Last week, thousands of people across the country donned pink shirts in recognition of Pink Shirt Day. The purpose of the day is to raise awareness of bullying and support for those who are victims of it. But despite being a well-intentioned event, Pink Shirt Day realistically does little to combat bullying.
Pink Shirt Day was started in 2007 by two Nova Scotian high school students after witnessing an instance of bullying against another student who was wearing a pink shirt. Since then, the movement has spread through schools across the country, and although the focus of the movement remains in high schools where bullying is most prevalent, pink shirts can also be seen at universities, workplaces and even seniors’ centres every year on a particular day in February.
The issue of bullying is one that has been and continues to be discussed at length. It’s a common problem everywhere, and can take many different forms. Bullies are constantly finding new ways of exploiting others, and with the
explosion of the Internet over the last two decades, it’s easier than ever to make someone’s life miserable.
Although bullying can be obvious — ridiculing someone for wearing a pink shirt, for instance — it’s usually far more subtle. Common examples include exclusion and cyber-bullying.
None of this should be news for most, but considering how widespread bullying is and how much attention is given to it, it’s astonishing that we can’t come up with more effective solutions. Another example of a well-intentioned but ultimately futile method of raising support for victims of bullying is the Day of Silence, where participants agree not to speak for a day in recognition of those who have been “silenced” by bullies.
There are a few fundamental reasons why events like Pink Shirt Day are ineffective methods of combating bullying. In reality, the only possible solution to bullying is a change in behaviour in the bullies themselves. This requires actively and publicly calling bullies out on their behaviour.
However, most people are reluctant to do this, either for fear of being harassed themselves, or because they think doing so is a form of bullying in itself. Participating in events like Pink Shirt Day may help more people understand that bullying is a widespread problem, but it does little in the way of actually making a difference.
Another flaw is that Pink Shirt Day can actually instigate bullying in certain instances. People who adamantly support Pink Shirt Day may adopt the mentality that those who choose not to participate are actively supporting bullying, or at least that they don’t care. The result of this is pressure on individuals from fellow students, co-workers and even teachers to take part in the event. Putting pressure on someone to wear a pink shirt is just as bad as putting pressure on someone to not wear one. Even more ironically, Pink Shirt Day is often used by bullies as an avenue to come across as a non-bully — all they have to do is put on a pink shirt and limit their bullying to anyone not wearing one, and suddenly they’re white knights in the fight against bullying. The next day, they return to their usual activities.
Pink Shirt Day and other events like it, while noble in origin and intent, are ultimately ineffective methods of combating bullying. We need to face the problem
head-on and develop real strategies for dealing with it, rather than hiding behind our pink shirts and deluding ourselves into thinking that we’re making any real difference.