HPfGU #43162

Fred and George: The Bullies You Do Know

RE: Fred and George: The Bullies You Do Know

My goodness!

I get busy for a couple of days, and when I come back, what do I find?

Um. Well. It's really difficult for me even to know how to approach this now, honestly, because I get the distinct impression that my original argument was, er, not very well understood. To say the least.

That's my own fault, of course, but it does make it quite difficult for me to know how now to respond to what has been posted on this thread, as the vast majority of the arguments strike me as rather tangential, if not completely irrelevant, to the issue I was hoping to discuss.

However. I will try.

First off, it seems to me that there is a rather severe discrepancy between my own understanding and that of the rest of the list when it comes to the questions of both what bullying is and what traits typically characterize those who engage in it.

Many of the operative definitions of bullying that others have either stated outright or implied in their responses on this thread are ones that I have never seen or heard of before. Anywhere. And while some of them seem reasonable enough to me, others, I must say, strike me as simply bizarre.

Elsewhere, people seem to be in possession of a very different (and indeed, in many cases diametrically opposed!) conception of what bullies are like -- what characterizes them, what traits they typically exhibit, and so forth.

Because the question of "what bullies are like" was absolutely essential to my original argument, this is an enormous problem.

So. First off, a bit of clarification. What is bullying? What is "bullying behavior?" And what are bullies typically like? What traits typically characterize those who engage in bullying?


The definitions of "bullying" with which I am most familiar are those which derive in one way or another from the definition used by the Norwegian Dan Olweus, whose research into the dynamics of schoolyard bullying has formed the basis for nearly all of the work done in this field in both Scandinavian and English-speaking countries over the course of the past thirty years.

The Oregon Youth Violence Project, for example, uses the below definition when trying to evaluate whether or not conflict between students consitutes bullying:

A social, verbal or physical action is "bullying" if it fit the below criteria:

-- is it behavior that could be reasonably assumed by a person of the instigator(s)' age, intellect, and experience to cause pain, discomfort, humiliation or embarrassment to the victim?
-- has it happened more than once?
-- has the instigator persisted in the behavior even after the victim has demonstrated that s/he resents this behavior or is bothered by it?
-- is there a real or perceived power imbalance between the victim and the instigator(s), is the victim incapable of retaliating effectively in kind, or is the victim unusually and specifically vulnerable in the arena targetted by the behavior?

If the answer to all four of these questions is "yes," then bullying is taking place.

This is a rather standard definition. Some variation or another of the above is used by nearly all professionals in the field of bullying prevention across Scandinavia, as well as in the US, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the UK. I am unfamiliar with the definitions used in other places.

Although this is a clinical definition, it matches my own layman's experience of what bullying is and what it entails perfectly. Indeed, I find it so intuitive that it honestly hadn't even occurred to me that it might not match up with the understandings of others on this list. My bad, apparently.

So. According to this definition, have we seen the twins engage in bullying in canon?

I would say that their treatment of Percy definitely qualifies as bullying. However, I register the objections that some people have raised on the grounds that special considerations must apply when considering the question of bullying between siblings. This is very true, and in fact, materials designed to help educators and other concerned adults to help prevent childhood bullying often have an entire chapter devoted to the question of bullying between siblings. Nonetheless, bullying can and does happen between siblings, and in the case of Percy and the twins, I think that it definitely is happening by the time of GoF. This is a complicated issue, though, and it's one that I have a LOT of thoughts about, so I'd like to return to it in another post, if that's all right with everyone.

So outside of the family unit, have we seen the twins engage in bullying?

No. I would say that we have not. We have seen isolated incidents that hint at bullying, but since one of the criteria for "bullying" is that the behavior be repetitive and persistent, one cannot positively identify bullying on the basis of such isolated incidents, no matter how suggestive they may be.

One can, however, draw certain assumptions about character and inclination from isolated incidents, particularly when there are a number of these incidents in the canon and very little evidence to contradict them.

This was the basis of my original argument: the twins behave like bullies. They act like bullies. They engage in bullying behavior, and they also exhibit nearly every one of the character traits that researcheres over the past forty years have identified as typical of people who bully. Therefore it is very difficult for me as a reader not to assume that, even if we do not see enough of their interactions with students outside of their in-group to form a definitive diagnosis, nonetheless they very likely are indeed bullies.

This argument, however, depends on a certain understanding of what constitutes bullying behavior, as well as one of what bullies are typically like.

