Source is this twitter thread: https://twitter.com/MalwareJake/status/976848126987374593


She said that the guy who appeared to be the unofficial group leader started talking about one of the (very few) female conference speakers like a piece of meat. The other guys jumped in and described the many (specifics were very shocking) things they would do to her. One even made rape "jokes" (which are obviously NEVER okay).

When in such company, I would just leave the conversation, after taking in how repulsive this kind of attitude is. But that doesn't make them understand that this is just not ok. So the question is: how to be assertive in these circumstances.

This 'unofficial group leader' seems to express such things to (re)establish his leadership position. At that point, the others in the group are already determined to be no match for him (at least in the leaders' mind).

One way of addressing him, could be: "Now I see how you are still single" or "wow, your girlfriend must be really happy with you" (depending on the situation). Although that's just passive aggressive, and will not result in a constructive "hey, this way you are talking reveals that you are actually not respecting women at all, you should revise how you look at women."

  • What is the real reason this guy is acting this way? (I suppose I have some idea about it, but please elaborate)
  • Given that we know or assume to understand the reason why he talks this way, how to best address this guy and/or group, to get them to understand what they are doing?

Edit: adding context.

This is something that often happens at tech conferences, but of course it happens everywhere (I suppose) when there's too many men and little or no women and drinks. There's this idea that you can't have good looks and be smart at the same time.

I've seen it happen in Belgium (Europe). My biggest concern is not detoxing tech events, but I'd like to see this kind of behaviour disappear entirely. It just shows a total disrespect for women in general, and it's a hard idea to get across, especially towards men with lower moral standards.

Edit: I'm asking from the viewpoint for someone in the group. Maybe the better question is: what can someone in the group (obviously not the alpha guy) do, to make sure the rest of the group isn't tricked into thinking this is the proper way to talk about women?

(If anyone has better tag suggestions, I'm a bit at a loss.)

Edit: I'm going to refrain from refining the question. I like how people interpreted it in different ways, and there are a lot very good opinions on these interpretations. Changing the question could mess up other people's answers for no good reason.

I don't see it as a duplicate of the linked question as this is a group going wrong thing, which is harder to counter than an individual making an inappropriate comment. But I agree it covers a lot of ground and probably overlaps with several other questions.

Thanks everyone!

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    I'm not sure if going into the motivations of these people is on-topic, but how to address them definitely is and a sorely needed bit of advice in many gatherings, sadly. Welcome to the site!
    – Erik
    Commented Mar 23, 2018 at 8:20
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    @Jan as for tags, this is lacking a location one ;) "How to handle such a situation" is a tad broad, as it can also include just shooting everyone involved... Like Erik said, we can't look into the guys head, so that question is more psychology and primarily opinion based. But the addressing part (standing up for oneself or letting people know their behavior is not okay) is definitely a good IPS question, I believe the skill is called assertiveness... So maybe you can change 'how to handle' to 'how to be assertive in these circumstances'?
    – Tinkeringbell
    Commented Mar 23, 2018 at 8:31
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    What is the goal? Change how he feels or get him to just not share it?
    – paparazzo
    Commented Mar 23, 2018 at 10:36
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    Related: interpersonal.stackexchange.com/questions/12183/…. Also in the specific context mentioned it is often a deliberately aggressive action caused by feelings of fear or inadequacy. That is, being hurtful and horrible isn't some thoughtless side effect, but the point. Telling the speaker "that would really hurt her feelings" will get you a giant "duh". Commented Mar 23, 2018 at 11:08
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    Curious question: Are we assuming you're stepping in as an outsider, overhearing this conversation like the women in that twitter thread did, or that you are part of the group where the remarks are made, that you're addressing people you're already acquainted with?
    – Tinkeringbell
    Commented Mar 23, 2018 at 11:27

14 Answers 14


You don't usually want to start a discussion, you don't want to attack them, so don't try things like "Now I see how you are still single". Merely express your displeasure:

Not cool, man.

There are similar alternatives depending on how bad and how long the chat has gone on, like "Too far", "Just no".

