What Bullying is and What Bullying is Not

In the last two years the use of the B word has become explosive. In addition to absolutely every blogger ever claiming geek or nerd status in high school (I was fat/unloved/pimply/awkward/alone) they were also bullied. Relentlessly.

Of course if 100% of the people you know were bullied someone is lying. Because in order to be bullied someone’s got to have power of them. 100% of the population can’t be powerless, can they?

Bullying matters. I think that what we adults forget about the school years (mostly middle and high school but also sometimes elementary) is that the day ended. If you were having a hard time with someone at school, like the time Cym hated my rainbow pocket Dittos and teased me about them all day day, you’d go home maybe have a good cry and then spend the afternoon with your friends or your family. Now when kids go home from school everyone is very plugged in and the day doesn’t stop. It’s relentless for them.

Last month I met a rapper Lil JaXe. Lil JaXe is my daughter’s age and has a stutter. Not a little stutter but a debilitating stutter where I feel myself holding my breath waiting for his next word to come out. It’s the kind of stutter where you hold yourself back from finishing his sentences because you know that too many people have done that before and you know that your stress will only add to his.

When Lil JaXe raps he has no stutter. I was chatting with him for about 20 minutes and was really interested in his story because my daughter had a severe speech impediment until about age 6 but hers was undetectable when she was on a telephone. We practiced speech therapy on pretend phones from ages 2-5.

Back to Lil JaXe. I asked him about his rapping and he talked about the need to educate kids and adults about bullying. I rightly assumed that an adolescent boy with a stutter a beautiful face would take some heat on the school yard but what he told me shocked me. He was bullied by his teacher. The final straw came just a year or so ago when his teacher announced to the class, “I dont’ know what’s more annoying, your stutter or your laugh.” I commend Lil JaXe’s mother. Had it been me I’d be in prison and that teacher would be decaying right about now. So he’s home schooled.

This is the child who stutters. I dare you to not smile when you watch this.

Online bullying is difficult to define. The intent is there but the methods may change. What does need to happen with a bullying in any arena is that there’s an imbalance of power.

defining bullying

Bloggers love to say that they are bullied. Often times someone disagrees with them publicly the dissenter is labeled a bully. That is not bullying.

The weekend’s KFC fiasco quickly morphed into a discussion about how Leah Segedie is a bully. Well, if you’re KFC then yes, Leah is going to be a real thorn in your side. If you’re another blogger notsomuch. The problem with all the shrieking about bullying is that it diminishes the emotional impact of stories from people like Lil JaXe. You see Leah can’t bully KFC, it’s not possible. KFC has billions of dollars (that’s billions of bird beaks kids) and more than six million facebook fans. Leah is a gnat on an elephant’s ass.

When bloggers took a trip from KFC and Leah asked the hard questions about the brand it was time for KFC to answer some questions. It wasn’t time for bloggers to moan that their vacation was being ruined by a bully. Folks, when you take a junket you’re working. Some days work is really easy, other days it’s going to feel like work. When you sell junk food to blogger’s kids on twitter be assured that it will always feel like work. Leah and Kim will always be there asking the tough questions.

When I asked my facebook friends about why people cry bully I got interesting responses.

Del Williams says: People like to be victims. Allows them to shift blame for their fuck ups

Jenny Decki says: People need bigger vocabularies is the main problem. The hash tag thing was classic trolling. People do it all the time but when someone’s feelings get hurt and they feel outrage that you’d dare to question them, they want it to be bigger and more meaningful than it really was to justify some kind of backlash they feel is deserved. Being butthurt on twitter does not automatically mean someone got bullied.

Serena Erlich says: Bullies have the power to activate others against you. That is why many cry bullying. It’s not that one person did it, it the people who were incited into joining in. Power can be measured in many ways these days.

My friend Mark who doesn’t blog:  People in general have become pathetic and weak and can’t take a hit of any kind. They actually believe they have the right to “NOT” be offended. Whatever! Grow up! Take a karate class!

Mary brilliantly states: I think a part of what is happening is the confluence of the personal life with work life. I think Mom Bloggers think of themselves as blogging their personal home life. But then this gets co-opted by companies promoting brands. I didn’t see anything that was bullying. You rightly pointed out the problems with KFC but then the moms took it personally as if you walked into their house and criticized their food choices. It’s pretty clever of KFC.

Is bullying an epidemic or is victimhood just too enticing for some people to resist? How do you explain to bloggers the difference between standing behind their words and bullying? How do you tell a kid like Lil JaXe that someone equated a hashtag on twitter that they don’t like with his very real bullying by a teacher in a room full of kids? 

Facebook Comments

  • Adam

    Jessica,

    Spot on post. I cheered you on as you and Leah asked the hard questions this weekend about KFC, and I am cheering you on even more now.

    Frankly, your friends are right saying that people like to play victims. They get more sympathy points and love when people sorry for them. (And I’m sure it boosts their precious traffic.) I’ve been called a “bully” on Twitter before for similar reasons, when frankly all I did was ask a question (and didn’t even mean to “bully” anyone or put anyone down in any way.) The fact that someone wrote an entire blog post about how I was a bully (this did happen) felt a lot more aggressive than the initial act I committed, and it made me think back to middle school when I was actually bullied because I was different from the other kids. (I am now a proud gay man, but I went to a middle school where that was not a common thing, and it wasn’t a pleasant experience to say the least.)

