A few days ago I thought to myself (in response to a Tumblr post about bullying prevention) “If you asked middle-school-me whether she was being bullied, she’d say of course not, but in retrospect, it was subtle but there were some things…”

and then the list of things, once I started making it, was way longer than I expected it to be, which sort of proves the point.

So yeah. If you asked 13-year-old me if she’d ever been bullied, she would have said no, of course not. Because in her mind, primed by depictions of schools on TV and probably by some well-meaning anti-bullying programming too, bullying = physical violence, and yelling slurs and curse words.

If it’s not physical violence, and it’s not An Insult, and it’s not yelled like an insult, that doesn’t count, she’d say.

So, like “stupid” doesn’t count. That’s not a dirty word. And on the other hand “know-it-all”, “stuck-up”, they hurt, and she doesn’t think they’re true, but they’re not Insults.

And more indirect stuff, that’s mostly only insulting by tone and implication– “you’re not in the gifted class anymore? Oh, so she’s smarter than you now?” that certainly doesn’t count.

Another confounding factor is if you’re not sure whether you were meant to overhear it or not. It couldn’t possibly be bullying if they didn’t mean you to know about it, could it?

And that time all your stuff was stolen out of your locker except your textbooks and four pencils (so you could take the standardized tests, thoughtful thieves) clearly that was just random, right? A thing that could happen to anybody. Not targeted at you. Plus it didn’t upset you, you were more just confused and inconvenienced, so how could it be bullying?

And that thing— I was so relieved when I saw other people on Tumblr describe that thing, where someone (or more likely a group of people) approaches you and strikes up a conversation with you, specifically for the purpose of getting you to say something silly and laughing at you. It always played out the same way, and I knew that it was deliberate, and I hated it, but would it ever have occurred to me to call it bullying? Not in a million years.


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