The most common outcome is that they will attempt to deflect and move on to a more agreeable topic. Let them do so.

The usual reason why people talk like this is because it's fun and makes them look cool. If it isn't fun and doesn't make them look cool, they'll drop it. But people will defend themselves when attacked, no matter how wrong they are.

I liked Mykazuki's answer as well. And if you're not in a position to say something, Thorsten's answer is an even less confrontational option.

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    @everyone No need to make a big thing out of it. By staying calm and having an interesting and respectful conversation everybody wins. Reserve walking away for those few cases where they do not get the hint and insist on their right to treat people as objects.
    – Peter
    Commented Mar 23, 2018 at 18:20
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    With "Hey guys there are ladies around here..." Mykazuki's answer implies that such talk is okay in some contexts. It. Is. Not. Implying that the behavior is okay as long as you don't get "caught" risks somehow making it seem cooler. Commented Mar 23, 2018 at 19:42
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    @G.Ann-SonarSourceTeam I am not sure why you commented here about my answer, but I am not implying that. If you read my whole answer you will see I am talking about Sex talk, that would make members of the other sex uncomfortable, which is inappropriate in such context and should also be addressed but in not the same way that for example a rape joke.
    – Mykazuki
    Commented Mar 23, 2018 at 20:11
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    Both "Too far", or "Just no" are often used when a joke is normally socially unacceptable but you are still laughing with it.
    – PStag
    Commented Mar 23, 2018 at 21:01
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    "Rape? Really? You think thats a joke?"
    – Martijn
    Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 7:23

The only way to really get it to stop is to speak up and make it unambivalent that that sort of discussion isn't acceptable. At first, this may take a lot of bravery on your part. You're potentially going to set yourself at odds with someone who's in an alpha position. You may or may not find support from the other men who are around you. I'm doubtful that you're the only one thinking "this isn't appropriate behavior" but wanting to be part of the crowd is a strong urge.

There's some good guidance in an article from the Harvard Business Review by Amy Gallo. It largely applies within the workplace but you should be able to adapt their suggestions for other use. They start out by mentioning that your relation to the group being addressed will affect your ability to respond and have a positive outcome:

If you’re in a position of power, the stakes are higher. Managers have a responsibility (in some cases a legal one) to make sure no one feels threatened or uncomfortable at work, and studies show that you have more influence if you are not the subject of the bias, says Williams. “When it comes to sexism, for example, men tend to be more persuasive when confronting people. We afford them more credibility because it’s not their ‘game.’”

You’ll also want to consider the person’s authority over you and whether they’re likely to penalize you for speaking up. “Your job security or personal safety may be at risk,” says Czopp. This is especially true if you’re part of a group already subject to bias. Williams’s research shows that women and people of color get more pushback when they’re assertive. That’s not to say you shouldn’t speak up, but you should be realistic about the consequences of doing so. If your ultimate aim is to keep your job, you may decide to keep quiet.

So, you've considered your situation and you want to speak up... the question now, is how do you respond. The article discusses this, too. It mentions that you should give the speaker the benefit of the doubt - they didn't mean to offend. In the particular situation you're talking about, that's difficult to imagine, but it's worth considering in less overt cases.

When you choose to speak up, don't accuse them of something.

Be careful not to level accusations. Czopp’s research shows that harsh statements, such as “That’s racist,” resulted in much more defensive reactions. He says that most people have an “exaggerated view” of what these terms mean, so they react strongly: “We think of white supremacists, the KKK, and cross burning — anything that implies that we’re on the same continuum as those things is upsetting.” Williams agrees: “It might feel righteous to call people out, but no one wants to hear that they’re being sexist, racist, or otherwise offensive.”

But, later in the list of suggestions, they say that in blatant cases, calling it out might be the right choice:

Depending on the severity of the offense, you may decide you’re not concerned about the other person’s sense of self, says William: “You may feel that you need to just call it out.” And that’s fine to do as long as you’ve weighed the costs. If the person gets their hackles up and gets defensive, “you’ve now got another piece of information about who this person is,” says Williams.

