Cameron Hamilton, the mayor of Porterville, California, has stirred up a ruckus by saying at a City Council meeting that the word “bullying” has become a “mantra” for “the ills of the world” and that “all most people just have to grow a pair.”
The issue of bullying came up last week during a discussion of a student-led effort to implement a “Safe Zone,” which would establish locations away from school where kids can learn about how to deal with bullies, according to KFSN-TV in Fresno. Safe Zones is a nonprofit organization that offers anti-bullying education programs for schools (and organizations) that help students learn to prevent and safely intervene when they see someone being bullied.
Here’s an exchange between Hamilton and Councilwoman Virginia Gurrola (see video below):
Hamilton: “I’m against bullying, but I’m getting damn tired of it being used as a mantra for everything, and the ills of the world. All most people just have to grow a pair, and stick up for them damn selves.”
Gurrola: “It’s hard to just grow a pair when you’re a 10 year old girl,” responded Councilwoman Virginia Gurrola.
Hamilton: “Then maybe the other 10-year-olds that think they want to stop bullying will stand up for her, instead of a safe zone and a placard and a bunch of training that goes on.”
After the exchange made the news, Hamilton tried to explain his remarks in an interview with Fox News by saying that he does care about bullying, but thinks people overuse the word to describe behavior that doesn’t amount to bullying.
Hamilton’s opposition to a program that provides young people a place to go to learn how to deal with bullies makes no sense. Some members of the gay community in Porterville believe his remarks were aimed at the gay community, whose members are disproportionately bullied. If true, that would make his remarks discriminatory as well as nonsensical.
But the suggestion that the term “bullying” is overused for behavior that isn’t really bullying isn’t wrong. A single episode of bad behavior is not bullying. A report released last year by the American Educational Research Association, called “Prevention of Bullying in Schools, Colleges and Universities“, offered this definition:
Bullying is a highly varied form of aggression where there is systematic use and abuse of power. Bullying can include physical aggression such as hitting and shoving, and verbal aggression, such as name-calling (Espelage, 2012; Vaillancourtet al., 2008). It can also include social or relational forms of bullying in which a victim is excluded by peers or subjected to humiliation. Bullying can occur face-to-face or through digital media such as text messages, social media, and websites. There are mild, moderate, and severe levels of bullying….
… Some bullying behaviors may overlap with aggression that meets the legal definition of harassment, assault, or school crime, but not all incidents of harassment or assault are bullying. Without the components of intentionality, repetition, and power combined in the behavior of the same person, bullying victimization is the same as school victimization.