How to be an ally: Say “Ouch”

“Men fear they’re the only guy in the room who objects to a sexist comment or raunchy joke (though evidence shows lots of men are offended), so they stay silent when they could break the spell and enable other male allies to find their voice if only they’d speak up.”

-W. Brad Johnson and David G. Smith

“You gotta watch out for those women drivers.”

I was pushing a cart through the hall when a stranger felt the need to comment. 

He might have been making the joke to break the ice or to help himself feel more comfortable around a woman he didn’t know. Whatever the reason, it came off as a little sexist. 

I didn’t have a strong retort in the moment, so I said something like, “That seems a little harsh.” 

It wasn’t a perfect response, but it was far better than letting a sexist comment slide. 

Sexist comments occur daily

A comment that small may seem benign to you, but the problem is the frequency with which these comments occur. 

According to Dr. Susan R. Madsen, founder and director of the Utah Women & Leadership Project, these comments are being made daily—and they’re often invisible. 

According to Inc, 60% of women have experienced “unwanted sexual attention, sexual coercion, sexually crude conduct, or sexist comments” in the workplace.

These slights are often brushed off or even laughed at, but for women, they represent a prevailing acceptance of benevolent sexism in society. 

Allies at work: Say Ouch

So what do you do if you’re not sure how to respond to sexist comments? 

Or if like me, you’re tongue-tied?

I love this suggestion from Brad Johnson and David Smith: 

When you hear a sexist comment, just say “Ouch.”

It’s not particularly classy, but it does the important job of drawing negative attention to what was said. 

Plus, the awkward response will buy you time to think about what you really want to say next. 

Assume positive intent, but don’t wait

There’s a chance the speaker didn’t mean to say anything offensive, so it’s best to assume positive intent. 

You can make your point without making it personal. 

Rather than calling them out, use “I” or “we” statements to let them know you’re serious. 

“I don’t find that funny.”

“That’s not what we do.”

“I don’t know if you meant it this way, but…”

When an inappropriate comment is made, allies don’t wait. 

If you stall more than two seconds, you might miss your chance to make a difference. 

Keep “ouch” locked and loaded. 


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