Other suggestions for how to respond (there are actually many more of them than I feel like I should include here) are:

  • Explain your reaction to the comment - how it makes you feel
  • Ask a question - “What did you mean by that comment?” or “What information are you basing that on?”
  • Share information - help educate them by offering an observation or more information.

Hopefully, in a group situation, someone else will pick up on your bravery in responding to this sort of talk and join up with you and this person may realize that that sort of talk isn't welcome. The goal isn't to change that person - that may be impossible. The point is to challenge them so that they realize that their abusive language isn't welcome.

This applies in pretty much any situation where someone is saying something awful about anyone or any group. It doesn't matter what the person's gender, race, religion, sexual orientation or identification is. This behavior needs to stop and we all need to help each other fight it.

When someone is treated as an object instead of a person, that behavior is inappropriate. Saying someone is beautiful or handsome is fine as long as they're showing respect for them. Turning them into a thing that you're judging based on their looks or "do-ability" is not.

I read that story the other day and it really bothered me. Not only that it happened but the response from people who were essentially defending the men who were making these jokes. This boys' club, "locker room talk" attitude is disgusting and is the source of many of the various insidious forms of sexism that exist in our culture.

I think that, as someone who's looking to speak up, it's important - necessary, even - to do so because I can bet that the woman who overheard that talk wasn't the only one who was uncomfortable but it takes a lot of courage to speak up in that situation, particularly if the people you're interacting with are generally people who you respect or in a position of authority. The woman in that story, if one of the listeners had spoken up, might not have felt like so much of an outcast.

One of the responses to that Twitter chain really resonates with me:

Hi Jake, I agree on so many levels. I've heard men who are less critical thinkers in #infosec dismiss women speaking out as "flakes", but if you go to root cause, as you did, it can lead to positive change.

We need to get to the point we understand why these sorts of things are considered acceptable so that we can fight them and get them to stop. Letting people know that their behavior will be challenged is a good way to start.

  • Did you mean to say unambivalent in the first sentence? Unambiguous would be the more expected word. Either makes sense as an intended meaning, but the former has no reinforcement from immediate context. Commented Mar 25, 2018 at 20:29

After a comment below I now want to state first, because I think I was misunderstood, that rape jokes are NEVER OK, regardless of context. However, it does depend on the context how to address them. Also in general I don't think it is necessary for a group to make such jokes to make someone else uncomfortable, that is why I start with my first clarification. There are different kinds of objectification and "sexual talk" and there are different reasons for them.

So after the update, first I want to clarify something on the general side: women also speak about men as "pieces of meat". It is rather common. If a person find someone attractive but doesn't know them as a person and they are in a group with people with their same sexual orientation, it is very common for them to say sexual things about said other person. That doesn't mean they don't think the other person is not human or anything of the sort, it is just normal human behavior. This of course doesn't mean everyone does it, it goes with personality.

Now a general advice, men (and women really) wouldn't talk (usually) like this if they are aware a member of the other sex is around, because this is not a behavior aimed to make the other person feel bad, it is just goofing around in a "we like sex, we are the same gender/have same sexual orientation, we understand each other" kind of way.

So if you are in a context were there are women around, just tell them in a nice way. Don't say it like "you idiots", say it more like "oops we made a mistake" kind of way.

Hey guys there are ladies around here, let's be quiet or change the topic

They will probably make some joke about you being such a gentleman or so and actually tone down the conversation.

Clarification: This advice refers to situations when a group of people is talking sexually, in a normal way, and not doing rape jokes or comments of the sort, that as I already said are never ok. I am talking of general sex talk that wouldn't let the other person be comfortable, whether men or women. You can't forbid people talking this way, but you can tell them that there are appropriate places. For instance saying "that woman has nice figure" or "that guy has great abs" is not bad, but you certainly shouldn't be saying things like that, that are meant to be heard by your friends in a way just about anyone, specially of the other gender could hear them. Sometimes people fail to see that, normal sex talk happens in these places, which is inappropriate in the setting but not as a general rule. So if you demonize it and make too harsh a stand, it is actually counterproductive, because it doesn't make them feel they are wrong, they feel like you are overreacting and decide you are just oversensitive. I have seen this happen a lot, so the way you proceed in these situations should depend on what it's being said. And sometimes just pointing out there are women (or men if it is the other way around) is enough.

