Things that Aren’t Bullying

Reality and PerceptionI was in a conversation where I was pointing out how completely screwed up I think it is to body shame strangers for sport on the internet, and someone responded to suggest that what I was doing was “the same thing I was arguing against” by speaking out against the behavior, and that I was “bullying” people for thinking that something (“something” here having the meaning of a video of a person none of us knew) is funny, and that they have a “right to their opinion.”  This is a common reaction to being called out on stigma, shaming, and bullying – try to paint the person who is pointing out your bad behavior as the bully.

Here’s the thing.  There is a vast difference between shaming, stigmatizing and bullying, and pointing that behavior out. (I certainly wouldn’t walk past someone bullying someone else and not intervene because the bully has a right to their opinion.)  Making fun of strangers for sport is not even close to  the same thing as pointing out why that is problematic. This is a tactic that is often used to try to shut down civil rights activism, or to silence those people who point out behavior that shames, stigmatizes or bullies other people.

Another excuse used in the conversation was that I was directly “bullying” people in person by pointing out that their behavior was hurtful, because they’re behavior of body shaming her didn’t hurt her at all.  The truth is that we don’t know the affects on this woman because we don’t know if she’s seen the body shaming that people are engaging in and if she did, how she felt about it. What I do know is that this kind of behavior reinforces a culture where women are punished with shaming and derision for existing in bodies that don’t meet a stereotype of beauty. It’s about the fact that people making negative comments about her body don’t just affect her, but everyone else who sees the comments and gets the message that some bodies are good bodies, and others deserved to be shamed and made fun of because of how they look.

You are under no obligation to speak out against this kind of behavior, but if you do, and the people engaging in shaming, stigmatizing and bullying someone try to suggest that you are the problem, you can speak out against that too.

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Published in: on September 18, 2014 at 7:02 am  Comments (16)  

16 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Yes! So much this. What really gets me is that when I point out something that I find problematic, mainly making fun of someone for daring to be fat in public or whatever, I sometimes get the response – “Lighten up!” or “People always find SOME way to be offended”. As if I’m the problem for calling it out. And I think people get defensive because they don’t want to think of themselves as bad people, so they try to turn it around because they suddenly feel bad (or bad because they don’t feel ashamed for finding something funny) and it’s YOUR FAULT or something because you pointed it out. Sucks to feel bad, but think about how bad that person would feel knowing that their picture is online and it is being mocked for a laugh and a thousand likes on Facebook. If I am lacking in sanity points, I choose not to call it out, but just ignore it. Which sucks, because in those instances those people win.

    I am getting better at deciding which people I choose to spend my time watching on Television and the like. For example, I will blatantly refuse to watch anything with Ricky Gervais mostly because when it comes to fat people he will always go with the easy joke. My loved ones think I’m being “too sensitive” but I have a right to my opinion, am I right?
    (The coffee is just starting to hit me so forgive me if I’m being a bit too rambly!)

  2. My family thinks I’m overly sensitive as well. ‘You can give it but not take it’ or ‘it’s a joke’ are fairly common themes of conversations between us. Nothing about the fact that the things I’m ‘giving’ are generally things I’m aware don’t offend, hurt or upset the people I’m talking to, whereas the opposite is true when it’s coming at me.

    it’s gotten to the point where I can pretty much talk to my mother about work, if I’m careful, and that’s it…….

    Having opinions isn’t wrong. Making fun of other people cos they don’t share those opinions or cos they appear to not share them…well that’s another kettle of fish. I have problems with making fun of people full stop – something else my family seem to have problems with.

    • I think there are times when its ok to make fun of people, and that’s when it’s somebody that you know and have a relationship with. And you know that they are okay with it.

      for example, I have a friend who’s a very picky eater to the point that he tends to kind of repeat certain foods. For example, for a while he would only eat pizza with bacon and onion. I’m talking at least a year. Every time we did order pizza with him it always had to have bacon and onion and nothing else… ok while he would just get his own separate pizza.

      We’ve known this guy for upwards of 20 years, and it’s just one of his quirks — part of what makes him him.

      Still, when it comes to things like ordering food for the group or similar, inevitably the conversation goes back to those damn bacon and onion pizzas. And we do kid around with him for it.

      But then, everybody in the group eventually gets made fun of by everybody else about something. Because, like I said, we’ve known each other for so long.

      It’s never done to embarrass or shame, but more like: “Oh well, That’s Bob. God bless him.”

      • That to me isn’t making fun of people though. And what really gets me is the comments made about people who aren’t there and that are quite cutting.

        The sort of thing like that with the food – that to me is just conversation, I have friends like that too. I’m sure there’s things you wouldn’t dream of slagging him about cos you’d be sure of hurting him over them.

  3. Calling someone a bully in an instance like this can also be coded language for uppity. I had it happen recently in a discussion about racial issues between me (a black woman) and some white women.

    I was disagreeing with them and pointing out how their arguments were wrong, using links and spreadsheets and other facts to counter what I called their bullshit.

    They never backed up their shit. they would just drop turds of stupidity and bigotry into the conversational punch bowl, and I would have to scoop them out and hold them accountable.

    After a while, they resorted to tone policing and ultimately calling me a bully.

    The three of them spent the entire conversation making these bigoted comments, and supporting each other, against the one of me calling them out on it ( and nobody was stepping in to help me) and *I *was the bully.

    And ultimately I think they were just using “bully” to mean that I had no right to call them on their shit. That I was being uppity for challenging them.

    • Yeah, I’ve been seeing a hell of a lot of this with regards to race relations, gay rights, feminism, etc. as well as the body shape police. It’s definitely about how someone is getting ‘uppity’ about being mistreated. How dare our ritual whipping children tell us they don’t enjoy it???????? They’re taking my toys away, WHAAAAAAAAAAH you big BULLY!

