A peaceful plea on Facebook had a lasting effect.
One of Maisie Kate Miller’s classmates always had something belittling to say – about her body, her boyfriend, her fashion choices. But that last little dig, no big deal in itself, brought the 15-year-old at Marblehead High, north of Boston, to tears a couple of weeks ago.
On the stairs behind her, the other girl, a sports standout in the school, was riffing on Maisie’s hairstyle: ‘‘Who wears pigtails still? What is this, kindergarten?’’
‘‘I turned around and she said, ‘Keep walking!’ I was having a hard week anyway and by the time I got to biology I was crying,’’ Maisie said.
Maisie’s mother, Joanna Miller, texted her to just let it go: ‘‘Don’t give it any energy is what I told her.’’
What came to Maisie, though, was an idea for passive resistance, pigtail-style: instead of scurrying away or returning the girl’s nastiness in kind, she’d wear her hair like that all week and maybe get a couple of friends to do likewise. She poured out her heart – and her plan – on Facebook, then headed off to her after-school babysitting job.
‘‘I’m asking you all to understand that this hurt me beyond reason ... if you could help my cause ... and so many other girls who have had hurtful things said to them, wear pigtails tomorrow,’’ she posted.
When she checked in a few hours later, she was overwhelmed to find more than 500 notifications and hundreds of friend requests waiting: ‘‘Some of them were people I’ve looked up to and never met! I started shaking and couldn’t stop.’’
Maisie typed out a second status update asking for restraint: ‘‘I’d like to remind people that this is a protest against bullying,’’ she wrote, so bullying the girl right back would be against the movement, which she dubbed ‘‘Pigtails for Peace’’.
The next day, much of the school – girls, boys, a dog and at least one teacher – was pigtailed, and the bully absent. ‘‘There were hundreds of them,’’ said Loren Weston, a counsellor and sponsor of an anti-bullying club.
‘‘People from every friend group and year did it,’’ said a student who didn’t want to be named. ‘‘The way she dresses – she’s funky – and outspoken and positive, but she hadn’t been feeling so good,’’ the girl said, and people were glad to have the chance to rally around her.
In the days since, the student who mocked Maisie has not only backed off, but also sent a message of contrition through friends: ‘‘She’s been going through some stuff, too,’’ Maisie said, and hopes that down the line, they’ll be able to talk about it. She’s also got multiple messages along the lines of ‘‘She’d been bullying me, too, and now she isn’t any more; thank you!’’
Old-fashioned cruelty has always gone on, of course; I’ll never forget the old German nun who routinely yelled at a boy in my class, who had trouble reading aloud, that he was ‘‘so stupid’’, or the girl with albinism at summer camp who everyone said was a lesbian.
A few school pranksters and ‘‘Mean Girls’’ keep their skills up long after school; when a woman in my office mocked the giant crucifix passed down from my grandmother a decade ago (‘‘Even Madonna doesn’t wear those any more,’’ she said), I wanted to cry.
It’s important that it was Maisie who came up with her own way out of the problem and made it a kind of community project. What she did instinctively is quite a kindhearted version of the ‘‘shaming’’ that was suggested as a way of internally policing a common social area – a school, or an internet group in which the humans involved actually see each other occasionally – by the late Elinor Ostrom, the first woman to win the Nobel prize for economics.
Maisie is ‘‘someone who sticks up for people,’’ said Weston, the counsellor who leads the anti-bullying group.
❏ Facebook, mental health groups and the federal government have joined forces to urge Australians to take an online pledge to stamp out bullying, as part of a nationwide campaign launched on Friday. Facebook’s ‘‘Be Bold Stop Bullying’’ campaign aims to ignite conversation among youth, parents and educators about how to stand up to bullying and where to get help. The social media site has previously been criticised for providing a powerful platform for bullies to attack their victims. Mental health advocates hope this campaign will help spread the anti-bullying message.