Gaggles, Goons, and Jocks: Bullying and the Reality of the Snub Club

By Cait Reynolds

Let’s take a moment and set some things straight, just so we get off to the right start.

Bullying has always existed. It always will.

This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t keep trying to teach children not to torment other children, at least not physically or overtly.

What I am proposing, however, is a radical shift in the deployment of our resources.

I say, forget trying to turn bullies into lambies. Focus instead on those who are being bullied. Give them the support and strength to survive what must be survived and to take valuable life lessons and skills from these experiences.

What right do I have to talk about this or propose the abandonment of the treatment of bullies?

Because I am a licensed, card-carrying, gold star member of the Snub Club.

Oh, I can fit in just fine now. I can navigate almost any social circumstance and not only be fine, but come out raging on top. But, from my earliest days of childhood, I remember being tormented – for any variety of reasons. Shall we list them?

  • I look different. With a father from India and a mother from Croatia, I didn’t look like anybody else in my schools. I was the lone brunette in a sea of milquetoast. I also have a big nose. That, naturally, got me a lot of attention of the wrong kind. To this day, while I have accepted my nose, I still don’t like it and am sensitive about it.
  • I was (and hopefully still am) smart. I was blessed to have a mother and father who believed fiercely in not just education, but cultivating a love of learning and curiosity about the world that has lasted all my life. This meant I was reading to myself by the age of five and by age seven could list all six wives of Henry the VIII – don’t ask. However, most of the time, I was mocked for using big words and knowing things. I wasn’t trying to show off. I was simply being me, but that didn’t matter.
  • I wasn’t really interested in clothes or Molly Ringwald movies. I liked Star Wars, Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, fantasy, sci fi, history, musical theater, Jane Austen, Jane Eyre, Anne of Green Gables, anime, and Indiana Jones. I wanted to be the kick ass chick playing with the boys when they played Voltron and GI Joe on the playground. I liked running and getting sweaty at recess. I had no clue what lip gloss was.
  • I was shy and awkward, especially as I got older and especially around boys. Years of teasing about my appearance left me feeling unattractive and on the defensive about any interaction with boys. The girls in school seemed to know so much more about boys and sex, and they didn’t hesitate to let me know how dorky and innocent I was.

No doubt, there are other reasons I was targeted for bullying, but these are the ones that are most intrinsic to me as a person, to who I am. Changing my clothes or my makeup wasn’t going to change this about me.

The bullying I experienced came in a variety of flavors, from getting physically pushed around and humiliated on the playground in 4th grade (which is when I learned how to fight dirty – funny how bleeding shins will get people to leave you alone), to being taunted about my “big nose” or told a kid didn’t want to play my “stupid Indian games” (I have no clue – I thought I was playing GI Joe).

I still remember the first time I was called “Catfood” in Algebra I in freshman year. It was because the boy couldn’t be bothered to remember my name. I remember his. I always will. The nickname stuck through high school – that is when other kids remembered my existence.

Perhaps one of the most insidious forms of bullying is the benign but slightly disdainful oblivion that popular kids treat others with. From being picked last for a team side to being blatantly ignored, there is a level of invisibility that members of the Snub Club acquire which is both a curse and a blessing.

It leaves you to do the dirty work yourself of demolishing your own self-worth, with only the occasional cold stare or forced smile necessary to remind you of your place. You also learn how to become invisible almost at will, which you hope will keep you from being noticed and then used as the butt of a joke.

Invisibility also provided its own small measure of entertainment. It allowed me to be on the outside and watch the lives and dramas of the popular kids much like it was my own personal soap opera. I became adept at gleaning gossip, observing behavior, deducing and analyzing shifts in friendships and flirtations. I would notice the striations of popularity within the geological formation that was the popular seating area in the cafeteria.

In “Downcast,” I loosely clump the kids into three groups: the Gaggle, the Goons, and the Jocks. The Gaggle are the popular girls who have a way of squawking together – oh, I mean laughing – in a way that reminds me of New England geese. The Jocks are, well, Jocks. What you see is what you get, and it didn’t appear to be much. And then, there was the Goons. These were the boys who were not quite popular enough to sit with the cool kids, but saved themselves from Snub Club status by being meaner than anyone else. They were like the sand sharks of the cafeteria and hallways. Not always hungry, but always something to be wary of.