How do I know this works? Because I have seen it working a gazillion times. Take into consideration that people usually don't want to be embarrassed in public or be seen as awful by people they don't know. So they would be actually thankful that you made them notice that they are messing up.

Now more detailed advice:

If they are just goofing around, the above should be enough, and as I said it is just natural behavior and to be somewhat expected with many people of the same gender/sexual preference together in the same place with drinks. However, as someone in your twitter link said, rape jokes are never ok.

So what to do if someone goes really overboard and makes rape jokes or something else extremely rude? You can either show your discomfort in an honest way or in a joking way, it will depend on the situation, and how you see it. If you are natural and don't try to act like the righteousness protector it should be fine.

Key to this is to not be judgmental: don't make comments about the person, their family or whatever. Sometimes, people are just really lousy at making jokes and get very overboard, but they are not bad, so you can say something like:

  • Hey dude that's not cool!

  • Hey don't go around giving people bad ideas! She is a brilliant professional and you shouldn't be talking about her like that.

  • Friend name here, sorry but that makes me a bit uncomfortable, I mean she is hot, but she deserves respect, she was brilliant in the conference, so lets tone down the jokes please.

Some of these options may make you sound a tad more serious than you may feel comfortable with, but if they are joking they wont take it wrong. They will probably just joke about your "seriousness" and move on. You might even be surprised by some of them agreeing with you. It is amazing how many times people actually feel uncomfortable about these kind of jokes but don't say anything because they are embarrassed to do so, they want to look "cool", be "a part of the pack".

The key here is that they are just joking and being silly and they are not truly mean, so you shouldn't linger in the topic. "Nagging" about it won't do anything for your cause, it will just make you look like annoying. If you express yourself clearly without being mean/rude or judgmental (like saying what an awful person they are for saying such things) they will actually respect you and see you as a person that speaks out when necessary.

Now if they are actually being mean, well you have to consider why are they being mean. Is it that they feel threatened by her? Or is just that they are not used to work with women and they feel she think she is better than them? When an outsider comes and is really good, even better than other people of the group, people sometimes feel like the outsider is being standoffish or arrogant, when it is just them not understanding the outsider. Why do I say outsider? In a field dominated by a gender, a member of the other gender is an outsider. It could also just be that they are plain chauvinistic or mere idiots.

  • If they behavior comes from feeling threatened, then it is a bit similar to when they are goofing around, they are just being silly. So you should point it out in a non-judgmental way. Say "please let's not talk about a colleague like that" and of course saying that it makes you uncomfortable would help too. You can mention some good points about the other person, topics of the conference, or how clear she was or whatever positive thing. If they feel threatened, it is their problem and you can't fix that, but you can certainly make them see it is not cool to talk like that, and then move on.
  • If they think she is arrogant and that is why they are being nasty about her, the question is: was she really arrogant? Was she really nasty in some way? Well in that case you could agree with them that she is nasty but that is no way to talk about anyone anyway, NOT COOL, and why would they even want to be with a woman they find nasty in the first place? That is just crazy. So you can say something "What the heck dude, I know she wasn't nice but that is no way to talk about anyone! And also, maybe her bad behavior came from having a bad day, and god knows we all have had one of those! Remember when I -here some experience you had or one of them-?". And then joke around a different topic. If she on the contrary was a delight, well just tell them "wooow what just happened? when was she anything but nice? -here you can give some examples-" and then close it saying the same as pointed out before, or that it makes you uncomfortable or that this is no way to talk about anyone.
  • If they are mere idiots, well just do the same as when they were just goofing around. Say it makes you uncomfortable or whatever, stay in the group a bit more and then just go away. Sadly when someone is being idiotic, sometimes there is nothing you can do. As they say, idiocy doesn't hurt the idiot, it hurts the people around the idiot. The only way to fight idiocy is with literacy, tell them what you think without being judgmental. And then consider, do you want to be around those idiots? Probably not, so walk off after a safe amount of time.
  • If they are chauvinistic, it gets tricky. But since rape jokes are never OK, and I think even a chauvinistic person should see that, I would start with that. You could even make a parallel, like "Jason you wouldn't want anyone making such a joke about your daughter". This kind of men see women as less than human, but that doesn't mean they hate them. It is kind of like with a dog: they wouldn't want anyone being nasty with their dog, so they won't be nasty with someone else's dog. Again it is really hard to change a chauvinistic to non-chauvinistic. In general, this is a behavior rooted in childhood, where even sometimes their own mothers told them wrong. So you can start with the basics, making them be nice and respectful towards women and keep their thoughts to themselves. If they are any smart, in the end they will come to respect the women around them because they will see women are just as bright. But you shouldn't let a chauvinistic person ever get away with their chauvinistic remarks. Never be judgmental, but don't let it pass. And try to get allies that think like you, so you are not the only one who says these things. Don't linger on the topics either. This is a problem that requires a lot of time to be solved, and cannot be done in one shot - it requires steady and unrelenting work.

