5 ways you can call out your mates for sexist behaviour

We’re often told to 'call out' people around us for behaviour that hurts and dismisses women. But what does it actually mean to 'call someone out'? Sometimes it can feel a bit like the only way you can do this is through a hostile confrontation. But that’s not true at all– there are heaps of ways you can point out poor behaviour depending on who you’re talking to and what you feel comfortable with.

Question their behaviour

A three panel cartoon of two young men talking in a backyard. The first panel- Guy 1 says 'and what she was wearing at the party... let's just say it was 'interesting'.' Guy 2 says 'Oh really? What was interesting about it?' The second panel- Guy 1 says 'Uhh... I'll just say you could see a lot.' Guy 2 says 'Right. Is there something interesting about that?' The third panel- Guy 1 says 'You know what? I guess I don't know.''

Works best for: anyone

There’ll always be people who put women down by joking about their appearance, behaviour or abilities. But asking them to explain what they mean, or why they made that joke, can make them second guess themselves. That's because what’s behind their actions is the belief that women don't deserve to be treated respectfully or fairly. Asking questions, even simple ones, forces people to confront that belief, and can help them realise that what they said was wrong.

Give them a good old-fashioned roast

A two panel cartoon. In the first panel, a young man says 'She's such a b****! I asked her out and she said she just wants to be friends.' His friend replies 'Mate, keep using that language and pretty soon you'll be your only friend'. In the second panel, his friends laugh and the first man looks slightly displeased.

Works best for: people you know well, and people you don't know well but want to put on blast anyway

If it works, a well-crafted joke can be a fun and light-hearted way to let people know that you might not be on board with their behaviour. Sometimes making a serious complaint can feel too dramatic, especially if they’ve done something subtle or aren’t aware of what they’ve said. Having a laugh about that kind of behaviour is a way to keep the conversation fun while also drawing clear boundaries.

However, using jokes to call out bad behaviour can sometimes make your mate think that their behaviour is just a bit of 'banter' and isn't actually harmful. So if there’s someone in your life you’re doing this with often, you might want to try using another method in this article.

Have a chat with them privately

A three panel cartoon of two young men sitting on a couch. In the first panel, text reads 'find a time to chat to them privately.' Guy 1 says '$%@&#!'. In the second panel, text reads 'explain that the way they act can affect people around them.' Guy 2 says 'I know you don't mean to do that. But talking that way can make people feel scared and hurt.' In the third panel, text reads 'Tell them how they can do better in the future.' Guy 2 says 'When you're about to say something, just imagine– what if a complete stranger said that to me?'

Works best for: People you're cool having a private and maybe even a slightly uncomfortable chat with

There are a lot of people that don't react well to being confronted in public. It might trigger what's called their 'fight or flight' response, meaning they might avoid the issue entirely or worse, dig deeper and avoid owning up to what they've said or done. If you think that someone might respond in that way, it might be a better idea to talk to them in private.

This can give you a chance to explain what the problem actually is, and how it affects people around them. Open and honest conversations like these are helpful because they give you an opportunity to listen and answer any questions your mate might have. You can also explain that it’s fine to make mistakes as long as you learn from them.

Sadly, there are some people who won't change their behaviour even after a private conversation. They might not agree that what they did was wrong, and since they didn't experience any negative consequences, they might not learn from it. If that's the case, you might want to try our next method on this list:

Just call it out

A cartoon of some friends at the pub. In the image, Guy 1 is telling an inappropriate joke and his friends aren't impressed. Guy 1 says '... And the waitress– I told her she had 'nice curves!' In response, Guy 2 says 'Its a real shame when you treat people like that, man. It's a hurtful way to talk about people and you know better.'

Works best for: People who refuse to act responsibly, even though they know better

It might not be easy, it might not be fun, but calling out someone's poor behaviour straight away, and sometimes in front of other people can be very effective. Just make sure that when you do this, it’s clear and to the point.

For someone to change their behaviour, they have to a) recognise that their behaviour is wrong and has consequences, and b) understand how they can do better in the future. If you use this method, it’s likely you're calling out someone in front of others, so you might not have time to fully explain both of these things. That's why it can be good to have a private chat with them as well.

Show them that you aren't on board

A three panel cartoon. The first panel is Guy 1's phone. On it, you can see a text message from a friend of his. It says 'Rosa was so triggered today haha. She's so emotional. Don't you guys reckon?' In the second panel, Guy 2 has read this message, and he looks unimpressed. In the third panel, you can see he has responded to that text with the 'thumbs down' emoji.

Works best with: Anyone you're afraid of stirring up

Sometimes, it's not easy to call out people you're around. Maybe you don't know them very well. Maybe they're your managers at work or they’re a member of your family. Or, maybe bringing up other peoples' issues, even in gentle ways, makes you feel anxious.

In that case, here are a few ways you can show someone that you aren't cool with what they've said.

  • Use body language like shaking your head or rolling your eyes

  • Click the 'dislike' react on what they've posted

  • Change the topic of conversation to something else

  • Stop laughing at hurtful jokes or remarks

These aren't very powerful techniques for creating change, but if you start small, you should be able to work your way up to more effective methods over time. By just observing sexism around us it might seem like we’re just doing nothing. But when we let toxic behaviour happen we’re actually a part of the problem. That’s why these methods are so important– they allow you to be a part of the solution.

What can I do now?

  • To learn more about how you can stop casual sexism, read our tips here.

  • If you're worried your mates are going through a rough time, check out our tips for checking in with friends here.