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The University of Tennessee, Knoxville

To Lynch a Child: Bullying and Gender Non-Conformity in Our Nation’s Schools

Michael J. Higdon, Associate ProfessorCollege of Law

​Although most children are teased at some point during childhood, those children whose gender expression defies what society considers “appropriate” are more likely to become chronic victims of school bullying. Such bullying is, in essence, a form of lynching. First, both are driven by unwritten social codes—in one instance, white supremacy; in the other, gender stereotypes. Second, both are carried out by perpetrators who do not act in isolation. Third, both result in extreme harm—lynching, in its most basic form, resulted in dead bodies; however, a lynching need not be defined so narrowly. The psychological damage that results from chronic bullying can be so damaging as to effectuate a “virtual lynching.” Finally, both lynching and gender-based bullying achieve maximum effectiveness by the way in which they generate fear in others. The clear message of both is the same: obey the “code” or become the next victim.

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