Boys on the Bus Grasping at Fake Power

You’ve no doubt heard about middle school boys harassing their bus monitor. Late last June four boys harassed 68-year-old Karen Klein about her weight and her family, and made violent and graphic threats.

Their punishment finally came — suspension and no more bus riding — and it’s got me thinking.

Too many of us hurt one another in desperate attempts to grab at what turns out to be fake power.

This case is classic. The boys wanted to feel bigger and more powerful by humiliating someone – in this case, someone who was supposed to have power over them – and bringing her to tears. In those moments they certainly felt big and strong. And then they bolstered their new-found muscle by posting a video of the abuse on YouTube so the world could see their supremacy.

But they weren’t truly empowered. The opposite, in fact. They ended up debased, expelled, and losing privileges.

Whether bullying, beating, raping, or killing, too many grasp at delusions of grandeur. But it’s not real. It’s not constructive. It doesn’t last. And it often backfires.

You see it time and again.

Rapists take over others’ bodies to gain a sense of power and control.

Batterers bat down the women in their lives hoping to feel like big men.

Gang members seek to gain control by beating and killing as they defend fake turf.

Feeling humiliated by the West, Al-Qaeda rose up to kill and destroy symbols of U.S. power on 9/11.

But have Al-Qaeda, gang members, batterers, rapists, or the boys on the bus gained any real power?

Looks to me like they return, over and over again, to their small selves and their depression. Or they end up in jail, dead or suspended.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on July 13, 2012, in psychology and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I got bullied from the age of ten till the age of seventeen by the same girl. She’d acquire different groups of friends and convince them that I was an object to be destroyed. I tried to fight back but my verbal insults weren’t quick and it’s hard to come up with something witty when you’re terrified. Once in a while I did have a friend who would stand up for me, but she’d back down and leave when I was alone with a fresh group of sickening followers. This girl was relentless, wealthy, out of control and very popular. I was shy, poor and spent most of my time alone. I was a ripe target. Very ripe.

    The thing that makes this situation all the worse is that this girl started out as my friend. She’d come over, sleep over, attend my birthday parties and at the age of eight she taught me naughty sex games which I gladly played with her. How she went from that to being my stalker and tormentor I’ll never know but it definitively taught me one thing:


    But thankfully I am learning to trust some people because despite my childhood I do know there are good people in this world that can be trusted…a little.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience.

      I’ve heard that sometimes when a girl starts to feel threatened she can turn her back on a one-time friend, even though the now ex-friend has no idea she’s done anything threatening (she’s too pretty, or whatever — and your pretty picture makes that seem a possibility).

      I’m not sure how many victims realize that the bullying has nothing to do with them, really. It’s all about the tormentor.

      I hope you’ve managed to heal by now. And maybe learned something positive. Many bullied people have greater compassion than most, for instance.

      Best to you.

  2. I’ll be the first to admit that I personally donated $20 to Karen’s “vacation fund”, which ended up north of $600k.

    Although I see your point regarding the power of control, I think the circumstances are far worse than a power shift. Those kids on the bus seem like they’re destined to become people with Antisocial Personality Disorder or they’ll continue acting in a manner which will continue to illuminate their sense of entitlement and complete lack of empathy for anyone but themselves.

    Those involved with Al-Qaeda live under the blanket of Jihad, where they are promised 40 women in the afterlife, something which has obviously become quite coveted, and frankly, can never actually be proven; but instead, relies completely on a misguided faith. In my opinion, this behavior seems rather delusional.

    Like you said, gang members also setup a system in which they have all the control. Despite the fact that gang members have no sense of empathy, for the most part, their behaviors are driven more from a result of their environment or psycho-social dysfunction.

    Again, I agree with you regarding the movement of power and how it’s transferred on to others, but I think the underlying causes are different, but all can explain the power shifts.

    Of all the groups, the one I worry the most about are the entitled teenagers.

    • I agree with you about other factors in play. They lead to the sense of disempowerment, which, they think, must be remedied in these ways that are both useless to all concerned, and destructive.

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