As I was stewing this morning in the steam room, I thought of something. Or rather, something came to me. Or was revealed to me. Or whatever.
I’ve been thinking about what I’m going to say to a bunch of 12 and 13 year olds when I teach a class on writing for the web and social media. One of the things I want to talk about is internet predators, and how to be as safe as you can be with social media platforms like effbook and myspace and all that crap. I also want to talk about “internet bullying”. And that got me thinking about the term ‘bullying’.
The term itself bothers me. The ‘anti-bullying’ campaign bothers me. And I’ve been trying to figure out why it bugs me so much. I believe I’ve had a breakthrough.
Because “bullying” isn’t bullying. The term itself is vague. We could define someone telling us they don’t like the colour of our socks, one time, as ‘bullying’. We could apply the term to the kind of camaraderie teasing that we do to one another. And I don’t think that’s what we mean to say. I think what we’re trying to get across is, rather, this:
What we are talking about, when we’re talking about “bullying” is harassment. It’s assault. It’s stalking. I don’t like that the term “bullying” has been applied to, to be honest, pretty much everything.
If my child is attacked on the playground or in the street outside my home or at the park, it is assault. Yes, there are criminal code connotations that need to be considered once we start using a word like ‘assault’. But let’s look at the other side of this. Is “bullying” a term used in the criminal code? If not, why not? If so, what is its definition? To me, a physical attack is an assault. So that’s what I’m going to call it. And, in fact, when my child *was* attacked on the schoolgrounds, I contacted the school and told them that he was assaulted. Not that he was bullied. He was assaulted. If someone lays hands on you, they have assaulted you.
Similarly, ‘harassment’ is behaviour intended to upset or to harm or to disturb. It is offensive behaviour that is *intended* to be offensive or upsetting. If someone covers your locker with sticky notes that say “faggot”, that’s harassment. If someone posts something cruel or intentionally disturbing, or trolls your effbook page, that’s harassment.
I guess I just want you to call things what they are. Harassment and assault can be insidious. They can be secret and subtle. Aggressors who harass and assault should be charged with harassment and assault. Whether they’re nine, seventeen, or forty two. It shouldn’t matter whether the behaviour takes place online, via email, texts, or telephone, or whether it happens, as the kids say, IRL.
Now, I don’t know all the legal ramifications of all of this. But I just think it’s important to use precise language, and ‘bullying’ isn’t precise. Anyway. That, I think, is a big part of my pissiness about the whole ‘bullying’ thing.
And yes, I was completely naked in the steam room.