Ender's Game and Bullying

Reading Orson Scott Card's novel Ender's Game ten years after I had first picked it up left me coming away from the book with several new insights into the story. I've found that the book was even more relevant than when I had first read it, accurately capturing how technology would be used for human interactions, while the military elements of the book hold an especially important place when looking at what the world is like today. Something that I didn't expect, however, was just how important the role of power was to the characters.

In a number of circles in the speculative fiction world, Orson Scott Card's name is an invitation for quite a bit of criticism due to his vocal opposition to a number of social issues, namely that of same-sex marriage. It's an interesting thing then, that the book is particularly relevant in the age of 'It Gets Better', following the suicides of numerous gay teenagers across the country after instances of bullying.

Bullying has become a hot-button issue for schools and communities across the country. Recently, in my home state of Vermont, an entire school, with a number of parents joining them, staged a sit-in to support a fellow teenager who had been bullied at the school over his sexual orientation. In the opening scenes of Ender's Game, a young Andrew Wiggin is attacked in a surprisingly similar manner:

"Hey, Third." Don't answer. Nothing to say. "Hey, Third, we're talkin to you, Third, hey bugger-lover, we're talkin to you."

The scene goes as one might expect: Andrew - Ender - is grabbed by several other children in the group and attacked, before striking out and kicking Stilson, and continued to pummel him until the other boy was unable to fight. At the end of the book, it's discovered that Ender actually killed his classmate.

Other incidents happen shortly thereafter at Ender's home, with his brother Peter and when he attends Battle School, when he's targeted by his first commander, Bonzo Madrid. Peter uses physical force to bully his younger brother, giving in to aggression that he later worked to mitigate and apologize for, while Bonzo attempted to use psychological force against the boy, keeping him isolated and using humiliation to dominate him. The actions of both are instrumental in Ender's desire to move forward in the novel, providing him with a good degree of motivation to succeed.

Card makes it a point to demonstrate that each of the boys who bullied Ender are weak in their own ways: Peter is unable to control his aggression, while both Stilson and Bonzo are afraid: Stilson because of his size, Bonzo because of the legacy that he faces due to his heritage. Bullying, from my own experience and from what I've generally heard from various places, is a technique to try an gain power over another person. Psychologically, they have their own issues, with the aggression a result of that. Card goes to some lengths to paint this aggression in a larger picture, symptoms of a system that's fighting tooth and nail to help the human race survive.

While reading Ender's Game, I couldn't help but think that the kids whom 'It Gets Better' is intended for wouldn't be helped somewhat by reading Ender's Game, and realizing that their stories aren't something new or sadly, even unique, but also that there is a way out at the end. Ender learns much at the hands of his own personal aggressors, learning to survive and to come out on top. At the same time, it's a good book for some of those at the other end of the engagement to read, to understand that there are other deeper and far more costly consequences to their actions, not only to their victims, but to themselves as well.

Card might not appreciate the irony of this, but Ender's Game feels like the perfect tool for a gay high school student to learn how to endure and survive those who are out to hurt them. But, regardless on his own views on how people should live their lives, it's a book that stands well on its own, and one that can go as far to make a miserable couple of years all that much better.

Star Wars is For Everyone

Heather, from the NEG

Last night, I came across a story out of Chicago about a girl named Katie. Katie lives in Chicago, and for the school year, she had picked out a Star Wars backpack, lunch box and water bottle. She packed her lunch with her mother for a couple of months, before wanting to abruptly switch to a different water bottle. When her mom asked about what happened, the entire story tumbled out: a couple of boys had been making fun of her every day, saying that Star Wars was for boys, and to try and make them stop, she wanted to change.

It's a sad story, and there were a couple of points that struck me. Her mother caught the change in behavior in her daughter, and questioned her on it. One of my past jobs was working at a summer camp, working with boys for a couple of weeks at a time, and kids are strange. Their social interactions are different, as well as their perceptions of what happened. The first, and most important thing out of this whole story is that the problem was caught, identified and Katie was reassured. The article's since gone viral, with the internet showing their support for her, and the fact that there's tons of other women out there reaffirming that it's not only for boys is a good thing.

When it comes to the idea of Star Wars is only for Boys, it's easy to see why that perception is out there. As Erika on Club Jade wrote the other day, it's heavily marketed towards guys, and it has been for years: men make up a large part of the Star Wars universe. That's changing, gradually, that that's good, because it's decidely not the case. The first thing that ran through my mind after reading the article was: "I know a couple of girls who are proof positive that that Star Wars is for everyone.", and went and posted the article to the 501st Facebook wall, soliciting support for Katie. This morning, I've asked for pictures of women in armor.

Marie, from the Canadian Garrison

The Star Wars universe, (and Science Fiction / Fantasy in general, for that matter), isn't a male-only playground, despite perceptions that it is. Star Wars alone has a number of strong female leads throughout the books, comics, movies and TV show. The same thing goes on with a number of other shows and films throughout the genre in every medium. While there are the strong points, there's the weaker characters that also exist from within, and I'm hopeful that we'll see more characters such as Ashoka Tano, Kara Thrace, Sam Carter and Shan Franklin that will serve as good role models for kids and fans of the genre, which is what will ultimately overturn the general perceptions. Within fandom, I hope to see more people like Vivienne, Megan, Marie, Heather, Terry, Amanda and Jodi, amongst many others, demonstrating their passions like we do in the 501st.

Bullying seems to be a hot button issue at the moment, between the 'It Gets Better' campaign that's been working its away across the country, as well as countless other stories that appear: kids humiliated for being who they are, which is possibly the worst thing for their self-esteem, outlook on life and general health. Bullies can be powerful motivators with the right environment: a problem to overcome, or they can be detrimental. I hope that most kids can learn to move above the problems, but it's something that takes patience, work and the right attitude.

When I was in elementary school, there was a girl who was different: Angela. I remember some of my classmates making fun of her for something stupid, and I had joined in at one point. I can't imagine that she was happy there. At one point, she fell or hurt herself on the playground, and I remember stopping to ask if she was okay, or waiting with her while a teacher came up. I've always regretted making fun of her then, and I hope that wherever she ended up, she's overcome our mindless thoughts and inconsiderate behavior at that age. As I became more of a geek in middle and high school, I came across my share of bullies, who made fun of the books I read, my glasses and clothing. It made me an angry kid at times, but I'd like to think that I made it out okay with a bit of maturity. Talking with some friends, I got off easy, and I feel for the kids who have worse troubles than I ever did.

Star Wars is for Everyone, and it's in a unique place in that it has a major, world-wide build in community of fans who have a similar interest, regardless of gender, race, class or orientation. Take a look at the growing gallery of 501st women that we've collected, and spread the word: Star Wars is for Everyone, and Bullying is not okay.