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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.

ask surly amy

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.)


Dear Person,

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.

Amy Roth

Amy Davis Roth (aka Surly Amy) is a multimedia, science-loving artist who resides in Los Angeles, California. She makes Surly-Ramics and is currently in love with pottery. Daily maker of art and leader of Mad Art Lab. Support her on Patreon. Tip Jar is here.

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  1. ‘“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.”

    Two other tactics that adopt this philosophy:

    1) Frame it as YOUR being offended rather than seeing it as your defending someone. “Ick. This post makes me feel uncomfortable.” Then you’re the target of any blowback instead of the victim.

    2) If you do know them, say something privately like, “Uh… dude. You kinda sound like a creeper in that FB post. You might want to take it down and stop embarrassing yourself.”

    Both of these tactics don’t involve the victim of the harassment at all. While you should still ask before potentially provoking their harassers, your speaking up independently also makes it clear to the harassers that their behavior is out of line socially and that their victim is not alone.

  2. One of my default responses to post like that is a sarcastic “Oh! I get it. It’s funny because you’re saying (he’s gay, she’s ugly, etc.) :\”

    I’ve received a few ‘fuck you’s but I’ve also had a few people own up to the fact that their joke was shitty.

  3. I’m going to say “Soup of One Thousand Man Tears” as many times as I can the rest of the day.

  4. “Soup of One Thousand Man Tears” was hilarious. I’m getting a kick out of imagining what that dinner would be like.

    (Interior, night. A dining room, dimly lit only by candles, the walls decorated only with Georgia O’Keefe paintings. A dozen shadowy, hooded figures surround the table, which is set with dishes of chopped sausage, sliced bananas, pickled cucumbers, and other plates evocative of male impotence. At the head, Rebecca Watson throws back her hood and cackles.)

    REBECCA: My fellow feminists! Before you, a banquet, seasoned with the finest delights the lesser sex can offer: their hopes, their insecurity, their precious foreskins. Never again shall we go to the kitchen to make a sandwich…

    [Rapid zoom to close-up on Rebeccca’s definitely-less-attractive-than-Emma-Watson face]

    REBECCA (cont’d): for tonight we dine on misandry!

    Coming this Fall from Fox.

    1. Actually, Rebecca has said circumcision is one time where the Men’s Rights broken clock is right. With male victims of domestic violence or sexual assault, the Men’s Rights clock is just a “Men get raped EVEN MORE than women!” too fast. (Note, however, that I was molested as a kid, by a woman, and I still underestimated the prevalence of male victims, according to the NISVS numbers. Also note that I’m not getting into whether rape requires being penetrated because that way lies rape apologism, and not even just for men, but for women sexually assaulting other women, women dry-humped by men on the bus, etc. But whatever. My point is, even without defining rape as penetration, I’m pretty sure women outnumber men in sexual assault victimizations, and men outnumber women as perpetrators.)

  5. Thank you, Amy (and as soon as I sent the question in, I realized the only reason I addressed it to Rebecca was that she had the most current post up when I sent it, or at least whatever was on my screen…not the best reason but whatever, I’m glad someone responded).

    My goal was never to speak FOR my friend. However, I think the way I approached it, anyone who doesn’t know me well would not get that. What I was going for was more of what delphi_ote says in suggestion 1, but I was a bit more on the sarcastic/smartass side and since I do not know these guys well, I think that’s where it backfired. Had I been more direct, and less snarky, it might have been different.

    As for us staying friends, that’s not a concern. She wasn’t upset by my comment (that she has told me, but I don’t believe she’d hold back if she was upset with me because she never had before), but I am trying to be more cognizant of how I deal with these things. I freely admit that I often take the stereotypical male route of just trying to solve problems instead of addressing why they are occurring, and that’s not always the best approach, particularly when I’m dealing with someone else. That’s why I wanted some third-party input from a female perspective, and I do appreciate you taking the time to answer.

    Thanks again,
    Person (aka Ryan)

  6. Oh, Amy, I’ve been meaning to write an article about how the Men’s Rights movement doesn’t represent *me*. Not a #NotAllMen type thing, because that’s stupid, but how they’re…really bad at activism in general. Any ideas where I should begin?

    1. Just do research and look into the issues that they claim to represent that could be legitimate grievances and then compare that to what they actually spend their time doing and saying. Good luck!

    2. Cracked has a good article on MRAs that went up yesterday. They dared say that MRAs are stinky and the MRAs kindly showed up in the comments to provide examples.

  7. An update that nobody here cares about, but I’m sharing anyway because hey, it’s the Internet and I can type!

    One of the guys made another comment on a post of hers, and she again texted me complaining about him. Rather than go cro-mag defensive for her, I instead walked her through the “acquaintances” feature on Facebook, so she can post whatever she wants to her real friends, but keep out people who she isn’t quite ready to unfriend yet, without having to set up custom lists. It wasn’t very satisfying for ME, because I know they probably do this to a lot of other people…but it wasn’t about me, and I’ll save the arguing for when I see them in person or they want to post on my page (or just generically on some 3rd party page). She was pretty damn smug after sticking them in that hole, so hopefully that’s one less thing she deals with.


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