Thursday, March 14, 2013

Real-World Bullying Puts Jennifer Lawrence’s Bullied Past in Perspective

The New York Post ran a piece the other day entitled “Jennifer Lawrence Reveals Bullying Past,” offering a bit of insight into the 22-year-old, recent Oscar-winning actress, Hollywood’s current “It Girl.” I expected it to be a compelling tale of how being treated cruelly gave her the drive to succeed, or perhaps, in an unexpected twist, a tale of how Jennifer herself bullied others. The truth turned out to be more underwhelming than either of those.

“I changed schools a lot when I was in elementary school,” revealed J-Law (I wish I could take credit for making up that nickname), “because some girls were mean.” The sole example noted in the article was her recollection that in middle school, a girl gave her invitations to a birthday party to hand out to other students – a party to which Jennifer herself wasn’t invited.

That’s pretty low, like something out of the film Mean Girls, but in all honesty, it’s pretty far down the scale as bullying goes; in fact, it’s so tame that I wasn’t sure why the Post even bothered. To be fair, this was only a piece of celebrity fluff, a feel-good tale of a young girl being snubbed by her popular peers in school and going on to become the biggest young star in Hollywood. But I couldn’t help being struck by its contrast to another news item from that same morning, about a teen named Malala Yousafzai.

She is certainly less well-known than Jennifer, but you may know Malala as the 15-year-old Pakistani girl who was singled out and shot in the head last year by the savage Taliban for the capital crime of attending school. Miraculously, Malala survived the point-blank shooting and a medically-induced coma, and not only insisted on continuing her education, but also fighting for her right and the rights of other girls to do so in a land where female students have been mutilated or murdered because their education threatens the Taliban’s fundamentalist vision.

Malala was in the news that day for releasing, from the British hospital where she’s been undergoing treatment, a three-minute video presentation as part of the United Nations International Women's Day commemoration. In the video, she calmly and firmly makes her case for oppressive societies to allow girls and boys an education. “We all have to fight for our rights,” she declares:

If we want each and every girl to be educated, if we want peace all through the world, for that reason we all have to fight. We all should be united and not wait for anyone else to come and speak up for us, we should do it by ourselves.

Malala’s very survival is testament to a fearlessness that most of us in America will never have to exhibit. She is rightfully nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, shaming the Taliban who still threaten to finish the murderous job they started if they ever get another chance.

This is not to diminish the experience of Jennifer Lawrence or anyone else who has ever been bullied. At best bullying is hurtful; at worst it actually drives some to take their own lives. We are right, in today’s America, to marginalize such behavior as unacceptable. But contrasting Jennifer’s bullying incident with Malala’s life-or-death struggle helps us in the First World, especially in America, to get some perspective and even develop a sense of gratitude about the problems we face, compared to some of the truly brutal ugliness in less developed corners of the world.

(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 3/12/13)