Here's The Vital Difference Between Bullying And Banter
Just because they think it's banter, doesn't mean it actually is.
“It’s just banter.” One of the most dangerous phrases out there. A lot of the time it’s used to excuse sh*t behaviour and, because it uses social pressure to mark you out as an outsider, a rainer-on-parades, a tiresome downer on a good time who can’t take a joke, it’s VERY effective at shutting you up and making you feel small.
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And even if the person really does think what they’re saying is banter, sometimes it’s just straight-up bullying, harassment, sexism, racism, homophobia or victimisation. Basically, just because they say and even think it’s banter, doesn’t mean it actually is.
How can you tell the difference between banter and bullying? This Anti-Bullying Week, we're here to give you some clues.
The Anti-Bullying Alliance defines bullying as being hurtful, repetitive, intentional, and involving an imbalance of power.
When you Google search the definition of 'banter', it's described as “the playful and friendly exchange of teasing remarks”. Sounds a bit different doesn’t it? Let’s break it down.
Spotting the difference
When trying to differentiate, start by comparing the 'banter' back to the definition of bullying. For example, is this ‘banter’ hurtful - is it personal, or about your insecurities? Does the person saying it know it’s hurtful? Is it repetitive? And is the ‘banter’ happening not just back-and-forth between you two, but in front of other people so that you feel outnumbered?
BANTER: Your friend makes a joke about your new haircut to you, and you shoot back that even with a bad haircut you get more sexual attention than them.
BULLYING: Your friend makes jokes about your new haircut that they know you feel insecure and embarrassed about, in front of the class. There’s a power imbalance too, because there’s an audience. You get visibly upset, but the ‘banter’ continues in public all week.
All in all, it’s a lot about how that person is making you feel and whether they’re doing it continuously, knowing it’s hurtful. Each circumstance is unique, but using the bullying definition as a guide is definitely helpful, especially when you're second-guessing whether you're just being 'too sensitive' because it's 'just banter'.
P.S. While we're on the topic, even if 'banter' that you're offended by doesn’t fully fit the bullying definition, that doesn’t make certain behaviour or language ok. Offensive, threatening or violent language and behaviour to do with age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex (gender), sexual orientation is never ok and should be reported, even if it's a one-off.
What should I do if I think the banter is going too far?
The first step, and this is pretty hard given it can feel awkward to take a stand to a ‘joke’, is simply to stop laughing, let them know you don’t find it funny, and to try to describe how it’s making you feel. Sometimes people don't realise how their behaviour is affecting you until you tell them, especially if you're pretending to laugh along.
If they carry on once you've told them how you feel and asked them to stop, there's no excuse for their behaviour. If it continues to upset you, tell a teacher, parent, or adult you trust. Helplines and more info and resources to support you can be found here.
If you’re someone who likes to dish out ‘banter’, remember that what you may think is funny may be offensive to someone with different experiences to you. Remember that people may not tell you they’re offended for fear of standing out, so you need to pay attention to how your words might be making other people feel, and remember that even if someone uses certain language to refer to themselves, that doesn’t mean it’s ok for you to use that language.
Most of all, remember to be kind. Humour is great, but if it's making someone really upset, it's just time for some new material. Simple.