So what is "bullying behavior?"


"Bullying behavior" is behavior consistent with any one of the criteria listed in the above definition of bullying. In other words, although we cannot say for sure that bullying is taking place until all four of the criteria have been met, action that fulfills any one of the four should be considered a "red flag." It is behavior consistent with that of bullies, and it therefore ought to alert the witness to the possibility that bullying may be taking place, or that the person responsible for the behavior is at serious risk for becoming a bully.

Bullying behavior would therefore include: targetting the weak or the vulnerable; disregard for signs of distress or protest on the part of a victim; any persistent and repetitive instigation of actions which might reasonably be assumed to cause pain, discomfort or humiliation to others; insensitivity to the emotional condition of other people.

The twins exhibit all of these behaviors. If they are not actually bullying anyone outside of their family—which they may well not be—they nonetheless do exhibit all of the behavioral symptoms of those prone to bullying. They may or may not technically be "bullies." But do they engage in "bullying behavior?"

Oh, yes. No question. That they most certainly do.


Here is where we seem to have run into the most profound difference of opinion.

This is unfortunate indeed, as the understanding of what bullies are like was absolutely central to my original argument.

There's been an enormous amount of research done on this subject over the past thirty years. Olweus' findings are commercially available. There's a nice overview of this research in Adair article from the New Zealand "Children Issues," v. 3 no. 1, 1999, which is available from the Children's Issues Centre of the University of Otago. Alternatively, the recently published (if rather insultingly and misleadingly titled) _Your Child: Bully or Victim?_ by Peter Sheras is a good layman's overview, as is the somewhat older _Bullies & Victims,_ by Fried and Fried. Both of these books are currently in print.

Research into the psychological profiles of bullies in both Scandinavian and English-speaking countries has found that cross-culturally they exhibit the following traits:

-- physically strong and/or coordinated
-- socially popular
-- assertive with both peers and adults
-- high levels of physical courage
-- very high levels of self-esteem
-- impulsive
-- feel little or no sympathy for victims (lack remorse)
-- positive attitudes towards violence
-- low levels of empathy
-- difficulty recognizing or understanding their own and others' emotions
-- competitive
-- lack self-reflection
-- resistant to compromise

("Empathy," in this context, refers to the ability to project oneself into the situation of someone very different from oneself and then to imagine how that person might feel or think. People with "low levels of empathy" find this a difficult imaginative exercise.)

Eron et al at the University of Chicago, who have conducted a thirty year longitudinal study of schoolyard bullies and victims, also claim that bullies show a much higher tendency than other children towards dualistic thinking, and specifically towards thinking in terms of self-other dichotomies: us vs. them, in-group vs. out-group, etc.

David Elkind of Harvard, whose findings confirm this, suggests that it may be this tendency which accounts for bullies' low empathy levels: they do not, he suggests, ascribe to "outsiders" quite the same human status they do to those they consider to be "like them," and they therefore not only find it difficult to identify with outsiders, but also resist attaching any real credence to their emotional responses, thus leading them to be able to make claims like "oh, it wasn't really bothering him," even when their victim has in fact loudly and repeatedly objected to mistreatment or even been reduced to tears.

Eron and Elkind's findings are hardly as universal as all of the ones listed above, though, and Elkind's theory is by no means anywhere near universally accepted within the field.

Apologies for this rather long digression, but I really felt that it was necessary, as so many of the objections to my claim that the twins are bullies seemed based in a completely different understanding of what traits are characteristic of bullies in the first place.


Now, back to the topic at hand.

In my original message, I posited that Fred and George are characterized quite clearly in the text as bullies.

They are popular, charismatic, athletic and self-confident, loyal to those they have designated members of their in-group, disdainful and hostile to those outside of that magic circle, poor at recognizing when their behavior is harming others, insensitive to others' feelings, lacking in any apparent self-reflexion, and prone to targetting the vulnerable and the weak without remorse.

I pointed out places in the canon that had conspired to create this impression in my mind, places where we see hints to this aspect of their character, hints which strongly suggest to me that the twins do indeed engage in bullying, even if we have never actually seen firm evidence of this in the canon.

