How do I stick up for my beliefs and not be a member of the PC police?
July 24, 2010 1:06 AM   Subscribe

How do I stick up for my beliefs while not being a member of the PC police?

Lately, I've been finding myself biting my tongue over the comments of my friends and acquaintances. Things like "You know how girls are... They ALWAYS complain" "Ugh, I couldn't stand living with a bunch of GIRLS" (ironically coming from other women). Or men going out of their way to point out how ugly and/or fat another woman is, in a context where her looks are completely irrelevant.

I want to correct them and explain that these are harmful attitudes, and at the very least, are offensive to me. But I don't want to be the joykill at the party. I also like to shoot the shit and relax, and I don't want my friends to walk on eggshells around me. In addition, I sometimes find that talking about sexism with other people is totally exhausting and hopeless.

How can I still stay true to my beliefs without sacrificing the relationship I have with my friends?
posted by joeyjoejoejr to Human Relations (25 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
Start off very simply, "harsh dude.... WTF?" for a really egregious comment, or a "Do you really think you'd have a problem living with all girls?" just to allow them to check themselves a little. The simpole question "why?" gently put is very powerful.

Often it is simply said because they believe that's what the groupmind thinks, if you alter that equation, you alter the whole dynamic.

Now addmittedly it's because some of these are sheeple, so you need to see how comfortable you are hanging around with X% of your group being sheeple (I've worked out 10%, but I'm really lucky with the lifestyle I lead, I suspect for some people I know the % is much higher and they're simply afraid to be lonely).

So after the justifications, you will see who your "allies" are so develope these relationships further. Get together with them separately and say things like, "I was really uncomfortable when Tom spoke about that woman like that....",
note whether there is any change, in your group dynamic with more people asking those simply questions and "checking" the groupmind. Same priciples as any activism really.
If no change I would start actively avoiding certain people.

Start paying careful attention to the justifications and whether you can absorb the kind of low grade negativity for long. I'm not going to go all new age on you, but I firmly believe that this is a bit like an accumulating toxin, it slowly builds up into something very bad for the system. That system being your mental health.

This is a great question and kudos to you for asking it, but there is an old Spanish saying. "mejor sola que mal acompaƱada", People assume I'm the life and soul of the party but I live by this. I will only stay around people who don't bring me down.
posted by Wilder at 1:26 AM on July 24, 2010


OK. What exactly are your beliefs, and what are your goals concerning them? Because the first paragraph of your post, while consistent in a really broad way, appears to portray three completely different scenarios. Also, it's hard to tell who's complaining about the women who "ALWAYS complain" in your first example - is it men saying this, or other women?

I think we need some more info about what your beliefs are that you're trying to stay true to. Do you mean you believe that there are zero differences between men and women? Do you mean that your female friend(s) should suck it up and live with girls even though they probably wouldn't like it? (I wouldn't).

The third point (about your friends commenting on fat/ugly women) is one that you are completely justified in speaking up on. Next time your friend says, "What a cow!" you are completely free to mock that friend's beer gut and inform him that such comments do not fly in the world of gentlemen.

Please do elaborate, because I think we could help you more if your goals/beliefs were more specific.
posted by deep thought sunstar at 1:49 AM on July 24, 2010


ALways use 'I' statements and evidence e.g. "I felt offended by what you just said because you stereotyped all women as being loud. In my experience women are not all alike....etc"

If it really matters to you/is that offensive you'll have to run the risk of being seen as a member of the PC police.

If your friends really think its okay to say things like you've mentioned, which you find offensive; how do you reconcile that behaviour with friendship. Is it a few rare occasions? or ongoing?

I've faced this too, its hard work. Good luck.
posted by MT at 2:52 AM on July 24, 2010


First couple of scenarios: ask, in a completely neutral, open manner: "What's the difference between living with males or females? Why wouldn't you want to live with girls?" Turn the comment into an actual conversation with substance rather than a string of cliched funnies.

Third scenario: Say mildly, "Well, I guess you don't have to be thin to be a good X (or whatever fits the scenario)," or just glaze over the fat comment entirely and say something like, "Yeah, I've heard Mary is the best X working here," and then just change the subject.

Recognize when you can turn a harmful, tossed off phrase into something more meaningful or less hurtful, and when you can't.

Injecting "I" statements, such as "I feel offended when you say..." when you are in social situations is definitely going to send you right over into the PC police/joykill territory.
posted by frobozz at 3:54 AM on July 24, 2010 [5 favorites]


If someone is talking about Sue being fat, try asking how her weight is relevant. And wait for an answer. Smile when you do it, to take the edge off, but wait to see what they say. You might not get them to change their attitudes, but you'll probably get them to stop saying such ridiculous things around you.