      I recently saw a fabulous John Oliver rant on precisely this phenomenon where when a commentator brought up racism in the recent Ferguson uprising, a Fox News host started ranting that only a racist would bring up racism. Oliver looked stunned and said: You just ‘he who smelt it dealt it’ racism!

      I’m totes using that one the next time the opportunity arises.

      • I saw that rant too. It was awesome!

        Gowever, because I’m still raw about Ferguson because it’s just more of the same over and over, it also saddens me that when someone like John Oliver, or Jon Stewart, does a bit about the obvious racism a play, people listen.

        But when the people who live with that shit every day talk about it, it’s “Playing the rave card.”

        And it’s like that for any oppressed group. their struggles don’t have validity until somebody in the dominant group speaks on their behalf.

        • That aspect absolutely infuriates me, too, as it ought to infuriate everybody.

        • While I’m glad to see people like John Oliver and Jon Stewart speaking out against obvious racism, it’s sad that it has to come down to that before people listen. There are people who live that every damn day, we need to listen, to really hear what is being said. And then we need to act on it, not just talk about it.

          As you said, it’s the same for any oppressed group, and that saddens me to the depth of my heart and soul.

    • “They never backed up their shit. they would just drop turds of stupidity and bigotry into the conversational punch bowl, and I would have to scoop them out and hold them accountable.”
      This caused an actual mouth reaction for me, along with the laughter. Thank you for your efforts and your brilliance, and I hope you have a cheering section every day of your life!

  4. Love, love, love THIS. ^^^^^^^^^

    So pushing a bully back is now bullying? I peruse the various fatshaming sites (I know I shouldn’t but it actually is very funny to watch them become the proverbial self licking ice cream cone chasing facts and data that don’t exist—simply because they don’t like fat people) and it is amazing how quickly they are to throw up the bullying flag or delete a topic they don’t agree with because we as fat people are not willing to be bullied any longer.

    It really is like we have been an easy target for so long and now that we are fighting back (thanks in no small part to bloggers like Ragen and others) they don’t know how to handle it. Their little alligator brains can’t react well to facts and figures (and sadly react even worse to self-love) and the instant they feel any resistance its “but..but…but….you’re bullying me!!!”

    Another great one Ragen…thanks for all you do!

  5. Just a note that I have to watch myself to make sure I am _not_ a bully when I call someone out. For example, I never call someone “stupid,” or even “ignorant.” I don’t attack the person; I attack their ideas. And I own my position without destroying theirs. I mean, even though I know that fat-shaming exists, I can admit to them that “Hey, I can see where you get that idea: it’s entrenched in our society.” And “It might sound like I’m bullying, although that is not my intent. I think we can disagree in a way where I don’t call you names and vice versa. This is a very important subject, especially for women, and I want to keep the conversation going and not get sidetracked with the behaviors that might keep us from talking about it.”

    I have seen some people call Dear Abby “stupid” for her column.That’s bullying, and it weakens the argument and the impacts the person’s credibility who is making it.

  6. So in addition to all her other amazing talents, I am beginning to the think that Ragen is either psychic, clairvoyant or that she and I share some sort of mind meld even though we’ve never met. I am amazed how often your blog relates to something that is happening to me the very day you post it.

    This morning my BEAUTIFUL 9 year old daughter was fat shamed/concern trolled at a nationally known coffee place by another customer. I was livid when it happened, I was livid five minutes after it happened and I’m still furious that someone would feel the need to shame a kid!!!

    I needed to get it off my chest so I went on one of the better known fat shaming sites and said my piece. My anger came across, yes, but I was not insulting nor was I trying to start a fight. I was making a point that even though these people hide in the bowels of the internet, their attitude and world view has a real life effect on people…my wonderful little daughter bore the brunt of it this morning.

    It took exactly a minute before I was called a horrible parent, in fact 39 times at my last count. I had the nerve to tell one of them what I really thought (very politely with no swearing mind you)…and as if I’m living in some fantasy world…they started calling me the BULLY and deleting my posts. 39 people felt the need to call me a bad mother and me responding was tantamount to bullying!!

    Of course I shouldn’t have gone on that site, I made a mistake. But in doing so I proved that I am absolutely right about sticking up for my daughter and that Ragen is spot on yet again. Oh and I think she should start picking lottery numbers!!

  7. Don’t those people realize that even if the specific people whose pictures are taken never see them, those pictures hurt everyone?

    What an unbelievable line of bullshit.

    Every fat person knows that we could be fodder for those blogs. You think I don’t walk out of the house knowing that someone could do that to me and there is nothing I can do about it except hide at home? That’s not an accident. It’s a deliberate fucking threat.

    It hurts thin people, too. Thin people see those blogs and pictures and realize that they shouldn’t value fat people. Oh, and that they had better do *whatever they can* to maintain their thinness or they, too, could be victims.

    No. You are not a “bully” if you point this out.

  8. This is why I now trade the word “bullying” for “abuse”, because people tend to use the “That isn’t bullying!” or the “Lighten up, it’s a joke not bullying.”

    And if we are going to be truthful, bullying is abuse, it is mental, emotional and physical abuse of another person. So no you aren’t a “bully” for calling that crap out. I have also found the word “bullying” is such a buzz word right now people will jump up and down crying “But but that isn’t bullying!!!?!”

  9. Years ago at Christmas, I was sitting at the table when my oldest brother walked up behind me and said, “Geez, you’re getting gray!”

    I replied, “Well, at least I still have all my teeth!”

    My mom chewed me out later, telling me my brother was very sensitive about all the teeth he has lost.

    I don’t know if it ever occurred to her that I might have been sensitive about the gray hair.

    Funny how those who seem the least able to take it, are the ones most likely to dish it.


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