I pointed out that while the Twins are indeed helpful to Harry, we have yet to see them be in the least bit pleasant to any student outside of House Gryffindor. Indeed, every single one of their interactions with an "out-group" student that we have yet seen in canon has been disdainful, mocking, unfriendly, or in some other way aggressive. This holds true not only for their interactions with the members of House Slytherin, but also for their interaction with Cedric Diggory, of House Hufflepuff. This is behavior characteristic of bullies, who tend (according to Eron and Enkind) to think in terms of "us vs. them," and to deny outsiders the same considerations that they afford to those within their own circle.

Not only is their behavior towards people outside of their group hostile; their manner of speaking about those people is both disdainful and dismissive. This was my point in bringing up Draco and the dementor on the train. My point there was not to claim that the twins ought to go out of their way to be "nice" to Draco. (Who would want to go out of their way to be nice to Draco? He's horrid!) Rather, it was that the particular tenor of their disdain is utterly consistent with the way in which bullies think and speak about people outside of their in-group. (It is also, I might point out, very similar to the sneering tone with which Sirius Black always speaks of Severus Snape -- a character touch which has led more than one reader to deduce that Sirius himself might have been a bit of a bully back in his schooldays).

I also pointed out that the twins—large, strong, and self-assured teenaged boys—have on more than one occasion been shown targetting boys much younger than themselves for mockery. They do not seem to have much of a sense of noblesse oblige. They do not balk at attacking people much younger or less powerful than they are, nor do they seem to see anything wrong with this behavior. This too is characteristic of people who bully others.

When we do see the twins applying their "mischief" to an authority figure at Hogwarts, they have selected as their target the most vulnerable professor in the entire school, a man who is (as far as the twins know) in a state of magically-induced shell-shock. Knowing this about him, they nonetheless choose to throw snowballs at the back of his head from a hidden location. Bullies tend to hone in on other people's vulnerabilities. Even Harry, who is friendly with the twins, is aware of this aspect of their character: he fears to reveal vulnerability to them, for fear that they will exploit it in a way that he will find painful.

In both the canon and the semi-canon of the schoolbooks, the twins are shown to exhibit a marked callousness towards animals. This applies not only to "wild" magical animals, like the salamander, but also towards their own brother's pets. They have already killed (or perhaps merely "lost") one of Ron's pets, and they dismiss his grief over the assumed death of Scabbers as insignificant and rather foolish. Callousness and lack of empathy are characteristic traits of those who bully others.

In their harassment of their siblings, the twins seem to lack insight into the harm caused by their actions. The damaging effects of their behavior on their little sister Ginny must be pointed out to them before they are capable of appreciating that they are causing her injury. They similarly are either incapable of seeing the damage that their continued harassment of Percy is causing, or simply disinterested in it. If their treatment of Percy is not, in fact, malicious, then they must be turning a willfully blind eye to its effects on both his behavior and his emotional condition. This, too, is typical of bullies, who often lack both insight into their own motivations and attentiveness to the suffering of others.

On the one occasion where the twins are called upon to display adult behavior—in the train at the end of GoF—they fail the test. They do not show much inclination to take on the mantle of adulthood. This immaturity is typical of bullies, whose lives tend to take a sharp downturn at the age of seventeen or eighteen, when they are forced to join the adult world, a world in which their manner of interacting with others does not reap at all the same rewards as it does in the school environment. People who were bullies as children are five times as likely (in the US) to develop a criminal record later in life than are children who did not bully others in school. Indeed, in GoF, we see the twins contemplate blackmail—a criminal activity rather above and beyond the level of childish pranks—when they find themselves frustrated by the adult world.

Now for me, as a reader, all of these factors combine to create a certain impression of the twins. Namely, that they are bullies. They look like bullies, they act like bullies, they speak like bullies, they react to things in the same way that bullies typically do. In fact, the only way in which they are not written as bullies is that JKR has not actually shown us the twins bullying anyone.

Then, she has not shown us very much of their interactions with the student body outside of House Gryffindor at all. For behavior to be technically bullying, it must happen repeatedly, and we have not been shown nearly enough of the twins' interactions with the rest of the school to know whether or not this has happened.

I think, however, that all of the signs are there. If the twins are, in fact, not bullying students at Hogwarts, then they have done a remarkable job of showing every last sign of being bullies without...yet...quite...becoming such. They certainly fit the personality profile. They certainly exhibit bullying behaviors. They certainly are depicted as stereotypical bullies.

In this respect, I tend to feel that the twins reflect a basic fact of life: you never perceive the Bully You Know as a bully at all, no matter how obviously he might fit the profile, because you are conditioned to take heed of the signs only when they appear in someone who doesn't like you, and who therefore seems likely to direct his hostility against you and yours. My Brave Defender is your Big Mean Bully. My Big Mean Bully is your All-round Nice Guy.