Finally, there’s the Snub Club. That’s the catch-all for the rest of us. We were the drama club, the musicians, the math and science whizzes, the introverts, the writers and poets, the artists, the goths, most of the Asians, a couple of kids in the closet, speech and debate team, and Monty Python lovers (hey, I can still sing most of the words to the “Lumberjack Song”). We huddled at the back of the cafeteria like refugees, taking strength in friendships with each other.

Before you go thinking I’m going all “Lord of the Flies” here, it’s important to note that the other kids didn’t even realize what they were doing. They would be shocked to think they were being mean or rude or dismissive. They would protest that they simply were living their lives and going through the typical high school drama. They would point to other students as being more popular.

At this point in my life, I don’t care what they thought or knew, though I’m highly suspicious of whether any of them were intelligent enough to be self-aware in that way.

There was nothing parents and teachers could have done to change their behavior.

Oh, hey, teachers, can we talk about that for a minute? For the love of God, PLEASE do not keep forcing group projects on students, especially where you try to intermingle the social groups. It doesn’t work. It doesn’t built friendships or lines of communication. It just leaves Snub Clubbers frustrated and humiliated because they have to do the majority of the work because they are the ones who care most about the grade.

Honestly, group projects in the grownup world are miserable things, and we all hate them. Why on earth does think that making children work together is going to change social dynamics or further anyone’s education? I used to envy Laura Ingalls Wilder and Anne of Green Gables because all they ever had to do was study on their own and repeat their own lessons. None of that group bull crap for them – just a chance to prove their worth in one area where they couldn’t be challenged by social standards.

So, where did that leave me? I basically served a 12-year sentence and then was granted freedom for the rest of my life. It took time, experience, and finally finding places in the big wide world that welcomed me to grow into the person I am today.

What did I learn? I learned how to be stoic. I learned how to watch, listen, and gage every situation that I’m in. I learned not to give a crap what anyone else thinks of me. I learned that there are awesome and interesting people in the world, and that the world itself is bigger and more amazing than any set of halls, classrooms, and stairs. I learned that when you start from nothing, you have nothing to lose. I learned to have no fear in going for what I wanted. I learned that brains do indeed matter in the end.

If I had a chance to say something to every kid who has been bullied, here is what I would say:

Grit your teeth. Survive. Then, get out.

That’s it. That is the absolute best advice I can give any kid who lives in the shadows of the Gaggle, Goons, and Jocks. There is no sugar-coating this kind of experience, and it would be disrespectful to their suffering to do so. There is nothing that any teacher or parent can do to make the endless days, weeks, months, and years of suffering any easier. You can’t be there in the classroom or the bathroom or the hallway.

This is a battle your kids have to fight themselves. And, this is not a bad thing. Support them, but let them fight.

Learning to fight this fight will give them life skills that will serve them richly for the rest of their days. Endurance and resilience are my old friends from junior high onwards, and I count them as reasons for my success.

No parent wants to see her child suffer. However, it’s a fact of life that children suffer in the schoolroom and in the schoolyard. Instead of trying to eradicate these experiences – because as we wisened, wiser adults know, life ain’t exactly a bed of roses – give children what they need to learn to be resilient.

Teach them dignity, endurance, courage, and strength. Teach them to believe in their dreams. Help them develop a backbone of steel and a steely gaze that can stare down anything life throws at them. Acknowledge the fact that other kids in school can suck, and that this is a reality to be accepted and dealt with, not denied or hidden from. Encourage the friendships they find and talents they have. Be their refuge without taking away their dignity.

And tell them what I said:

Grit your teeth. Survive. Then, get out.

cait reynolds

About Cait Reynolds

Cait Reynolds lives in Boston area with her husband and 4-legged fur child. She discovered her passion for writing early and has bugged her family and friends with it ever since. When she isn’t cooking delicious meals, running around the city, rock climbing like a boss, or enjoying the rooftop deck that brings her closer to the stars, she writes. Reynolds is able to pull from real life experiences such as her kidney transplant, and her writing reflects her passion for life from having to face the darkest  places and find the will to laugh.

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