How to Call out Sexist Comments From Your Guy Friends

Imagine you’re grabbing lunch with some friends in the cafeteria. The food actually tastes good for a change, and the conversation is going great. And then one of your guy friends cracks a joke about you making him a sandwich. Not only is the joke totally unoriginal, it’s offensive. You’ve got a choice — you can call him out on his sexist comment or say nothing.

Unfortunately, this is a situation that way too many of us have experienced. It can be difficult to stand up to your friends, and it doesn’t help that feminists have a (usually unjust) reputation of being uptight buzzkills. At the same time, it’s important to stand up for yourself and, in effect, other women.

The good news: Standing up for yourself doesn’t mean you have to alienate your friends! Here are some tips for dealing with everyday sexist comments that’ll turn that awkward moment into a win-win situation.

Speak up

First things first: Resist the temptation to keep quiet. It definitely makes things easier in the short term to resist calling your friends out, especially if you’re shy or like to avoid conflict. However, in these situations, it’s important to rally your confidence and speak up. Julie Zeilinger, author of College 101: A Girl's Guide to Freshman Year, says that you should call out any comment that offends you.

Zeilinger, founder of feminist blog, says that many sexist comments, such as ones perpetuating double standards, often go under the radar.  

“For example,” Zeilinger says, “the double standard that men should be allowed to (and even congratulated for) being promiscuous, whereas girls are labeled ‘sluts’ and looked down upon for the same behavior, is so ingrained in men and women in our culture that many people don’t even register how problematic comments about it are.”

That’s why when you recognize someone making a comment that reflects this double standard and you call it out, you’re interrupting a harmful, sexist cycle. And that’s a really, really cool thing to do.

Be an educator

Okay, so once you decide to call someone out on an everyday sexist comment, it’s not the best tactic to call him a pig and walk away, especially if he’s one of your good friends. If you do that (or something similarly dismissive), you’re probably not going to get many people on your side. More importantly, though, you’re missing a huge opportunity to teach your friend about the implications of his comment. 

“I think it’s important to note that ‘calling out’ a sexist comment doesn’t have to be hostile or initiate a fight,” Zeilinger says. “It’s possible to push back on people’s comments in a thoughtful way and as an attempt to start a conversation rather than initiate a hostile, accusatory argument. Especially if the person is a good guy and your friend, you can approach the situation as an opportunity to educate him.”

For example, you may be walking near campus on a Friday night with a guy friend when a girl in a short skirt passes you. Imagine he says something like: “She’s practically naked. She must really be asking for it!”

In this situation, your friend is expressing a common sentiment, so it’s possible he never stopped to think about what he’s really implying. You could use this moment to explain that only literally asking for sex is “asking for it” and that even if a woman was walking down the street naked, it wouldn’t be okay to sexually assault her.

Here’s another example: Say you’re talking with a group of friends and someone implies that women who want birth control coverage just want to have tons of sex without having to spend money on contraceptives (a la Rush Limbaugh’s controversial statements on the matter).  Although you might be a little uncomfortable talking about it, this is a great opportunity to educate guys about how female contraceptives actually offer lots of benefits beyond preventing pregnancy!

When explaining your point of view calmly and considerately, you’re more likely to create a dialogue. If the guy is actually your friend, there’s a good chance he’ll listen and even start making changes to his behavior.

Ask questions

If you don’t have the energy to pull out your soapbox, one great way to address sexist comments is to ask the speaker questions about his comment.

“If somebody makes a sexist assumption, even just simply asking why they believe that can be really effective,” Zeilinger says. “Most people don’t stop and really think about why they parrot sexist ideas, and it might really change the way they think about things.”

You could simply ask, “Why do you say that?” Or, if your friend tells a sexist joke, you could try asking, “I don’t get it. Could you explain why that’s funny?”

Much like using everyday sexist comments to educate, asking questions can get people who normally don’t think much about these kinds of assumptions or jokes to analyze what they’ve said.

Hopefully, they’ll realize how they really sound once they’re forced to repeat their comments. If not, you can always go back to dusting off your mental chalkboard and educating.

Use humor

Humor is a really effective way to get to the heart of an issue without coming off as preachy. It’s also a great way to address a sexist comment if you’re worried about embarrassing your friend when you’re with a group.

“I think that humor is a great way to handle offensive comments in a group setting,” Zeilinger says. “Accusing somebody of sexism in front of their friends is not only awkward and embarrassing, but ineffective: They’ll only focus on the fact that you made them feel that way and not the real point you’re trying to make about their comments.”

Often people will get defensive when they’re embarrassed or feel singled out. Humor and sarcasm can disarm people and maybe even make them crack a smile. You’ll get your point across without sacrificing the lighthearted mood.

For example, the Everyday Sexism Project asks women on Twitter to share how they’ve responded to everyday sexist remarks. Though not always dealing with friends, these women had some hilarious comebacks to sexism.

Finding herself in a way-too-common situation, Twitter user @AlternateRowan responded to one coworker saying, “Don’t mind her, she’s on her period,” with, "If I had to bleed to find you annoying, I'd be anemic."

Although this comeback isn’t quite lighthearted, it does get to the point without totally derailing the conversation. It quickly counters the idea that a woman’s bad moods come from menstruation rather than legitimate annoyance. You and your friends can laugh about this burn later, and your guy friend will probably think twice about dismissing your feelings again.

However you decide to address your guy friends’ sexist comments, remember that you’ll always run the risk of being called a buzzkill, but that doesn’t matter.

“[Calling someone a buzzkill is] a really lazy way to demean and silence an opponent rather than critically engage with them,” Zeilinger says. “At the same time, being conscious of not attacking people and trying instead to educate and start conversations will not only help combat this perception, but is a more effective way to engage with people generally.”

As long as you’re working on educating people rather embarrassing them, you can just let the haters hate hate hate hate hate