Do you want to stand up for your beliefs, or do you want your friends to change their behaviour? People rarely change without a compelling reason to do so, and if you're the sort of person that makes offhanded upsetting statements, then caring about someone else being upset by that isn't really going to work, because you obviously don't care.

The problem lies with the fact that people like to be accepted, and they rarely like to be challenged, especially by people that they expect to accept them. Don't be surprised if people don't want to hang out with you if you challenge them. But that's not really a problem - if people don't accept you for who you are, then forget about them [that sentiment cuts both ways].

I think it's great that you want to stand up for your beliefs & worldview (whatever they may be). It shows a good deal of empowerment on your part. Not everyone is going to share them, though, and you will probably get a bit of change on the part of other people when you change the situation. Chemistry amongst people is kinda like chemistry in a lab. Add a new catalyst, and you get change.
posted by Solomon at 4:17 AM on July 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


Choose your battles, and choose your responses. Sometimes a funny, smart ass comeback will be the way to go. Sometimes shock and disbelief and a little bit of distaste in a "I can't believe you'd say something like that, let alone think it!" along with a head shake, and walk away to talk to someone else. Sometimes, all you need to do to make the point that their opinions aren't universal is to say "I don't agree." and move on.
posted by lemniskate at 4:50 AM on July 24, 2010


Lately, I've been finding myself biting my tongue over the comments of my friends and acquaintances. [...] Or men going out of their way to point out how ugly and/or fat another woman is

Any environment where that is acceptable is an environment where "so's your mom" is an acceptable reply.
posted by Mike1024 at 5:03 AM on July 24, 2010 [10 favorites]


I want to correct them and explain that these are harmful attitudes, and at the very least, are offensive to me. But I don't want to be the joykill at the party. I also like to shoot the shit and relax, and I don't want my friends to walk on eggshells around me. In addition, I sometimes find that talking about sexism with other people is totally exhausting and hopeless.

Many, many women feel as though they have to walk on eggshells around their friends, that they can't really be themselves, that they can never quite get comfortable in a conversation because they never know when someone they think is their friend is going to betray them by saying something horrible (and yes this applies to male and female friends). And many women do not have the social capital to call out these statements (e.g., you're hanging out with your boyfriend's friends), or just get totally exhausted from having to either sit there with their teeth gritted or having to "ruin everybody's fun" by pointing out that the "fun" is actually really offensive. Since we're living in the 21st century, it should not be controversial to point out that not all women act one way and not all men act another way, that a woman's looks are completely irrelevant to the conversation, etc.

I know it can be hard to call out your friends, but, really and truly, you may be making many of your companions much more comfortable by speaking up, and you may be helping your friends who are perfectly comfortable with sexism learn socially appropriate behavior. I don't have advice for how to do it differently, just encouragement that you are doing important, meaningful work and are helping to carry the load of that work for people who may not be able to speak up in a particular context.
posted by hydropsyche at 6:06 AM on July 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


I agree with lemniskate. You've got to learn to slyly school people. Feign innocence or change the subject or make a witty comment, anything to break the pattern. Do something weird. Sneeze. Pretend you just thought of something else urgent. You don't actually have to be honest with people to get them to change. In fact, it's much easier not to be. It's like a Pavliovian dog response thing, just train them over time by withholding positive reinforcement.
posted by Nixy at 6:18 AM on July 24, 2010


Injecting "I" statements, such as "I feel offended when you say..." when you are in social situations is definitely going to send you right over into the PC police/joykill territory.


Yeah.

Also, if you use words like "offensive" and "stereotype" people who are on the lookout for such things are going to label you PC and feel free to disregard what you said. The term PC drives me nuts anyway, because most of the time it's used to characterize someone's speech and/or ascribe a motive to it, as a substitute for legitimate argument. "You're just saying that because you think it's the politically correct thing to say," is often the subtext. But if you use certain words, you in turn risk sounding like you are characterizing the other person's speech rather than addressing what they said. I like the rest of frobozz's post because it suggests things you can say to deal with the specific situation.

On the other hand, if this is someone who just likes to utter offensive slurs, maybe you need to tell them to shut up and/or walk away.
posted by BibiRose at 6:37 AM on July 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


A sort of amazed frown, and a disapproving, "Really?!?" might work better, if you can convey by tone of voice, "Is that the cleverest thing you could have said?" I.e. don't complain about their politics. Complain about their lack of wit. They're saying cruel things to feel witty, so that turns their strength into a weakness.
posted by musofire at 6:50 AM on July 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Is that the cleverest thing you could have said?"

