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"I didn't call out a sexist comment - does that make me a bad feminist?"

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Ask A Feminist is Stylist.co.uk's new column answering your questions on feminism, sexism and womanhood in a real-life, 21st Century context. Send your dilemmas to stories@stylist.co.uk and we'll get one of our brilliant panel of feminists to cast a discerning eye on the issue at hand. 

This week's question:

"I was shocked when an acquaintance made a comment about a mutual friend being a slut because she’d had several one night stands. I didn’t call him out for it as we were at a relaxed lunch in a large group but I have felt guilty ever since. Does my silence make me a bad feminist? Do women have a duty to call out sexist behaviour?"

- via email

Feminist Anna-Marie Crowhurst says: 

Well, you could have started with: “Oh my god, she is a slut! What a big, slaggy, slappery hoo-er. I’m a slag too actually. I’m mad for the no-strings attached sexing. MAD FOR IT. I’m not sure why – I think I just enjoy expressing my perfectly natural, healthy sexual desires, whenever I feel like it. Because I can. But you’re right, I should probably hang my head. Being a woman and all!”

You could have slinked up to him with a twinkle in your eye, chucked him gently under the chin and said: “Awwww bless you. Are you pretending to be stupid so I’ll fancy you more, sweet thing?”

You could have bellowed, at the top of your voice, while gesticulating violently with your cutlery: “Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha...ARE YOU F*****G KIDDING ME?”

But yeah, it’s always easy to think of witty comebacks in retrospect, when, IRL sometimes the anger and astonishment leaves you stuttering and gasping for breath. Or your natural inclination to be polite in a civilised setting overwhelms your desire to put an idiot straight.

Should you call out a sexist remark in a social setting?

Should you call out a sexist remark in a social setting?

If the aim of calling someone out is to educate them, shouting angrily across a table probably isn’t going to work. But if it’s just to embarrass a person enough to make them think twice about expressing their 19th Century views out loud in the future (and potentially go away thinking twice about what they’ve said), there’s a chance a hefty slice of sarcasm might. And this in itself would be an achievement, wouldn’t it?

I suppose you have to decide how important allowing such statements to be aired unchallenged offends you versus potentially feeling a bit embarrassed in front of acquaintances. 

The fact you say you feel guilty suggests it might be worth sacrificing the latter, in favour of the former.  And my advice would be a big, fat dose of humour is the best way to do it in a manner that both confronts the problem while also maintaining the convival nature of the setting.

So while I don’t think you should feel bad about someone else’s ignorant behaviour, or that being a feminist means there is some sort of set of stringent rules about how you should act in any given situation, perhaps you might want to start rehearsing your coping strategy/comeback for next time. Because unfortunately, there will be one.

And if there’s something you can do about it, maybe you should.


What's your take on this week's problem? Do feminists have a duty to call out sexist comments? Or is it better to let ignorant people lie? Have you experienced a similar situation, and if so, how have you coped?

Join the debate in the comments section below. 

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