Clearly, though, my reading of the twins, idiosyncratic. To say the least. However, I must say that many of the objections to my reading strike me as a little bit difficult to understand. They seem to revolve on some very different ideas about bullies and bullying than the ones which I possess. I'll try to address a few of them here.

1) It's only bullying if it is motivated by malice.

Hmmm. A tricky issue, this.

See, some definitions of bullying do indeed include malice, the "intent to harm," as one of the requisite criteria. Others include it as only one of many the possible criteria on a "if five of the seven of these are true" type list. And then there are others which omit it altogether.

You can make a case for malice as a requisite criterion for bullying, yes. I think, though, that there are very good reasons for omitting it as such.

One of these reasons is simply that there are in fact many reasons that a child might choose to bully another child, and that many of these reasons often take precedence over the desire to do harm. A child might choose to bully, for example, primarily to ensure her own social popularity, or because she is afraid that if she isn't perceived by other children as a bully, then she might herself become the next victim. These motivations often supercede the desire to do harm. But does that make the bullying any less bullying? I don't think that it does.

Another reason for discounting motive as a relevant factor here is that intent is impossible to prove. Bullies themselves very rarely explain their actions in terms of having wanted to hurt someone. Instead, they usually fall back on the old stand-bys: "he deserved it," "she was asking for it," "it didn't really hurt him," "it was all in fun," "can't she take a joke?" and so forth. Sometimes, when called upon to account for their actions, bullies will say that they just did it because they were bored, or because they thought that it would be funny. "Because it was funny" is not necessarily the same thing as malice. It could reflect simple callousness. But again, bullying is no less bullying just because its perpetrator is merely callous and insensitive, rather than malevolent or sadistic.

This relates to the psychological characteristics of bullies, of course. Bullies tend, as a class, to be exceptionally poor at understanding their own emotions and motivations. They not only lack insight into other people's feelings, but also into their own. They are not self-critical about their behavior. So another problem with insisting on "intent to cause harm" as a proof of bullying is not only that it is impossible to prove malice, but also that even if malice were the primary reason for a bully's behavior, he would still likely to deny this not only to you, but also even to himself.

I firmly believe, for example, that the twins' behavior towards Percy in the third and fourth books of the series is indeed quite evidently intended to cause him harm. If asked, however, I am equally sure that the twins themselves would attempt to rationalize it by claiming that they are trying to "help" Percy by their continual harassment. Similarly, I don't think that they'd be likely to show any great insight into the significance of the fact that they consistently target Percy on the exact same grounds for which Percy is praised or rewarded by their parents, or that every time Arthur or Molly give a sign of approval to Percy, retaliation from the twins is quick to follow. As readers, we can recognize these patterns and interpret them, but the twins do not recognize them, and likely would not acknowledge them even if confronted with them. Relying on the word of the aggressors as to their real motivations is really only of value if the aggressors are exceptionally self-reflexive, self-critical, and honest with themselves. Very few of us can claim to be all of those things—I certainly can't—and bullies as a class tend to be even less so than most.

Bullies also tend to be insensitive to other people's emotions. They are not skilled at anticipating others reactions, and they lack impulse control. This is a dangerous combination, because it does make it quite possible for people to cause tremendous harm to others without really "meaning to." That doesn't mean that they aren't bullies. They are still bullying, so long as they ought to have known that their behavior would be harmful. In fact, one of the reasons that so many countries funnel so much money into bullying prevention programs for their schools is really not so much to protect the victims as it is to teach bullies to behave themselves. Bullies don't tend to fare very well in later life. They all too often wind up in prison. This could just be because they're malicious, of course, but to some extent, it may also reflect a profound failure of the sort of people who bully to comprehend the ramifications of their actions. People like that need to be taught to anticipate how their behavior affects others, as well as how to control their desires to engage in hurtful behavior, not only for the protection of their victims, but also for their own protection.

The main reason, though, to leave aside the question of intent when evaluating bullying behavior is that to take intent under consideration privileges the experience of the bully over that of the victim. Cindy touched on this issue here, when she wrote:

I have to wonder whether the conduct of the twins is every bit as hurtful to those on the receiving end as Draco's taunts about the Weasleys' poverty.

