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By Bobbye Pyke
This is the story of the denim dress that hangs in my closet. The denim dress with buttons down the front and tiers at the skirts so it flares out at the bottom. The denim dress that my mother bought for me because it looked so cute with my black cowboy boots. The denim dress that didn't even come with me when I moved to Arkansas because I am still afraid to wear it.
This is the story of a little boy in North Carolina who has a "My Little Pony" bag he likes to use as his backpack. A "My Little Pony" bag that the other kids teased him for. A "My Little Pony" bag that his school says he can no longer bring with him to class because it is a "trigger for bullying."
I used to wear the denim dress often. Texas summers are hot and I was living in San Antonio. The dress was comfortable, easy to get on in the mornings, and I would get lots of compliments from my fellow students when I wore it to class.
I was a Junior in college and was the peer tutor for a class of freshman. I lectured once a week, helped the students edit their papers, provided research assistance, and generally tried to help the Freshman get used to college courses. On the day of their final exam, I wore the denim dress to class because I wanted to look nice. After the exam concluded, our class took a picture together. There I am. Smiling in the denim dress right before I decided to never wear it again.
I went to go meet my then boyfriend for lunch before I packed up my belongings to move home for the summer. We met up in the cafeteria and he immediately began to laugh at me. He told me my dress looked horrible. It made me look fat. It made me look stupid. It made me look like a redneck. It made him embarrassed to be seen with me. He made fun of my denim dress relentlessly until our lunch was over. Afterwards, I went home, took the dress off, hung it up in the closet, and have never put it on since.
Grayson Bruce is a 9-year-old at Candler Elementary. He enjoyed bringing his "My Little Pony" book bag to school because he is a fan of the more than three decades-old animated show. His fuzzy blue bag features the face of the cartoon pony Rainbow Dash. Bruce says that the other students have been "taking it too far" by punching him, holding him down, and calling him "horrible" names. Bruce says it is "stuff that really shouldn't happen." One classmate reportedly told Bruce to kill himself.
The schools reaction was to ban Bruce from bringing his backpack to school, saying it had become a distraction and a trigger for bullying. Bruce complied, but his mother was furious and said she wanted the children responsible for the bullying to be punished. Noreen Bruce, the boy's mother, said, "You're missing the picture here. You're telling [Grayson] that it's ok for them to make fun of him."
And it isn't. The correct response is not to remove the stimulus of what gets you made fun of. Every kid who has ever been bullied for their hair, or glasses, or weight, or appearance can tell you that changing what you are being bullied over, does not necessarily make the bullying go away. Just because I put my denim dress in the closet, that does not mean I feel any better about what was said to me by a former boyfriend.
If I could go back, I would tell that old boyfriend that his opinions didn't matter. That I liked the dress and that I felt that I looked good and that was all that mattered. Bruce should be able to bring his backpack to class and the school should use it as a teaching moment to show kids that it is not ok to bully another person.
Bruce is now being home-schooled while his mother looks for a new school in which to enroll him in the fall. Maybe his next school will allow him to wear his backpack that he loves. Maybe they will punish the bullies instead of taking away something this child loved, something that made him different.
I'm going to start wearing the denim dress again.