If someone said that to me I'd have to stifle the urge to punch them in the face. Don't say that.
posted by nathancaswell at 8:01 AM on July 24, 2010


You could stay within your cultural paradigm by teasing and joking:

To answer the girls always complain thing, something like, "Not like you, right Bob?" In a sarcastic tone, to Bob, who is complaining about girls right that minute!

Or to be less personal, "I know! I mean guys like us NEVER complain, right?"

Or, more absurdest, but hopefully drawing attention to the dumbness of the conversation: "You're so right! Plus, girls totally have cooties!"

Or, "I guess that attitude is why you get layed so much, right Bob?" (to the guy who is insecure about not dating enough.


You can also simply model good behavior by verbalizing your admiration and respect for the same women these guys are running down, talking about how brainy or funny or interesting various women in your work and social circle are. Or talking about women you think are cute who they thing are too fat and ugly or whatever.
posted by serazin at 8:05 AM on July 24, 2010


I often respond to things like this by saying, "Wow, REALLY?" in an incredulous voice and then laughing. Laughing as though someone just inadvertently stepped in dog shit.

(Except I wouldn't actually laugh if one of my friends stepped in dog shit, but you know what I mean.)
posted by Ouisch at 8:07 AM on July 24, 2010


You know, I just realized I was assuming you're a guy and I don't know if you are. I think the answer to this question is different, depending on your gender. If you're a woman and these guys don't respond to a simple, "You know what? That bothers me.", they might not be reformable, unfortunately. I really don't have advice beyond just asking simply and directly for respect once or twice, and hopefully they'll mostly remember after that.

If you're a guy, then I stick by my original advice of trying to call out the culture with a playful but firm attitude.

Also, if you are a guy, I don't recommend calling out sexism when a woman is displaying it. It is troubling, but not up to guys to police.
posted by serazin at 8:13 AM on July 24, 2010


"Ugh, I couldn't stand living with a bunch of GIRLS" (ironically coming from other women)

It's been a few years since I've lived in the college co-ed housing situations, but my arrangement was pretty good. I lived with some good friends, both (college-aged) men and women, in a small-to-average sized house. The ladies were happy to have guys in the house, after some dramatic women-only housing situations. They had lived with "a bunch of girls" and found it overly dramatic at times, and trying on friendships. I've seen best friends part ways because of co-habitation, and more often it's women than men. Yes, there are friendships that grow from living together, but everyone remembers the explosions and tragedies, less so the good times and contentment.

Other than that, I think a more casual approach to be less aggravating. In response to "You know how girls are... They ALWAYS complain" maybe come back with an almost uninterested "huh, in my classes / work / club, it seems the women complain less about schoolwork / workload / events."
posted by filthy light thief at 8:35 AM on July 24, 2010


Also, if you are a guy, I don't recommend calling out sexism when a woman is displaying it

Why not? I'm a woman, and I think anyone and everyone should call out sexism, no matter who it comes from. Isn't a bit sexist to suggest otherwise? (Ha ha). Gender stereotypes hurt everyone, not just women.

OP, I frequently feel the way you do, especially when hanging out with a bunch of male friends (although female friends have also said horribly sexist things). I think the best way to react is with humor. The example serazin gave of saying "Us guys never complain, right?" is spot-on. You should counter the sexist remarks by turning the tables to show just how ridiculous these biases are.
posted by Lobster Garden at 8:36 AM on July 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also: sticking up for your beliefs doesn't mean you have to make everything confrontational. If you feel you should speak your mind, do so, but balance your comments on their statement. If it's an off-handed comment, keep it casual. If it's denying someone a job or an opportunity based on gender, push a little harder.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:38 AM on July 24, 2010


So, your friends are free to say all sorts of things that you find offensive, but you don't want to say anything about it for fear of offending them? So what if you get labeled PC? They're sexist and I know which label I'd prefer. If you don't feel up to correcting them every time they do this, how about a simple "not cool." If they care about your opinion, they will ask you why it's not cool, and you can feel free to educate them. Chances are they know, and they don't care - in that case, you can feel free to not care if they're offended by you telling them to shut the hell up.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 10:05 AM on July 24, 2010


Also, if you are a guy, I don't recommend calling out sexism when a woman is displaying it
Why not? I'm a woman, and I think anyone and everyone should call out sexism, no matter who it comes from. Isn't a bit sexist to suggest otherwise? (Ha ha). Gender stereotypes hurt everyone, not just women.