Where do I come from? I am a woman that works in a men-dominated field. I have seen all this, I have seen this behavior and others, and also I have seen many ways to handle these problems. And I can tell you, letting them pass has never worked, in general it just gets worse. So what you should consider is the situation and how to address it. It is not the same if someone is being silly as if that someone is being mean. I have also read many books about human behavior and conflict management and even taken a course here and there.

I hope my comments are of help to you.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Catija
    Commented Mar 23, 2018 at 23:54

Usually there is a code of conduct at these conferences. I would not embarrass anyone, but maybe pull someone aside and point it out that they were making the atmosphere unwelcoming. I have heard a lot of racist things intended to be heard within earshot at some of these conferences and just stopped going. It was not enjoyable to be there. That's another option, vote with your feet and watch the broadcast online. I know the conference of which you are speaking. There was not enough fun to be had for the micro-aggressions. Easier to watch it online without the drama.


I miss an effective strategy noted so far which I also use myself and which avoids trying to interact with the perpetrators.

  • Make a conspicous noise: Put your glass down, shift your chair noisily backwards, cough strongly. It is not important what exactly it is, it's just so that the perpetrators notice you.

  • Then move away from them while avoiding eye contact, simply signaling with your body that they are the reason you are moving. No verbal reproach or remark, it is not necessary, they understand the message which you can verify because they stop talking for a while.

It avoids all those issues of social rank, being a moral teacher or interrupting a conversation (Are we talking to you?). The thing is that in a group setting people try to socialize and ostracism is noticed strongly in such a setting, even by a non-group member.

The crux is that the whole thing is a paradoxon: Those people who notice such things, think about it and try making it better are the last persons who should actually care about it and the persons who really should care about it are the very problem.

One thing you should be aware of: The trigger was a twitter thread where a man explains that a woman explained to him what she noticed from other people. That are two levels of indirection, only base your behavior on things you are directly observing or being told by one person directly (and even then carefully). Don't base your indignation on something you have heard only indirectly, you risk being burned.

  • 1
    Perhaps no other answer covered this options because it doesn't really fit the question of "how to be assertive" and address the person speaking inappropriately, and not whether to just admit defeat without actually trying. Additionally,is the veracity of the triggering thread relevant? The hypothetical being posed here is a very realistic and common scenario regardless of whether the originating story can be dismissed. Commented Mar 25, 2018 at 23:41
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    @HonoredMule The asker said that he "would just leave the conversation" which is not the same thing as leaving while openly signaling nonverbally your displeasure. I think that the power of nonverbal communication is severely underestimated and the belief that you need to speak sth to have "done something" is unwarranted. You can address the inappropiate person and be assertive without saying a word. But on the other hand I may be just able enough to communicate my intent nonverbally, so perhaps this solution is simply not for everyone. Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 0:27
  • @HonoredMule I am not concerned about the veracity of the twitter account (that bad talk can happen any time), I am more concerned about investing time to fix things that might happen to oneself. Lifetime is precious and if you fix things when they actually happen to you (and not, if you or others think the problem is important!), you spare yourself much time and trouble. The OT seems to be intent to "convert" people to better people...sorry, I think, it is a wonderful opportunity to waste lifetime. Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 0:42
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    I think this is an extremely immature way of handing this situation. This approach borders on passive-aggressive behavior / expecting men to "pick up on signals". There are much more direct ways of confronting this behavior.
    – James
    Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 4:17
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    @David The situation explained by the OT is that the hurtful comments are mentioned inside the group and you get it only by overhearing it. If you try a much more direct way, you need to interrupt and critize the group, but before you get to that the group will likely cut you down immediately by "Who are you? Did we ask you for your opinion? Bugger off." You have no right to be heard. Peter's answer suggested short, concise and not overly aggressive sentences for exactly this reason. Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 20:25

