The Chat Room

Kennedy, Don’t Mess This Up

Emily Bazelon answers Reddit’s questions about bullying and the term’s big Supreme Court cases.

Author Emily Bazelon.
Emily Bazelon

Photo courtesy of Emily Bazelon

Slate senior editor and Sticks and Stones author Emily Bazelon took to Reddit to answer reader questions on Thursday. This transcript has been edited for clarity. The full AMA is here.

andrembrown: Hi, Emily. Really big fan of the Gabfest here. What do you think the most likely outcome will be of the landmark gay marriage case (Hollingsworth v. Perry) heading to the Supreme Court next month? With the court being so conservative, is it still likely that Justice Kennedy will be the swing vote in favor of gay marriage?

As my law professor loves to say, it’s just Anthony Kennedy’s world, and we’re all living in it.

Emily Bazelon: Yes that is a favorite AK saying. You know, I didn’t want Perry to go up to SCOTUS—the case has always made me nervous because it’s so far-reaching. I’m with Obama on this one: better for gay marriage to become legal through state legislators and voters. But I have to say I’m feeling more hopeful that AK won’t mess this up. The amicus brief that some prominent Republicans are filing in favor of gay marriage should help. And also, there are a couple of ways the court could find in favor of gay marriage without ordering it for the entire country, which I think would be overreaching. So I’m hoping for one of those outcomes.


ryanlindly: Despite the recent studies you have mentioned suggesting that being bullied while young can have detrimental effects for over a decade, we still have a trope about the bullied being somehow more empathetic, resilient, and well-rounded as an adult. At the same time, when an adult commits a heinous crime, it’s often reported that that person was bullied as a child, as though that explains something about their actions. How does the reality of the adult who was bullied as a child generally compare to those extremes we often render? How do you account for the persistence of these both positive and negative views of the post-bullying adult?

Thanks for doing this. I love the Gabfest and look forward to reading your book.

Emily Bazelon: Hey, thank you—we love our Gabfest listeners! Very astute point you are making. Victims of bullying do have higher rates of anxiety and depression and suicidal thinking as adults. And sometimes they lash out later, like children who are abused at home do. But most of the time, they are resilient, and they do recover. So we have to hold on to both of those truths at the same time: most kids recover, but some don’t, and that’s why this is an issue worth taking seriously.


billmelater: As a high school teacher, I hear quite a bit of and about bullying, which frustrates and disappoints. In your Fresh Air interview you spoke of the importance of guidance counselors getting involved in such conflicts. While we have many resources devoted to punishing bullying (especially of the cyber variety) we don’t have any real conversations about it. Unfortunately, most attention in my district is given to response rather than prevention. What role, if any, do you see a teacher playing in raising awareness among students? Should we keep this like our (mandated) sex-education policy, and just assume that the parents will handle it? Thanks so much, and don’t let David give you any garbage. Your Cocktail Chatter is always trenchant and entertaining.

Emily Bazelon: Oh, so nice to hear that David is alone in dissing my Cocktail Chatter, at least today. I am so with you about prevention rather than punishment. To me what makes most sense is that at a young age, schools need to help kids learn to regulate and express emotions. That’s at the foundation of bullying, right? This isn’t all on schools: It should start at home and really most of the responsibility falls to parents. After all, empathy is something you can talk about at the dinner table—it’s about asking your kid to imagine herself in someone else’s shoes. But schools increasingly raise our kids along with us, so this is where I’d like to see them invest the most resources. I’m a fan of social and emotional learning—see the CASEL website for more.


bassnectarhead: I really enjoy the Political Gabfest and the sunny disposition you bring to it.

What are your thoughts about the VRA? Do you really think SCOTUS will repeal Section 5? And what would the practical effects of that be?

Emily Bazelon: Oh, poor Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act—it looked like Kennedy, Alito, Scalia, Roberts, and silently Thomas were ready to kill it yesterday at the Supreme Court. Charlie Savage has a good piece in the New York Times today about the practical effects and I’ve written about this in Slate. Basically, the biggest impact will be felt in ways that are pretty invisible: small counties and cities moving polling places, or curtailing early voting, or changing voting hours in ways that could disproportionally affect minority voters. Instead of DOJ reviewing before these changes can go into effect, it will be on the voters to sue afterward. That’s a higher bar.


catsinpajams: Why do you think bullying has been becoming such a hot-button issue for the last few years or so when it has undoubtedly been around since the beginning of time? Surely everyone has been bullied at some point or other in life but there was never so much sensitivity towards it until recently. This may be a boneheaded question.

