Why dudes let dudes say sexist stuff

Oh, Billy. Oh, Billy Bush.


Who would have thought that Billy Bush would play such an important role in this election cycle? Or that one role he would play would be to inspire men to ask how they can intervene when they hear other men make sexist comments?

Billy dropped the ball big time. He had a chance to speak up when Trump went beyond misogynistic comments and advertised his past acts of sexual assault. Instead, Billy egged the Donald on.

That terrible tape has led many men to ask how they can respond differently, disrupting rape culture when and where they can.

Aliya Khan offers six clear options over at Everyday Feminism; if you’re full of confidence and ready to go, stop reading this now and go there. But if you’re uneasy about the prospect of speaking up when someone in your crew says something that doesn’t sit right, read on.

It seems like we as men feel that there are three major hurdles to intervention. Let’s put them each into context.

  1. It won’t make any difference. Wrong. Even as many of us feel ham-fisted speaking up, research shows that even the most gentle push-back can have an instant effect. Despite the traditional image of men as cowboys who don’t give a damn about what others think…we do. We’re sensitive to social status, and adapt quickly when our jokes don’t get a laugh.
  2. I’m the only one who feels this way. Very probably wrong. In his talk last year at Princeton, Chris Kilmartin cited studies that show that upwards of 75% of men are uncomfortable when they hear sexist language. We don’t speak up because we think that we’re the only one, when in fact, we represent the overwhelming majority.
  3. I have to have a speech preparedNope. There are many different strategies–again, Aliya Khan offers productive ways to have a direct confrontation and ways to indirectly signal that you’re not cool with this kind of talk. But the number one principle is just to speak for yourself, about how you feel in this moment: rather than jumping right to judgment on the other person, use “I-statements,” i.e. “Dude, I don’t think that’s funny” or “Dude, I’m not comfortable with that kind of talk.” No dude can argue with that.

The stakes for speaking up can feel high, but in fact, they’re really low. At the very least, you’re signaling to the other men around you who are uncomfortable, too, that they’re not alone, and that empowers everyone to speak up next time. But again, studies show that small gestures make waves. Dudes will get the message.