Well, yes. That's just it. Whether or not behavior is "bullying" depends on whether or not it is bothering the victim, and that's not a question that it is the aggressor's job to answer. Draco Malfoy, for example, cannot get off the Bully Hook by claiming that taunting Muggle-borns isn't really bullying because those Mudbloods aren't fully human and therefore don't really feel pain the way we purebloods do. That is indeed one of the classic justifications of bullies. But it's a poor justification. An adolescent boy of normal intellect really ought to know that taunting causes distress to other human beings regardless of their heritage. That is knowledge that someone of his age and experience "can be reasonably assumed" to possess. Furthermore, the reactions of those he has taunted show that his actions cause them pain. His actions therefore constitute bullying, no matter what he might self-report as his true intent or degree of intended malice.

Similarly, in GoF the twins ought to know that their pranks cause Percy distress. They are old enough and bright enough to understand that continual harassment bothers and upsets people. They have had ample opportunity to observe that Percy is distressed by their actions, that they have a marked and negative effect on his ability to cope, and that they are causing him harm. He protests and he objects; he complains to his parents; he locks himself in his room. He is not capable of retaliating in kind -- indeed, he does not retaliate in any way at all. He is rendered vulnerable by virtue of having no real allies among his siblings, as well as by virtue of being under unusual stress due to having just started his adult life. And yet the twins do not desist. To my mind, this constitutes bullying. The twins' claim (or the claims of their apologists) that they "mean no harm," or that they are "only trying to help him" is not a relevant factor here, because in fact, they ought to be capable of recognizing that they are doing harm, and that their actions are not helping him in the least. Yet, they still do not desist. This makes their behavior "bullying."

Turning a blind eye to the actual (as opposed to the intended) outcome of your actions does not make you not a bully. Indeed, this sort of behavior is absolutely typical of bullies.

2. Bullies suffer from low self-esteem.

Abigail wrote:

A bully, to my mind, is a power freak. A person who feels the need to humiliate and terrify others in order to feel powerful. This behaviour usually stems from low self esteem...

It's very comforting to think that bullies must suffer from low self-esteem, but I'm afraid to say that it's a myth. Study after study has shown that bullies actually have much higher levels of self-esteem than other children do. It is one of the distinguishing characteristics of children who bully others.

(There is a type of bully, often known as the "victim bully," who typically does suffer from low self-esteem. Victim-bullies ::coughSnapecough:: only account for a small percentage of bullies overall, though.)

That Fred and George do not seem to suffer from self-esteem problems does not mean that they can't be bullies. On the contrary, it helps to support my impression that they very well might be.

3. Bullies Aren't Callous

Abigail wrote:

At their best, Fred and George are being playful and high-spirited, and are unaware of the fact that they might be causing pain to others. At their worse, they are almost unbearably callous.

Actually, being "unbearably callous" is a very common trait found in bullies. Lack of sensitivity to others' emotions is one of the classic characteristics of bullies.

Again, this doesn't necessarily mean that the twins are bullies—you can be insensitive and still not be a bully—but it does mean that they match the profile.

4. If your intention is to change someone's behavior, then it isn't really bullying.

Darrin wrote:

Inter-sibling rivalries are normal and this is Fred and George's way of dealing with "perfect Percy", who is obnoxious.

Actually, "because he was getting on my nerves" is a very common reason for bullies to give when called upon to account for their actions. It's also a defense that adults often find highly sympathetic, because the sad fact of the matter is that many children who are the victims of bullying really are irritating, annoying, rude, or in some other way socially obnoxious. In the literature, children who match this description are referred to as "provocative victims" -- which is really just psych-speak for "those kids who are just begging for it."

What makes bullying maladaptive behavior, however, is that fact that it does not address the problem of social irritation in an acceptable or an effective manner. Not only is it intrinsically damaging; it also doesn't solve the problem of social friction. In fact, it usually just makes the problem much worse.

Intervention for bullies is often designed to focus on precisely this problem. If someone's behavior is irritating you, there are a number of useful ways to go about trying to get them to stop. Bullying is not one of them. It is maladaptive behavior, and it often reflects distorted thinking.

We see this in the canon, I think, with Percy and the twins. The more the twins tease and harass Percy, the more pompous and stuffy he becomes, because pomposity and strutting is Percy's way of dealing with stress. The twins, however, are incapable of recognizing this fact. Their "way of dealing" with Percy is therefore inherently counter-productive, and their inability to realize this fact is extremely typical of children who bully others in real life.