Emily Bazelon: No, everyone has not been bullied. If you use a limited definition, like the one I posted earlier, then this is not normal, majority behavior. It affects 10 to 25 percent of kids—including bullies, victims, and kids who are both—and that’s been true for the last decades. What’s different now is the Internet, which can make bullying feel 24/7 and which also makes parents of my generation nervous because we didn’t grow up with it, so we’re having to figure out the effect on our kids without having gone through it ourselves.

Oh, but I also wanted to say, not a boneheaded question at all—an important one!


prophetben: I’m a huge fan of the podcast and your Supreme Court reporting. While, I’m not a parent, the subject of bullying interests me. I saw the documentary Bully that came out in 2011 and it kind of blew me away that kids are so horrible to each other these days. My question is, what’s your pitch to me to buy your book? From what I’ve heard, your book has a “how-to” approach to dealing with bullying which seems like it would appeal mostly to parents and educators. Did you write the book just for them or also for childless non-educators who are generally interested in sociological trends?

Emily Bazelon: Oh so glad you asked. I did write the book for parents, educators, and teenagers—my dearest hope is that kids will read it, at home with parents or at school. For you: there’s lots of psychology and sociology in it, and here’s a big thought: violence is down in our society, and so we have the wherewithal to concentrate more on psychological harm. Bullying is a significant form of it, so let’s see what makes sense in this arena. And also a story-telling pitch: the book is mostly a narrative, and it will make you think about your own growing up. Not in a bad way, but evocatively. Or so I hope.

Is that at all convincing?


jmoyer: Do you believe there’s any reform needed for the Supreme Court, such as term limits or more justices? Do you think any such reforms are even possible?

Emily Bazelon: I’m a big fan of term limits. I like the 18-year limit, which would pretty quickly give each president two picks. It seems about right. And it would mean that we wouldn’t have a small number of people making such huge decisions for the country for decade upon decade. When the framers came up with life-tenure, life spans were a lot shorter.


tompen: In your experience (I think I’ve seen you on twice), how much of the Colbert interviews are edited to make him look good? Is he really as spontaneously brilliant and funny as he appears? Or is it the magic of good editing to make good television?

Emily Bazelon: Each time I’ve been on, the segment has been edited to make it work best for TV. It’s more about helping the guest look better than helping Colbert. And yes he really is incredibly quick and smart. What strikes me most when I’m in the studio is the energy level it takes to do that show night after night. It’s electric.


fricks_and_stones: How big of a problem is sexism in the modern journalism world? I’m male, and whenever I listen to the Political Gabfest, I find myself thinking through the same series of three thoughts: a) This Emily Bazelon woman is amazing; she’s extremely smart, articulate, and successful, and at the same time she exudes a very youthful, attractive, and approachable persona, which leads me think b) Wow, I’m kind of sexist, which leads me to c) Maybe that’s a requirement for female in the media, a double-standard requiring them to be both intelligent and attractive.

Emily Bazelon: Forget that this is about me, because that’s embarrassing—why is this sexist? I can see that it could be sexual, but if a woman had the same feeling about David or John, would we think twice about it?


UVdogastrophe: What is your favorite and least favorite thing about living in New Haven?

Emily Bazelon: I love my neighborhood and the Italian grocer on my corner. I don’t like how I can’t ever flip off bad drivers—too small a town, might know them!


Jolimont: I really enjoy your work. Thank you. How do you put up with Plotz?

Emily Bazelon: I love that in Plotz’s AMA, someone asked him why he gives me a hard time on the Gabfest, and he asked if it was me writing in. (No.) Now in my AMA, I’m getting all the sympathy. You know, I love David (and John, too, of course). I mean really. I’ve been known to bring tissues into his office because he’s someone I can safely cry to. He’s also one of the smartest people I know, so he always makes my work sharper. And of course the show would be no fun if he didn’t take shots!


Cannae216: Which is your favorite Yale a cappella group?

Emily Bazelon: The Slavic Women’s Chorus! I just hope it still exists.