Why We Need to Re-brand What we Consider Bullying

Society’s Definition of a Bullied Person

People who are bullied are weird. They’re awkward. They’re shy, jaded, and they eat lunch in bathrooms. They aren’t confident, extroverted, or happy. They cut their wrists, contemplate suicide, and have no friends. That’s what society tells us, at least.

If that’s the image of someone who is bullied, I fail to fit into that stereotype. I am and always have been an exceedingly happy person. I have a lot of friends who love me, and I do well in school. I dress decently well and look normal. Most importantly, I smile a lot. People that smile never get bullied, because that would imply happiness. You can’t be bullied and happy.

The Gauntlet of Female Gossip

And yet, that wasn’t the case. When I moved to upstate New York I was the new girl. I didn’t know who was nice and who was mean, and I fell into a group of girls that seemed nice enough to me. That wasn’t the case.

It started out with small rumors. “I’m so sorry. I was just talking to so-and-so and she told me she hates you and is just pretending to like you. She thinks you’re annoying. Don’t worry though; I don’t think that about you. I just thought you deserved to know.” At the time, I didn’t think to ask what they said in response. Looking back now, they probably just nodded and agreed.

You see, girls are scared of each other. If you challenge a girl’s opinion, you’re the next subject. When you don’t respond appropriately, you set yourself up to be the next victim.

The sad thing is, the girls that told me these things convinced themselves they were doing it for my benefit. Sadder still, I believed they were helping me too. I got into a vicious and self-deprecating cycle of asking all my friends what other people said about me. I became obsessed with knowing who liked me and who didn’t, tired of people faking friendship. I challenged friendships and cut myself off from people to see whether they cared or not.

What I didn’t realize is that real friends don’t tell other friends negative things people say about them. Real friends keep that to themselves.

The girls that told me what others said weren’t actually helping me. They enjoyed gossiping, and, sickeningly enough, I think making me feel sad made them feel happier. The climax came when I found out that my two ‘closest’ friends had made a list entitled ‘People Who Hate Dana’ and tried to get people to sign it. I’ll never know if this was actually implemented, or just theorized, but it hurt nonetheless. Whether two people or two hundred people signed it didn’t matter to me. What mattered was that it was a thing, theorized or not.

I never confronted them on it, and I don’t regret that decision. I was always civil to them, and I heard through the grapevine that they felt sorry later in their years. However, being sorry doesn’t change what happened.

Lessons Learned from being Bullied

Going through this, I learned two very important lessons. First I learned that, just because you don’t fit the stereotypical role of someone who’s been bullied, doesn’t mean you haven’t been. Second, I learned that most girls have been bullied in one way or another- whether they recognize it or not.

The thing is, I didn’t even realize I had been bullied. All throughout high school I thought that’s just something that happens to everyone, and my friends agreed. People gossip and stab people in the back, that’s simply natural. Going to college, I still had a lot of baggage that I carried with me. While my roommate instantly started referring to people on our floor as our ‘friends,’ I had a hard time choking out that word. Ever since my ‘friends,’ betrayed me in high school, it’s taken me a long time before I consider someone a friend of mine.

I began opening up to my roommate and telling her about high school. What seemed normal to me seemed strange to her. In her experience, people didn’t do that. Backstabbing and gossiping wasn’t a natural progression to womanhood. It was bullying.

Once I realized I had been bullied, I skyped two friends from back home and casually dropped my revelation. So engrained in our high school culture they told me, “You’re situation isn’t unique. I think you’re just being over-dramatic.”

A Call to De-Normalize Gossip and Female Bullying 

I realized then, that so many girls have been bullied, and they don’t even realize it. They think it’s normal and acceptable to receive that kind of negativity. We normalize this as typical female behavior. That is not okay.

We need to teach our young women (and men) to recognize bullying for what it is. We need to abandon the stereotype that bullying only happens to those who look like they’ve been bullied. We need to realize that real friends don’t spread rumors, no matter the circumstances.

I’m happy to say that I’ve come out the better for it. I no longer care so much what people say about me. I don’t want to know. If someone has a negative opinion of me, I hope they decide to keep it to themselves, just as I should. And if I hear a negative opinion about a friend of mine, I now have the knowledge and restraint not to tell them.

Women can’t gain rights if they’re constantly tearing each other down. We need to lift one another up, and carry each other’s burdens. Bullying happens to more people than we realize. If we label this for what it really is, maybe we can stop it from happening in the future. We must change the societal stigma of bullying, so girls can finally get the treatment they deserve.



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