Ask Surly Amy: How To Help Fight Sexism On The Internet
It’s been a while and things have been wild but I’m bringing back my Ask Surly Amy series because I have opinions and advice and I can not contain these feelings any longer. Besides, we get a shit-ton of emails sent in that ask us all kinds of random stuff and Rebecca just files them in the virtual round filing cabinet. How can I sew a unicorn cosplay? Who was the best Survivor contestant? Will there be a Breaking Bad Spinoff? How do I get rid of this rash? So many questions spin through our inboxes that sometimes, I just can’t resist.
So let THIS be your warning.
You can email questions you would like answered to me directly via our contact link but know that every now and then I will just take a question that maybe you send in to Mary or maybe to Rebecca and tell you what I think. Why? Because I can. I mean… because I care.
The following question was sent in to Rebecca but she asked me to reply because she is busy making her famous “Soup of One Thousand Man Tears” or Mac and cheese or coffee or something. I have a short attention span.
I have removed the names in the following question in case the person wishes anonymity but they are free to chime in in the comments should they desire.
I am a heterosexual male who wants to think I’m on the right side of the gender war. I read and enjoy Skepchick daily, and it has given me a lot of insight into feminism, which I have always identified with, but over the last couple of years have realized is far more complex than my naive concept that “men and women should be equal.” I have followed the whole #notallmen/#yesallwomen debate and am squarely on the #yesallwomen side. I read Phil Plait’s recent article on the topic and it resonates deeply with me. I have made a conscious effort to not participate in that culture anymore.
And, in doing that…I just totally fucked up.
I have a good friend and former coworker, a woman, who is Facebook friends with a few of our former coworkers. This company was a total boy’s club, and it was absurd how valuable testicles were in climbing the ladder (although the CEO was a woman, but that’s not the point). They are both significantly older than her, and none of us were ever good friends. After she and I left the company, they basically started commenting on every single Facebook post she makes, ranging from awkward to creepy as hell. I don’t know those two as well as she does, but I do know she does not welcome in any way their creepiness.
Tonight, she texted me complaining that one of them had made another creepy comment on a photo of hers. I, thinking I was helping, went onto Facebook and called him out. This made things worse, as both of them started messaging her privately. I do not know the content of those messages; I just know they made her feel worse. I immediately went in and deleted my message, but the damage was done.
Now, we are obviously talking a minor issue in the scheme of things. But I am finding it very frustrating…clearly, I was wrong to do anything without asking her. I understand that. And I know there are more general ways to help by opposing the male rapey culture that don’t drag individual women in, but at the same time, these guys have been bugging her for a couple of years. It’s a comment here and there, but it’s still incessant. She is not likely to say anything…my hope in posting my comment was that they would react to ME, and I could engage. Instead, they went publicly silent and came to her.
My question for you is, if you were in her shoes and I was a good male friend of yours, how would you want or expect me to react, knowing that you were uncomfortable with how you were being treated?
(As I was writing this, I just got a new text from her where she finally saw my comment…and apparently, I’m making up an issue because she hadn’t even seen the comment, just the texts she was getting, and when she finally saw it, she said, “Oh yeah, that’s totally true. No worries.” But I still feel I have a valid question and I would appreciate your insight.)
I enjoyed your email because you partially answered your own question and that means I don’t have to type as much so thank you.
Yes, if this is your friend and you text regularly, the reasonable thing would be to ask her if she needed or wanted your help in this particular situation.
We often talk about “raising the social cost” of negative or sexist or otherwise oppressive behavior online. And that means we do recommend speaking up when someone says something awful to someone else. Doing something as simple as down-voting negative comments and thumbs-upping good ones can be surprising helpful in the peer-pressure driven arena known as social media. If people stopped laughing at sexist jokes, we would stop hearing them.
Simply calling out the unfortunately common sexist or hateful language we see, can make a huge difference. Sometimes people don’t realize what they are saying. In most cases however, people make shitty comments for attention and the reaction from their peers can be extremely important in shaping what that person perceives as acceptable behavior moving forward. Saying something like, “Hey bro, you commenting on what my friend looks like while she is posting about building houses for the poor in Tacate, Mexico isn’t funny or cool.” can sometimes have a profound effect. But here is the catch, it’s only effective if you are NOT talking over or FOR the person you hope to help or defend.
I know, it’s confusing sometimes to determine if you are helping or speaking over an oppressed group especially when your intention is to help. One trick you can try is the agreeing tactic. Let the person you want to support say something first, and then simply agree with them. That way, you are not talking over them but you are effectively putting your weight behind their words.
Good luck and I hope you and your pal stay friends!
Got a question you would like some Surly-Skepchick advice on? Send it in! We won’t publish your real name, unless you want us to and creative pseudonyms get bonus points! Just use the contact link on the top of the page.