    The fact that the word “bully” was being slapped onto me just because of a tweet I sent that someone didn’t like did not sit well with me. And the fact that Leah is being called a “bully” doesn’t sit well with me either. It detracts from the actual occurrences of bullying that still happen every day in schools because people are short, tall, thin, fat, a different color, sexuality, or whatever the case may be. Those people need our attention, not mom bloggers who want sympathy traffic because someone hijacked the hashtag of their free vacation.

    If these people who felt like they were being “bullied” by Leah had a child who was going through actual, real life bullying, which these days can be much worse because as you pointed out it continues online, I’m sure they’d be less casual using the term. (I’m not saying they don’t, and I’m not claiming to know what’s going on in the personal lives of anyone but myself.)

    Leah is not a bully. I’m not even saying this because I’m on her side of the argument. Nobody was bullied here, and that’s just a statement of fact.

  • DorothyP

    Carly Simon was also a stutterer, but not when she sang. I believe she went to the Hollins College program that Annie Glenn (wife of John, the astronaut) went attended. And great job on the post!

    • http://jessicagottlieb.com JessicaGottlieb

      I’m now fascinated by people who stop stuttering when they do something they love.

  • http://twitter.com/blackgirlinmain Blackgirlinmaine

    Yes, yes and yes. I am highly bothered with how frequently and casually the word bully is thrown around. Just because someone doesn’t care for me or my thoughts and calls me out when I make a misstep does not mean I am being bullied. I don’t feel that asking/questioning bloggers is a form of bullying. We all seem willing to acknowledge there is a need for healthy food, yet if we turn around and start hawking KFC as “healthy” food, I think we are asking to be questioned. As a blogger, at the end of the day all I have is my word and my integrity.

  • Barnmaven

    The rabid and mostly improper application of the term “bully” is one of the reason I don’t read many of the blogs I used to. I can empathize with people feeling hurt because someone disagrees with them; I cannot respect the apparent necessity to label criticism as bullying and the often simultaneous need to silence that criticism with a pitchfork-carrying crowd of followers.

  • http://lastshredsofsanity.com ShanLastShredsOfSanity

    Great post, Jessica. I absolutely hate when grown-ups claim they are being bullied by other adults. By definition, bullying can ONLY occur between MINORS. What these whiny-ass “mom bloggers” are bitching about is harassment, in the very loosest sense of the word.

    So someone disagrees with, or is critical of, you online or in the real world? Get over it! That’s life. No one is going to agree with you 100% of the time.

    I was mercilessly bullied as a kid, but not in junior high or high school, in elementary school — my attendance record is a testament to this. I wish it would have stopped once the school day ended, but those same kids who terrorized me in school for being tall, smart, somewhat geeky and wearing glasses, lived in my condo complex (some people call them townhouses). Just one of the horrible perks of living directly across the street from school. And since my house was directly in front of the community pool and tot lot…well you can imagine how I suffered.

    It got so bad, that I tearfully begged my mother to put me in boarding school. I was told to suck it up. I contemplated suicide often. I was followed home, beaten up, pushed around, had rocks and other heavy implements thrown at me (mostly at my head). I would either run home as fast as I could or stay after school to help the teacher, so that by the time I left, the bullies were in their homes and I could walk home in peace. It was awful!

    Back then, in the mid-seventies and eighties, that kind of relentless
    torture was not deemed bullying, but rather “kids just being kids”. Or
    “girls being girls”. I was bullied by both genders, by the way.

    By the time I got to junior high, I had grown a very thick skin and a matching attitude. Plus, students from other elementary schools came to my junior high who were not tainted by seven years of me being the school whipping girl. I made new friends who liked me for me and the bullies no longer had any control over me. Not that they didn’t continually try. It was so liberating!

    By the time I got to high school, no one messed with me. I had rightfully garnered a reputation for kicking ass and taking names. I also became the champion for friends and other kids who were being bullied.

    So, when I hear a grown-ass woman online bemoan about being bullied by other grown-ass people, I actually have to laugh. Adults cannot bully other adults, nor can they “bully brands”, as I have heard said countless times since I started blogging nearly five years ago.

    Dissenting opinions DO NOT amount to bullying in any form. Can adults harass each other? Absolutely! However, that’s what police reports and restraining orders are for. Be mature and deal with it the correct way and stop crying on social media because someone doesn’t like you or your views. Or, as my favorite aunt would say, “get off the cross, honey. Someone else needs the wood.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/donna.biroczky Donna Biroczky

    Love this! The word “bully” has become so watered down. When someone calls someone else “fat,” they’re just rude and mean and it is inappropriate, but it is not bullying. I too have felt at times that I should save my opinions about what’s right for me and my family out of conversations because someone else doesn’t agree. I’ve never understood why someone saying what they believe in, for them and them alone, is threatening to someone else and why others get so defensive of their position. For example, we don’t believe in vaccination just for the sake of ‘the doctors say to.’ That’s OUR choice and no one else’s, yet when someone hears about it, they frequently feel they have to justify and defend and as though it somehow reflects on them. No, the world does not revolve around you; we are allowed to have our own personal feelings without it having anything to do with someone else. I don’t know if that’s bullying, I tend to think not. Bullying is what drives kids into suicide and adults into seclusion by repeated harassment. I’d also argue that adults can be, and are, bullies. My special needs son can tell you stories. If kids see adults do it, then they are going to think it’s okay.

  • http://naturallyeducational.com/ CandaceApril

    Oh, yes! This drives me nuts. There has to be systematic harassment and an imbalance of power and harm or a threat of harm. Criticizing or questioning is not bullying. Especially when the other party chose the forum. The other one that gets me is the misuse of “free speech.”