5. It's only bullying if physical assault takes place or is threatened.

Darrin wrote:

There is no evidence they have physically harmed Percy, or even seriously attempted to.

Bullying does not have to involve physical assault or physical threat. Verbal bullying (teasing, insults) is by far the most common type of bullying.

Fred and George don't have to beat people up to be bullies.

6. All Children Are Bullies.

No. All children may be nasty little rotters with the capacity to bully, but they aren't all bullies. Most kids take part in a spot of bullying at some point in their lives, but that doesn't make them "bullies." Bullies are the kids who regularly instigate or take the lead in bullying behavior.

Abigail wrote:

Am I the only person who is flashing on an early episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in which Xander is possessed by a hyena spirit and begins acting quite cruelly?


Oh, I just loved that episode, in spite of its cheese factor and its "spotted it a mile off" plot resolution!

But one thing to keep in mind about Giles' line there, Abigail, is that for once, he was actually wrong. Even before they got possessed by the hyena spirits, those kids really weren't just your average normal sixteen year old students. They were the class bullies, and all of the other kids knew that they were the class bullies. Giles just didn't get that, because he didn't share the students' understanding of how the school's pecking order worked.

Of course, I do take your point that the plots of early Buffy generally are rather blatant metaphors for real life high school horrors: in this case, one of your non-bully friends suddenly deciding to hang with the bullies, and then being mean to you in order to cement his new social status. But I think that there's a very big difference between "sometimes a student will decide to become a bully, and it's really scary and awful when that happens -- just like he's been possessed overnight by some evil spirit" and "all kids are bullies." I mean, I see a very big difference there.

Draco is a bully. Dudley is a bully. Harry has the capacity to be a bully -- but he is not one. The verdict is still out on Fred and George, but much about their canonical depiction strongly suggests to me that they are indeed bullies.

7. Bullies can't themselves be the victim of bullying.

Yes, they can be. In fact, they very often are. An important component in bullying is the power discrepancy between the bully and the victim. A kid who has the strength and size advantage to bully other children his own age can then be the victim of bullying when he relates to children older, stronger, or more powerful than himself.

Darrin wrote:

And forgive me, but I have a hard time shedding a tear when a bully like Dudley...gets it from a bigger bully.

That is what is happening.

Yup. That's exactly what's happening, Darrin. I quite agree with you. Dudley is getting it from bigger bullies: namely, the twins.

Quod Erat Demonstrandum.

8. Teasing between siblings isn't bullying.

Yes, it can be. Teasing between siblings crosses the line into "bullying" when one of the siblings has repeatedly registered protests against the teasing, can not or does not retaliate in kind, and is obviously suffering on account of it -- and yet the teasing continues. That is bullying, even when it happens within the family.

Christy (who I am sure would never take things as far with her siblings as Fred and George have taken things with Percy by the beginning of GoF) wrote:

I think it is safe to say that we can discount any pranks on Percy as "proof" of the twins being bullies. . . .I constantly pull pranks and spout wisecracks at my sisters. This is simply the dynamics of the modern family.

Yes, it is...up to a certain point. But by GoF, I think that things have gone way beyond that point. It seems clear to me that the Weasley family dynamic is in a good deal of trouble in GoF. Percy has become so deeply alienated from the rest of his family that he has chosen to transfer his filial loyalties onto his employer Crouch -- a man who doesn't even know his name.

Indeed, when speculating about Percy's role in future canon, readers regularly phrase the issue as "will Percy side with Fudge or with his family?" rather than as "will Percy side with Dumbledore or with Fudge?" which might, one would think, be the rather more logical way to frame the question. We don't frame it that way, though, and I think that there is a reason that we don't. Percy's struggle throughout the series has always been one between his allegiance to his family and his allegiance to his extra-familial relationships (his prefect friends, the staff of Hogwarts, Penny, Crouch and the Ministry). I think that as readers, we are so often concerned about Percy precisely because we sense that the Weasley family dynamic has gone sour -- that it is no longer the benevolant or harmless or even beneficial dynamic that it used to be.

Nicole (who really must never worry about disagreeing with me; after all, given the ban on "me toos," if we never disagreed then we would never get a chance to interact with each other!) wrote:

I really think that this is perfectly normal sibling rivalry.

