Stop Using the Word Bully

We need to stop using the word “Bully” and all derivatives.

The word “Bully” connotates visions of lunch-money-stealing, leather-jacket-wearing, buzz-cut-having, mean-girl-plotting playground vagabonds who are maladjusted to the point that they seek pleasure in the misery of others.  “Bullies” are seen as the exception, as outliers, who are socially adept but use their enhanced influence for evil means.  The supervillain of the school yard.

Don’t buy this narrative.

Using the term “Bullying” intonates that a specific type of conflict is child’s play.  A necessary and inevitable hindrance to pre-adolescence, a common fixture in every classroom and hallway, a defining feature of childhood, something through which we must all traverse.

There is nothing childish about harassment, torment, or oppression.

And there’s no secret as to where this harassment, torment and oppression originates.  Take a look at this diagram and think back to the last school-based harassment you witnessed – did it not reflect what you see here?


Quite simply, harassment in its most common form happens when someone doesn’t align with (heteronormative, Eurocentric, class-based, racial, gender, ablelist etc etc) cultural norms.

“Bullying” is the torment that individuals are subjected to when they don’t conform to the most privileged cultural subsets.  “Bullying” is much more than the sum of a child-contrived power-play by ne’er-do-wells who are just bored during unstructured times (although that might be when it happens).

“Bullies” aren’t the outliers.  They’re the collective symptom of a culture that sifts, separates and sorts people based on their perceived value.  “Bullying” doesn’t start and end with the “mean kid on the playground”, rather, it begins and lives in the very fabric of our societal structures.

The torment and oppression of disprivileged groups is not child’s play.  Using the term “Bullying” is distracting and points to solutions that are unsustainable, ineffective, and do not address the real issues. Until we recognize, discuss and act on the power imbalance that exists in our society, everything that we say/do re: “Anti-Bullying” is empty.  Educators can’t implore kids to be inclusive and meanwhile perpetuate oppressive practices themselves.

“Be nicer”, “Include everybody”, “Stand Up to Bullies”…these just don’t go far enough if we, as educators, are not letting principles of Equity inform our actions on a minute-by-minute basis.

A main purpose of education needs to be the journey toward a more just and inclusive society. As we approach Pink Day and reflect on its purpose, we should reconsider our use of the infantilized and ambiguous term,”Bullying”, and instead, focus on how we can create more equitable conditions for our most marginalized students.



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