International Women's Day: How to call out a friend posting sexist views online

How to call out a friend's sexist behaviour on social media. (Getty Images)
How to challenge a friend's sexist behaviour on social media. (Getty Images)

From gender bias to everyday sexism, social media is awash with all sorts of prejudiced opinions.

More often than not these posts come from complete strangers tapping out their tuppence worth from the anonymous safety of their keyboard, but sometimes we're surprised to see a friend deliver a tweet with an undercurrent of misogyny.

While we may sometimes feel bold enough to openly challenge the sexist opinions of a stranger, when it's a friend doing the posting it's not quite so straight forward.

Sure, their comment may have been a joke or said in a light-hearted way, but in not calling it out could we be subtly helping to feed a culture of sexism?

Watch: Eight great quotes to share on International Women’s Day

Given the theme of this year's International Women’s Day is #ChooseToChallenge, now could well be time to speak up.

"A challenged world is an alert world," the explanation behind the theme choice reveals. "Individually, we're all responsible for our own thoughts and actions - all day, every day.

"We can all choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality.

"From challenge comes change, so let's all choose to challenge."

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How differing opinions on sexism impact friendships

Knowing you should speak up to challenge a friend's sexist view and actually doing so are quite different matters, particularly because you may be concerned about how it could affect the relationship going forward.

Having differing opinions about gender bias and sexism can have a big impact on a friendship, according to Dr Elena Touroni, consultant psychologist and co-founder/co-CEO of My Online Therapy.

"That’s because these beliefs often reflect how we view the world, and how we view ourselves within it," she explains. "When there are differing opinions in a friendship, you might start to feel different from the other person.

"You might start questioning the extent to which you can share experiences or be close to them. There’s something fundamentally different about how you see the world so it may feel like you’re in opposite camps."

Dr Touroni says the decision of whether or not to call someone out for their behaviour could come down to being a matter of one's self-respect and integrity.

"If something is very important to you, then it’s much better to address it, than to ignore it," she says. "It’s likely to have an effect on how you feel about the friendship."

One reason people might be reluctant to call out sexist behaviour is because many of us don't really like the thought of confrontation.

"It’s about realising that, even if you choose to ignore sexist comments, you’re likely to have feelings that manifest themselves in different ways in the friendship," Dr Touroni continues.

"The idea that you’re ‘protecting’ the friendship isn’t correct. If anything, addressing the issue at hand might actually bring you closer to the person. They might not understand the impact of their words."

Having differing opinions on sexism and gender bias can impact a friendship. (posed by model, Getty Images)
Having differing opinions on sexism and gender bias can impact a friendship. (posed by model, Getty Images)

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It's also worth noting that ignoring sexist comments from friends could actually have an impact on your own sense of self-worth.

"Anytime you ignore violations of fundamental personal dignity, your own self-worth suffers," explains Susan Hodgkinson, gender bias expert, executive coach and author of The Dignity Mindset: A Leader's Guide to Building Gender Equity at Work.

"When you know something is wrong and don’t do anything to stop it, ultimately it gnaws away at your confidence and moves you out of internal alignment with your personal value system," she continues.

"Additionally, ignoring harmful comments, often packaged as jokes, is collectively reductive on friendships and social ecosystems: they are only as strong as they are authentic."

How to call out a friend for sexist opinions

Confronting someone about their sexism isn’t an easy conversation to have, particularly when they are a friend or family member, but there are ways to #choosetochallenge in a constructive way.

Educate yourself first

Your knee-jerk reaction may be to respond to a post you find offensive as soon as you see it, but before calling someone out, it's important to have educated yourself on the subject.

"It’s essential that all of us are continuously learning about bias," explains Hodgkinson.

"So when you open the door to educating someone else you must do so having thought very deeply about all you’ve learned and have your own point of view that you can support with facts."

"This is a great lifeskill as well," she adds.

Find an entry point

Dr Touroni suggests the next thing to do is get to the bottom of what your friend really meant, as it is important to try to understand where they are coming from.

"Ask follow-up questions, such as ‘What did you mean by that?’" she suggests.

"Don’t directly attack them or criticise them. You want to try to understand the thinking behind their opinion."

You could help your friend see their comment from another perspective by personalising it.

"Ask them how they’d feel if it were their sister, mum, female friend. Instead of piling on them, use it as an opportunity to educate them," adds Dr Touroni.

"If they still have difficulty understanding why you’re unhappy, sometimes 'turning the tables' can help. Ask them how they would feel if they were in your shoes."

Watch: Is a pack of cards sexist?

Challenge don't criticise

Dr Touroni says the key point is that you shouldn’t simply criticise your friend as that will make them defensive.

"You want to challenge the view, whilst validating the fact that they may have an understandable reason why they perceive things differently," she explains.

"Practice kindness. It’s not a matter of saying you’re right and they’re wrong. It’s much more multidimensional than that."

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Know when to use a passive response and when to use an active one

Hodgkinson says it is helpful to know which approach you’re using and why, particularly when calling someone out for something they've said on social media.

An example of a passive response would be: not validating the online comment by ignoring it and not adding a like.

"It’s important to remember that the biggest social media platforms are also the biggest platforms of hate speech, and to be really clear within yourself how and why you use a platform, and how you want to consistently show up on it," she explains. "Passive response online followed by active dialogue offline is a good combination."

Examples of active responses include:

- Call me in; Don’t call me out. "This is very healthy way of creating a constructive basis for a discussion," Hodgkinson explains.

"No one wants to be shamed in front of an audience. In a 1:1 setting, ask questions such as ‘What did you mean by that?’"

- Outright express your disapproval and explain why. "Ask what impact the biased comment had on the group it was directed at? Remind them of their best self. Ask them to imagine how it would feel to sit in a room of women and say that comment, and then hear how it damaging it was," Hodgkinson suggests.

- Personalise it – "Ask them how they’d feel if it were their sister, mum, female friend etc…"

Challenging a friend's sexist comments will ultimately be better for your friendship. (Getty Images)
Challenging a friend's sexist comments will ultimately be better for your friendship. (posed by models, Getty Images)

Read more: Is the term 'toyboy' sexist?

Constructively engage your friend

Hodgkinson suggests trying to constructively engage with your friend, by beginning a dialogue with questions and statements like: “Can I share a learning I had that really changed my perspective on this? I really learned the power of my own choice of words to denigrate or lift another person..."

She also suggests asking yourself: “How can I influence this person’s mindset and create an opening for him/her/they to: 1. Move past their own defensiveness; and 2. To hear, to learn, about the impact of bias on all of us?”

Try to get your friend to empathise with your view

The main objective should be to get the person to empathise with what you’re trying to express, says Dr Touroni.

"Bringing the issue closer to home might be triggering and make them feel offended and defensive," she explains. "You want to tentatively guide them along so they finally empathise with your view and see it from a different perspective."

Watch: Broadcaster Clara Amfo made into a Barbie for International Women's Day

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