Only because weak call-outs make it look like you're making a fuss about nothing, which could reduce your credibility and the credibility of the arguments you're making. And there would be potential for a call-out to end up pretty weak if you used something along the lines of "Imagine how a woman would feel if she heard you say that" on a woman.

On the other hand, a humorous response would probably work just fine, as it doesn't invite debate.
posted by Mike1024 at 10:25 AM on July 24, 2010


This may make people a little bit mad in my experience, but generally they are too taken aback to do much about it: 'Ha, ha, ha. Good thing no one's looking at us like that, right guys?', accompanied by a poke at the speaker's fat gut, or incipient baldness, or tacky clothing, or any other point of vulnerability.
posted by jamjam at 10:42 AM on July 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


In my experience, comments like these are made by people seeking a lot of amirite? laughs. One counter measure could be to do exactly the opposite and corner them into unpacking their thinking behind the comment. Essentially, force them to explain their dumbass joke. I get that you want to be able to relax with your friends and keep things comfortable but, well, hearing this shit seems to be making you pretty tense, seems to be interfering rather a lot with your comfort. I don't see any problem with making someone who says this kinda mess feel uncomfortable about saying it.

In most of these instances, a simple "That's a pretty messed-up thing to say. Why do you think that?" is a pretty good way to bat it back to the commenter while also quietly stating that you're not onboard with their attitudes and their assumption of your approval. You could ask them what bearing a woman's looks have on the matter at hand - try and get them to explain in detail why being overweight might make a woman less of a, I dunno, an accountant or whatever. There will be evasion attempts, sure, but keep prodding'em with questions until they admit that either their position is poorly thought out or, at the very least, stop saying shit like that around you. I also like a number of the reversals stated above - putting a guy who comments on the looks of a woman on the defensive about his own looks and so on.

I reckon there might be a larger question beneath all of this. You say you want to stand up for your beliefs without really rocking the boat, being labeled a "PC policeman" and potentially alienating these friends and acquaintances. Makes me wonder how much you enjoy hanging out with people prone to talking in such reductive terms. I mean, there's a reason I try to avoid amirite? conversations - they're a bummer and they're tedious and there's better uses of my time. I recently attended a comics convention with a group of folks, one of which was a fellow I thought had the potential to be a good pal until I realized the first thing he said about any of the lady cartoonists we were meeting was the quality of their asses. No thank you! Once I spotted this pattern, I couldn't take the guy serious any more. Why sink a lot of time into hanging out with someone that makes you feel tense? Are you doing yourself any favors by doing so?
posted by EatTheWeak at 12:57 PM on July 24, 2010


Sometimes, when people are relaxing among friends, they say things that they don't actually mean, or that they know aren't appropriate for public consumption. The fact that friends can act this way around each other is a way of validating the relationship. The subtext is: Here, among friends, I can dispense with the normal rules, can't I? And the friends implicitly say, Yes, of course, we know you, you are safe here.

In such a context, calling someone out will mainly serve to make you look socially clueless.

Some of the advice given above might be appropriate if the context is arbitrary and easy to walk away from, i.e. you're at a big party talking to someone you just met. The stakes are low, for you and for them.

But if you're just chilling with your boys, and someone says something that they wouldn't say on a date or in front of their mother, and it has no actual bearing to the situation at hand (say, drinking beer), then that's a social trope, and the best thing you can do for yourself is to connect the dots.

Otherwise, what you're really saying to the person who offended your delicate sensibilities is: Only one of us belongs here. And then your friends will be left to wonder which one of you that is.
posted by bingo at 6:07 PM on July 24, 2010


But if you're just chilling with your boys, and someone says something that they wouldn't say on a date or in front of their mother, and it has no actual bearing to the situation at hand (say, drinking beer), then that's a social trope, and the best thing you can do for yourself is to connect the dots.

Otherwise, what you're really saying to the person who offended your delicate sensibilities is: Only one of us belongs here. And then your friends will be left to wonder which one of you that is.


From what you're saying it sounds like the OP's friends have already made the decision that people who don't like hateful speech don't belong there and there's nothing the OP can do except find new friends who don't perpetuate stereotypes to bond or whatever.
posted by hydropsyche at 3:46 AM on July 25, 2010


People make these comments to feel more secure about their opinions. They just want you to agree. They don't want to have to justify their position. So force them to by saying "What do you mean?" or "Why do you say that?".

BUT, be prepared for an awkward pause, which, having created, you are responsible for filling in. Do this by actively changing the subject or moving the conversation forward in some way. Once the punishment is delivered, don't leave everyone hanging in silence!
posted by dave99 at 3:47 AM on July 25, 2010


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