of Books

Grayson Bruce is one of these “bronies.” He is nine years old and a big fan of the TV show; he says that he enjoys the morals taught by the show as well as the personalities of the characters. His mother, Noreen, encourages Grayson to watch the show: as she says, “It’s promoting friendship, there’s no bad words, there’s no violence; it’s hard to find that now, even in cartoons!”

Some, however, are not so supportive of Grayson’s love of the little ponies. When he brought a backpack featuring one of the ponies, “Rainbow Dash,” to school, he was relentlessly bullied for carrying something so outwardly “girly.” According to Grayson, kids at his school in North Carolina began punching him, pushing him down and calling him “horrible names” all due to his backpack choice. His mother adds that he was even told to “Go home and kill himself” by one of his peers.

In response to the reports of bullying, instead of punishing the children who had harassed Grayson, it was Grayson himself who was punished: he was told by the school that he was not allowed to bring his “My Little Pony” bag to school anymore because it was causing problems, citing it as a “disruption to the classroom.” The school went further, saying that banning the bag was taken as a necessary “initial, immediate step” but that they “...take bullying very seriously, and will continue to take steps to resolve this issue.”

You take bullying seriously? Could’ve fooled me. 

To me, it doesn’t seem like the school is taking the bullying very seriously at all. In fact, it seems that instead of doing their moral duty as educators of young people and showing the bullies through punishment or education that treating other people the way that they are is unacceptable, they are doing what bullies themselves so often do: blaming the victim. In telling Grayson to leave his bag at home, the Buncombe County School District is sending the not-so-subtle message to the bullies that their behavior was justified, because, after all, a boy shouldn’t be using a backpack featuring characters from a TV show usually viewed by (GASP) GIRLS right? I mean, he’s totally breaking gender roles: that’s not allowed! In fact, it’s distracting! Bravo, Buncombe County, this Grayson kid totally had it coming.  


What this school is doing is wrong in so many ways. It’s more than just taking the easy way out (boy gets bullied for having backpack, ban backpack, problem solved!), although that practice itself is abhorrent when you’re talking about the education (or, in Buncombe County’s case, lack thereof) of children. The school is telling Grayson that they do not care about him, and, by extension, they are sending this same message to anyone in the school who is bullied. Furthermore, they are telling Grayson that the reason people are bullying him is because there is something wrong with him, and therefore he must change or else the bullying will continue.

I thought that schools were supposed to be teaching children to be true to themselves, and to treat others only as they would want to be treated, but apparently those golden rules only apply to people who fit perfectly into societal expectations, whether those expectations be for gender, sexuality or anything else. Grayson’s mother likened the school blaming the backpack for the bullying to someone “...blaming a short skirt for rape,” and was correct in doing so. Can you imagine if a school’s official response to a child being bullied for being gay was “Well don’t act so flamboyant, and people won’t make fun of you,” or if their response to a female student being sexually harassed was “Well don’t wear those clothes or say those things and no one will bother you.” Unfortunately these responses do happen throughout society, but the fact that the school’s official response to a pretty severe bullying incident was to blame and shame the victim is not only disgusting, it is also disappointing. We put our future in the hands of our educators, and it is part of their job to protect and nurture our children, not to make kids feel like they need to justify their actions or their likes or dislikes (within reasonable limits, of course) just because society at large has deemed those actions or interests to belong to the opposite gender.

Grayson is allowed to both be a boy and like “My Little Pony” - I am a female, and I read all of my father’s Superman and Spiderman comic books as a kid and no one ever said anything to me about it. But, because the school has blamed Grayson’s backpack for the bullying, he has already felt the need to begin justifying why he likes “My Little Pony” and to justify why he believes the bullying was unfounded. As he said in an interview, “If you watch the show, it’s really not that girly.” He continues by saying that he understands why some people are making fun of him, because “...most of the characters in the show are girls, most of the toys are girly,” however, he just thinks that the bullies have gone “a little bit too far.”

It’s a ridiculous effect of the victim-shaming; the victim buys into it and feels that he needs to justify his innocent behavior that “caused” the abuse, whilst the actual bullies sit by self-righteously congratulating themselves for instigating the removal of a “school distraction.”

Has the Buncombe County School District been living under a rock for the past few years? The media has extensively covered the increase in the number of suicides and attempted suicides of younger and younger children due to bullying; put simply, bullying is something that absolutely should be taken seriously. Buncombe County’s “immediate action” should’ve been to ask Grayson who had been harassing him and to then punish those children. The fact that a child was allowed to tell another child to “kill himself” simply for liking “My Little Pony” (or for any reason really) without being punished is ridiculous, especially considering what happened just last month.

In February, an 11-year old boy, also from North Carolina, named Michael Morones attempted suicide by hanging himself from his bunk bed. His parents found him and got him to the hospital before he died, but the oxygen had already been cut off from his brain and it is uncertain how much permanent damage Michael will suffer. I do not place 100 percent of the blame for the attempted suicide of Michael Morones on the school or on their response to the bullying that Michael apparently suffered. But, if it was anything like the response Grayson got from Buncombe County Schools (and I’m betting it was), I do wonder just how well the school administrators sleep at night. 

Not every child who is told to “go kill themselves” for being different, being a tomboy, or “girly” or “gay” or whatever, will go do it. But, clearly, some will. My only question to the leaders of the Buncombe County School District is if they are prepared to continue to hurt a child that they were supposed to protect by filling him with the guilt and self-loathing that they cultivated. If so, then feel free to carry on banning “My Little Pony” paraphernalia and be prepared to ban rainbow flags next because I’m sure that’s in your future. If not, consider heeding my advice (and that of the 11,500 people that have signed this Change.org petition): punish the bullies, not the victims.


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