Growing up as a millennial is tough.
Imagine a school with a hierarchy, such as depicted in American movies; ‘jocks’, ‘mean girls’, ‘geeks cliques’, ‘un-populars’ – the bullies and the bullied. In our generation, you don’t even have to go to school to experience this. All you have to do is log onto social media. It’s all there, even in the equestrian community. Heck, ESPECIALLY in the equestrian community.
As equestrians, I think the majority of us stick together when push comes to shove; but you would need to be blind to be unaware of the bullying that goes on.
Bullying on social media takes many forms; leaving a nasty comment, selecting the laughing emoji, laughing at inexperienced horse owners asking for help in groups, taking screenshots of posts or conversations and sending them on to friends. And that’s only online, so barely scratching the surface!
In the past week or so, for whatever reason, it has been my turn to receive my portion of online ‘hate’. The first tidal wave was via messaging platforms from the same person. I blocked this person on everything possible, but it did get really nasty. People say some really messed up stuff when hiding behind a phone or laptop keyboard.
The second wave – and probably the more common as it is even more cowardly – was on Instagram, as a response to one of those ‘Ask me a question’ boxes people put on their stories. If you are unaware of what I’m talking about, this is a feature on Instagram ‘stories’. (A story is very similar to those on Facebook at the top of your newsfeed.) Instagram, in my opinion, are ruling the ‘story’ game. They have fun add ons like music, videos, gifs, polls, locations that you can pick to include.
One of these features is the ‘questions’. This appears as a little box with the title ‘Ask me a question’, with the shadow of the words ‘type here’ below.
I’ve done this a few times when I’ve been bored, as many do, and rarely received anything negative. I actually don’t think that I had ever got any ‘hate’ through this before. Normally I just get a bunch of horse training questions.
However, yesterday I got a torrent of hate.
It started as “You rely on your parents’ money.” Moving on to “Why aren’t you self-funded?” (I am, but how many 22-year-olds are TOTALLY self-funded?). Finishing with “the reason people hate you isn’t because you aren’t self-funded, it’s because you act like you are.” And 100 other things in-between. Some I could laugh at, some were much worse. This is just plucking at one of the ‘hate topics’ I received.
I removed the question box, and announced that I would be taking a break from Instagram (a bit cliché, but I didn’t want to deal with these people). This only added fuel to the flames though. Multiple people private messaged me saying it was MY FAULT because I put the box up, and it was my fault because I “openly put myself out there for abuse”. These people painted me as if I was begging for the abuse and bullying.
Similar phrases that came to mind are:
“You asked for it.”
“If you hadn’t done X, it wouldn’t have happened.”
“You’re not a victim if you asked for it.”
“It’s your fault though.”
“Don’t play the victim.”
“You just want attention.”
I’ve heard these phrases over and over again before. They are applied to victims of bullying, and those who have suffered other more serious physical attacks as well. I am a survivor of both and have heard these phrases time and time again. This victim blaming is simply not on.
So, where am I going with this?
When I spoke up about bullying at school, I was told to avoid the people who bullied me. I was told not to talk to them as to to avoid inviting them to say abusive things. ‘Invite’ being the key word.
But, why am I responsible for the bullies’ behaviour?! Why is it my fault they enjoy hurting others? If I happen to get in the way of them and suffer from their abuse, is it really MY fault for getting in the way of their words and actions? I didn’t invite this abuse. I didn’t say ‘please send me the worst things you think of me’ in that questions box. I invited friendly questions.
Does that make me guilty? No it doesn’t!
This is the reason so many people who are bullied online ‘take breaks from social media’, and perhaps post less in future, sharing less about their journey online.
I now feel this way online after being a victim of cyberbullying. Yes, I am using the word ‘victim’. I am calling myself a victim. And no, I am not being dramatic or attention-seeking. I am so sick of hiding my scars just because I am scared of what people will think. If you call yourself a victim people may immediately think of you as weak and seeking attention. Two things I did not want to be seen as. But now, I can call myself a victim. Because I overcame it. I’m once again a survivor of bulling, cyber and at school. I am strong, and I am strong enough to call myself a victim.
When I post on Instagram, for example, I expect people to pick apart my riding, to laugh at the captions I leave, even if they don’t. Because it’s happened so many times, I expect it will happen again.
Article continued below…
Claire discusses riding instructors and coaches and how finding the right one is essential
If you want to keep up with the latest from the equestrian world without leaving home, grab a H&H subscription
If you are bullied for something, it is NOT your fault. Even if it is constructive criticism, if that person adds a negative flair, that is not necessary. You can control what you put out into the world, but you cannot control how people react to it. This does not mean that you should moderate what you put out. This doesn’t you need to post defensively. You should be able to share your thoughts and be vulnerable, if you would like to.
It isn’t your job to stop the hate, it is the job of those who hate.
It is not you who needs to change what you post, it is those hateful people who comment horrible things that need to change. Do not let them stifle you.
You can control what you put out into the world, but that doesn’t mean you should have to just because you are so scared of being ripped apart. The phrase ‘asking for it’ is disgusting.
For all the latest news analysis, competition reports, interviews, features and much more, don’t miss Horse & Hound magazine, on sale every Thursday.