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How to Call Out a Friend For Sexism

Anti-sexism protestors in London.Source: Wikimedia

Over the past few decades, there has been plenty of progress in the fight against sexual discrimination. And yet, low levels of sexism persist in all areas of society and – in some cases – it is still unfortunately rife. Some men, for example, demean women’s sport, think that females are not as skilled at gambling despite evidence to the contrary and that the gender pay gap is a result of lower quality work, on average, than from institutional issues. Sure, sexism is something that men suffer from, too. That said, men continue to enjoy plenty of societal advantages and, in the main, sexism tends to reflect attitudes towards women.

These days, sexism – along with racism and other forms of discrimination – is seen by many to be on the rise. Some fear that there will be a lurch back towards the past when people from all walks of life would speak in a casually sexist manner. Few commentators think that western countries are anything like as sexist as they were in, say, the 1970s. However, even low levels of sexism can build up when they are tolerated. If left unchecked, the levels of sexism we see today could easily become the norm, legitimising more and more sexist behaviour.

This means everyone who wants to stand up against sexism will face a dilemma sooner or later. What do you do when you have a friend – male or female – who makes sexist remarks? Derogatory statements about women, when they aren’t challenged, can start to be normalised and the problem will only get worse. On the other hand, nipping it in the bud with a zero-tolerance approach can put your friendship under strain. So how do you raise your objections without losing your friend?

Stay Calm

When you notice a sexist comment, there is no need to be outraged or upset. Simply saying that you think something is sexist is enough to push back. If your friend takes exception to what you say, then that is their problem and says more about their true attitudes than yours. Most reasonable people will understand they shouldn’t have said what they did when it is pointed out and will refrain from such comments in future.

Don’t Leave It to Others

If you have a friend who doesn’t consider that they are sexist but who says sexist things anyway, then take responsibility for it. Men, especially, can let such comments go thinking that a mutual female friend will address it so they don’t have to. In fact, a man calling out sexism can be very powerful. It removes the conspiratorial nature of some forms of sexism and sets a tone that means you can continue as friends.

Even low-level sexism can lead to a toleration of violence.Source: Wikimedia

Remain Incredulous

When somebody says something that can be interpreted as sexist – but also might not be – it can be a difficult call to make. Friends that constantly operate in this grey area are really asking you to conspire with them and to accept their sexist views even if there is a thinly veiled excuse for it every time. If you are faced with this situation, then simply pretend you don’t understand. Get your friend to explain exactly what they mean. Then you are in a better position to call out any sexism that becomes apparent from making it plain.

Handling Sexist Jokes

Whether you think a sexist joke is humorous or not, the best thing to do is to not react to it. Offensive gags might be funny at some level but they are upsetting to anyone who is being targeted by them. When your friend tells you a joke which is sexist you don’t have to challenge it. Just don’t laugh. A nonchalant reaction soon sends the message that you don’t want to hear such jokes from your friends and they should find another way to make you laugh. No one likes to tell jokes which don’t get the desired reaction, after all.

Consider Moving On

Not all friendships last a lifetime. Although there is no need to fall out with a pal just because they say one or two sexist things, you should consider moving on if they persist. If you have challenged your friend on sexism and it isn’t making a difference to their behaviour, then it is time to make your mind up about what it is that you really have in common.