It struck me that way in PS/SS, certainly. The twins' teasing of Percy seemed very loving and good-natured to me there. I love the Christmas sweater scene and always have. It's touching and funny and sweet.

But by the time we reach GoF, it seems very different to me. It doesn't seem "normal" at all to me anymore. The family dynamic in GoF comes across to me as very ugly, rancorous, and very damaging.

This is subject matter for a post all its own, though, and I do plan to write one, as soon as I can get around to it. For now, though, let me just say that I really don't see the twins' interactions with Percy in GoF as normal or acceptable at all. By GoF, I think that it is bullying.

9. Bullies Are Cowards

Darrin wrote:

A bully is a coward deep down. . . . .F&G aren't cowards.

Sometimes they're only cowards very deep down.

Bullies are cowardly, in that they pick on people weaker than themselves, but they often exhibit cowardice in no other arena. A high degree of physical courage is in fact one of the traits that consistently emerges as one shared by bullies in psychological studies.

That Fred and George are brave does not mean that they can't be bullies. Many bullies are brave in every wayother than in their habit of singling out the weak and the vulnerable for abuse.

10. There can be only one bully in any given school at one time -- and Draco is Hogwarts' bully.

This, at any rate, seems to be the argument that Darrin has proposed for why Fred and George cannot be bullies. I can't say that I really understand this argument at all. Schools, even small schools, almost always have more than one bully among the student body.

Then, I didn't understand a very similar argument when it popped up on the Hagrid thread a while back either. There, the argument seemed to be that Hagrid couldn't be a bad teacher, because Snape is a bad teacher.

I didn't understand that one either, really. If Snape's teaching style is flawed, then how does that make Hagrid a good teacher? If Draco is a bully, then how does that make it impossible for Fred and George to be bullies?

There can be (and usually is) more than one bully in a school at a time. More's the pity.

10. Whether or not it's bullying depends on the moral standing of the victim.

I have no idea where this notion comes from. I have never seen a definition of bullying anywhere that takes the moral virtue or lack thereof of the victim into consideration. Relative power to bully? Yes. Degree of vulnerability? Yes. Ability to retaliate effectively in kind? Yes. Repetition of dynamic over time? Yes.

Moral standing? I don't see that as ever relevant to the question of whether or not bullying is taking place.

11. All bullies are racists.

No, of course they aren't. You can be a bully without being a racist.

Again, I have no notion where this one came from, although I get the impression that it derived from a faulty syllogism, one that went something along the lines of "Draco is a bully. Draco is a racist. Therefore, all bullies are racists," and then concluded with the assertion that in order to argue that Fred and George are bullies, one would therefore first have to prove that they are racists.


It's, er, a bit difficult for me to know how to address this, actually. See, I'm just not very good with arguments like this. Whenever I read them, they tend to make me feel just a bit like one of those computers in the cheesy old science fiction movies -- the ones that explode if you hand them a paradox to parse.




::sparks begin to fly::

But I gather that there actually has been some dispute over whether or not this is actually a logical fallacy. So I suppose that I'll try to address that issue.

Only once, though. Only once.

Okay. The best that I can really come up with here is to suggest that when one is in some doubt about the logic of a series of statements, it can sometimes help to replace the relevant variables with others that have less emotional resonance and about which the truth is in fact known -- and then to check to see if it still makes sense.

So, for example, as a substitution for the syllogism above, we might try:

"Elkins is a woman.
"Elkins is an American.
"Therefore, all women are Americans.

"In order to prove that Pip is a woman, therefore, you will first have to prove that Pip is an American."

I think that we can all agree that this doesn't really make any sense -- and that Pip, moreover, might greatly resent it if we tried to prove her American citizenship. (And if she expressed that resentment more than once, and yet we still persisted, we would be engaged in bullying behavior. ::apologetic grin at Pip::)

So I'm afraid that I still don't understand the argument. That Draco is a racist has no bearing on the question of whether or not Fred and George are bullies.

12. Bullies are Unpopular.

No. They usually aren't.

Bullies usually enjoy a higher than average degree of social popularity up until their late teenaged years, when they start to lose their cache. It has been hypothesized that this happens in part because as children mature to become adults, they become both more idealistic and more empathic, and therefore stop finding the sort of behavior that bullies exhibit nearly so amusing or as appealing as they did when they were younger.

This tendency might also account for the discrepancy that has been raised on a different thread between how children and adults might differ in their readings of the canon.