Short version: Shift the conversation toward the subject's feelings and worthiness of respectful treatment.

Humans will almost always resist and defend against external correction, resorting to counterattack if other avenues are not left open. Particularly for someone without power or authority, the best approach is usually to stage an environment that allows people optimal opportunity to change their own minds, with just enough of a push to ensure they consciously notice that opportunity.

If you still want a balance closer to direct confrontation than oblique redirection, I would suggest presenting a role-reversal situation: "Perhaps she would prefer you be on the receiving end of that exchange;" or dropping the hypothetical context: "Is that the kind of treatment you believe women enjoy?" This is an approach likely to reach your shared audience, but not the original speaker, at whom you are still directing a personal attack.

You'd have to be good at reading the room to find the right tone, but could potentially corner the alpha into sympathizing with the object of his attention as a real human being. Successful or not, it also presents beta-types an opportunity to switch sides at less personal risk—particularly if you take a humorous tone that allows them to participate in turning the joke on its author. "Given the choice, I bet she'd rather ____ you in the ___."

The humorous approach is more subtle, cowardly, and crude, but also easier. It closely matches the existing tone of conversation and leaves a lot of room to avoid reflecting on the appropriateness of prior statements.

The key characteristic in whatever you say should be that it re-humanizes the subject of their conversation. This is how you avoid giving the speaker inclination or even opening to defend or excuse their statements. Give the speaker and their audience the idea of considering the subject's feelings on their own, rather than putting their backs up by directly pointing out their fault.


All these answers have been good. Here's another angle:

You don't need to say anything

Let your face do the talking.

If you're in a group and someone starts using crude humor, don't laugh. Don't smile, don't smirk, don't be sarcastic, and don't politely redirect. Simply look them in the eye with a face of disappointment. Let the message of your face and body language be "Wow. I can't believe you just said that." That way they know how that joke made YOU feel.

They might still see this as combative and point you out, but that's the risk you take when you do something against the crowd.


To extend Peter's answer, you can also say "I don't think you really believe that" or "You're better than that" to help them save face and pose the situation as they went too far with their "act". But don't pose it as a question "Do you really believe that?" because that would invite a discussion, as well as sound like an accusation and doubt on your part. You don't want that to happen if your goal is to stop this kind of talk and change the topic.

  • I think whether you pose it as a question or not won't make much difference. A lot of people are going to be defensive and say something like "of course I don't really believe that, I'm just joking around", which is beside the point of whether it's appropriate or not. Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 19:28
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    @ Matthew Crumley "of course I don't really believe that, I'm just joking around" - Which is a deflection, followed by a change of topic. Mission accomplished.
    – Peter
    Commented Mar 28, 2018 at 12:41

Q: What can someone in the group (obviously not the alpha guy) do, to make sure the rest of the group isn't tricked into thinking this is the proper way to talk about women?

A: My suggestion would be to directly indicate that you think that the behaviour is unacceptable and confront it, but in a low-attack mode giving him the some benefit of the doubt by saying something like

That sounds like a sexist (/racist/homophobic/...) comment, but I assume that you do not want to be a sexist person. So what is the difference between your comment and a sexist comment?

This put him in a position where

  • the focus is on him and his actions, not you as a protester
  • his behaviour is clearly marked as unacceptable
  • he is allowed to defend himself
  • he is expected to defend himself

Depending on how the conversation continues, you might want to change the subject to something else using a technique I just recently learned:

Regarding blatant subject changes, I had a friend that used to use the segue, "Speaking of changing the subject... [insert completely different topic here.]" It usually drew a laugh while also leaving absolutely no room for ambiguity about not wanting to continue the current subject.


I haven't found a similar answer here, so I hope it is ok to throw it in.

People like that are probably not easy to talk to. They could get angry or start a useless discussion that would never find its end.

I personally would approach them by giving them some sort of an unconscious message. You could tell them that you like the girl or anything like that. First of all, he will start to feel bad, and he will notice that he kinda mistreated you as well.

People only discriminate others to achieve something. When they start to notice the displeasure they spread, they will probably stop and start thinking again.


Honestly I'd approach this with forthright directness. This is unacceptable behaviour and highly offensive to my sensibilities. Unless this person is in a position of authority there is no reason to try and allow them to save face.

My opening line would be "Don't be a prat", call them out. Make them face up to their sexism in a public space. I guarantee you're not the only one who feels uncomfortable, but the average person doesn't want to make a scene and would rather suffer in silence than speak up. If you speak up with confidence and call them out, you will have supporters.

To encourage your silent supporters though, have the conversation with others in the conference beforehand. Clean up your thoughts with them before addressing the source of the problem. If others are looking serious and nodding when you call this guy out, it'll go a long way to putting impact behind your words rather than making you look like you have a stick up your ass.

By calling him out in public you will make a clear statement to others that this is not only unacceptable, but also no chance you'll let them get away with it in future. which may nip future sexism in the bud.

On the other hand, if they are in a position of authority, things get more complex. Your best bet in my opinion is to have the conversations with others independently. and rather than call out the guy in public, see if you can get him alone and make it a serious discussion rather than chewing him out. Phrase it in such a way that implies that you aren't the only one feeling uncomfortable (and it's probably true!) and perhaps he'll tone it down at least.

Depending on circumstances, that second option may be your best and first choice anyway.


Often, to change attitudes you need to make them feel some sort of empathy and really understand what they are saying.

In this case, by simply asking how they would feel if someone were to talk like that about their sister? Their mother? Their daughter? That connection is usually strong and they would feel angry and upset... Then state that this woman is someone's daughter, maybe sister and maybe mother. You may get the right feeling to make a change.

If they do not care, then there's some larger issues to deal with... But you can call out their psychological issues at this point, which may diminish their leadership position.

Either way, it's a hard fought battle! But direct conflict will usually end up with both positions entrenched deeper than before.


In such situation, I believe that you can just demonstrate them how absurd and mean what they are saying is.

Just tell them that women are normal human being and that they deserve respect as they do. People shouldn't talk about other people this way. If you don't blink and don't let them any other alternative, they will just quiet down.

You won't make friend, but there's no loss with such people...

This would indeed work, because you don't let other alternatives to the person saying this, if they continue they will just feel disgusting as they will realize that the words they are saying ain't jokes. It's the same with racist jokes and all those dirty unfunny jokes, once you put people in front of themselves they can't face the reality behind what they are saying.

  • 1
    Can you please explain how or why this is supposed to work? You're basically suggesting 'try this' without further explanation. Do you have sources or experience to back your answer up?
    – Tinkeringbell
    Commented Mar 24, 2018 at 12:40
  • 1
    I don't exactly see how this would in any way rectify this particular situation.
    – James
    Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 4:14

Since I find this sort of behavior (and the sort of person the leader seems to be) particularly offensive, I'd bring out the big guns.

Something like, "Hey guys, I've got a question. How many hits do you think this will get on Youtube?" I'd expect a certain change in group behavior.

Any hostile response along the lines of, "Are you recording this?" should be met with a steady gaze and something along the lines of, "What if I am? Would that make a difference in how you think of women?" and a continued refusal to affirm or deny. Keep 'em guessing.

But then, as I say, I find this sort of behavior very offensive.


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