HF wrote:

I guess one way to look at it is this: Why haven't Fred and George been left with their heads in a toilet somewhere? I mean, they are bigger than the younger kids, but certainly not bigger than the seventh-years. If their pranks are so intolerable to people, one would think the law of the playground would have stopped it.

You must have grown up on a remarkably just playground! ;-)

Bullies are almost always more popular than their victims. That is why they usually manage to get away with their behavior right up until the point at which some adult or other external authority steps in to make them stop.

If F&G were mean, nasty, and generally undesirable characters given to bullying and harassing the weak, I don't think anyone in Gryffindor would have stood for it.

But they do! The times that we have actually seen Fred and George harassing the weak, everyone thinks that it's funny. Harry isn't outraged by Fred and George feeding the toffee to Dudley. No one at the Gryffindor table objects to them hissing at the Sorting Ceremony. Nobody objects to their throwing snowballs at Professor Quirrell. Everyone's having a blast with them while they send that salamander zooming around the common room. And Harry and Ron snicker right along with the twins when they persecute the stressed-out, on the edge, and exceptionally vulnerable Percy of GoF.

Richelle summed it up really well right here.


Well, my opinion on Fred and George may not amount to much, but I just find them down right likeable. They're rude to people, sure. But they usually deserve it! They're mean sometimes. Often even. But 9 times out of 10 they're mischeviousness is aimed at something we'd really like to see happen anyway.

Yup. That's precisely how bullies get away with it. They select as their victims the people they believe that no one will bother to defend.


Additionally, wouldn't it go against the grain to have people of said description in Gryffindor, as "daring, nerve, and chivalry" is their major descriptor?

Aw, come on. The Gryffs are good kids on the whole, but they're hardly saints, are they? The Trio and Neville get ostracized by their housemates for losing all of those points in PS/SS. I don't get the impression that Lavender and Parvati are always perfectly sweet and kind to Hermione, either. And let's not even get into the infamous Prank. ("Down, boy!")

Every group of kids has its bullies. I don't really think that the Gryffindors are so absolutely perfect as to warrant an exception to this general rule.


That tells me that their personal charisma and the fact that people realize it's just a joke, all in fun, no harm done, are working in their favor.

Yup. Bullies are usually charismatic, and they are usually popular, and the other members of their in-group usually do think that they are funny and harmless and nice. It's the people outside of their in-group who would beg to differ.

One of the problems with bullying in the schools is that even the adults in authority often favor the bullies. Jenny touched on this here, when she wrote:

They are in Gryffindor, they are excellent athletes, they are confident and they are nice to Harry. Is that why so many people think they are funny and why people are so quick to excuse them?

That's usually the way it works.

But not always.

Jenny of Ravenclaw wrote:

As a teacher, I have zero tolerance for bullying in my classroom.

::smiles and raises glass to Jenny::

And that is how you put a stop to it.

50 points to Ravenclaw.

—-- Elkins

Posted August 25, 2002 at 9:43 pm
Topics: ,
Plain text version

Comments and References

Andrea wrote:

Yes. THIS.

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Here's is a not very favourable article on the Fred and George character. It points out a side of F & G many people miss because of their other likable traits. . . .

firebird5: Oh catharsis!

Here's the essay which compared Percy to Barty Jr and the "disappointing father figure" concept. And remember it was written before OotP so this insight is particularly... astonishing. The quotes are made by others and the replies by Elkins, who wrote all those essays. . . .

dierondie: Give me a break...please

The question I ask is why do people care?


What's the big deal? We aren't trolling for members. We aren't going to other sites bashing ron.

We don't like Ron's character.

Why do you care?

Someone ON MY YAHOO GROUP posted a 'I'm very disappointed in you" message. You would think that I was promoting white supremecy or dabbling in child porn.

Let me just give a bit of a reality check to everyone that comes over here and takes any of this seriously...


People really need to get a grip.

dietwinsdie: Links to Elkins's Posts on the Twins

Links to Elkins's Posts on the Twins
Fred and George, the Bullies You Do Know...

hp_essays: List of HP Essays posted *outside* of hp_essays

Hi everyone,

We've had dozens and dozens of wonderful essays posted here at hp_essays since the community was begun; but there are loads of other great essays out there - both on LJ and outside of it - that you might have missed. That's really a shame, given all the wonderful speculation and discussion that's going on all the time; so I decided to put together a collection of links to some of the essays posted outside of this community that I had stored in my bookmarks and in my memories...