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What to do when you get called out



There has been a recent spate of men making inappropriate remarks. Barry Hall made a sexist joke on air. David Leyonhjelm told Greens senator Sarah to 'stop shagging men'. Bert Newton made a rape joke at the Logies. They were all called out.

Barry HallLeyonhjelm and Newton offered grudging non-apologies, Newton saying he couldn't promise he wouldn't do it again. Hall's statement made sure to emphasise this was out of character for him, and his apology was a conditional one-time event.

With the rise of social media and increasing awareness of minorities, there is a push to call out (and call in) bad behaviour. One rallying cry of the #MeToo movement is for men to step up and call each other out on their locker room talk. But what you don't hear talked about as often, at least outside feminist circles, is what to do when you're the one being called out.

The first, understandable instinct is to go on the defensive. But as hard as it is in the moment, it's not constructive to centre your feelings in your response. Acknowledge that a call out isn't a value judgement about you as a person, it's a critique of your words or behaviour.

According to Franchesca Ramsey, author of Well That Escalated Quickly, there are two elements that are key to your response to any calling out. 'The first part is to take responsibility for what you've done,' Ramsey says, 'and the second part is you make a commitment to change that behaviour.'

This means not engaging in the natural response to deflect blame by saying things like, 'It wasn't intended that way' or 'Everyone is so sensitive nowadays'. What you've done may have been unintentional, but it was still harmful. Instead you could say, 'Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I need to work on this.'

As someone who has social anxiety, I sympathise with people who find it hard to deal with confrontation. The best advice for this is by Sam Dylan Finch. It's alright to say, 'I need some time to process this before I respond', when you convey that it's in good faith. Take a breath to think about what you want to say before you apologise.


"When someone is calling you out they are doing you the favour. They're taking the time and emotional labour to tell you how your privilege is perpetuating institutions and stereotypes that are harmful."


When an apology is needed, don't offer non-apologies like, 'I'm sorry that you were offended'. (Looking at you Leyonhjelm.) It shifts blame onto the person calling you out for having feelings rather than admitting that you did the wrong thing. Instead, listen to the person making the call out and acknowledge that privilege often blinds us to the macroaggressions and systemic disadvantages that marginalised people face.

Call outs can work out for everyone involved. The person doing the calling out feels heard and the person called out learns from the situation. For example, last year Ed Skrein was offered a role in the film Hellboy and accepted it. However, after he and the production were called out for whitewashing, Skrein left the role with a statement acknowledging that the concerns of the people calling him out were valid. His response was widely accepted and Daniel Dae Kim filled the role, starting a friendship between the two actors.

This is in direct contrast to Scarlett Johansson, who in the past has been called out for whitewashing and has more recently accepted a role as a trans man. When asked for comment on the latter she said to 'tell [her critics] that they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto and Felicity Huffman's reps for comment'. (All three are cisgender actors who have gained acclaim for trans roles.) Instead of taking on the critique and opening up an opportunity for a trans actor, Johansson did a classic whataboutism and deflected responsibility.

Call outs (and ins) can feel like an attack. Sometimes the person calling you out will be hurt and angry and so might not express the call out in the best way, but when someone is calling you out they are doing you the favour. They're taking the time and emotional labour to tell you how your privilege is perpetuating institutions and stereotypes that are harmful. For you, this is one conversation, but if the person calling you out is part of a marginalised group you insulted, for them it's most likely part of a lifetime of dealing with this same experience.

In the end, apologies without action are meaningless. If it seems like the person or people calling you out are willing to educate you on the issue, then ask why what you did was wrong and have the conversation with them. But understand that they're not obligated to educate you. You need to be willing to do your own research and take steps to become a better ally in the future. If you do the work now, you can be better for next time.

Being called out (or in) for discriminatory and ignorant behaviour is uncomfortable. I've been on both sides of calling out and neither is easy. It's hard to admit that you've made a mistake. What's important is what you do next.



Neve MahoneyNeve Mahoney is a student at RMIT university. She has also contributed to Australian Catholics and The Big Issue.

Topic tags: Neve Mahoney, Barry Hall, David Leyonhjelm, Bert Newton



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Existing comments

Thanks Neve ! Another well written, thoughtful article. So timely and to the point.

Monica Phelan | 12 July 2018  

During the media storm about Sen. Leyonhjelm's inappropriate remarks to Sen.Hanson-Young, I was most interested to read a letter published in a newspaper to the effect that "what did Hanson-Young say to cause Leyonhjelm to 'lose his cool'." A most problematic observation on a number of levels but very relevant to the current spate of "calling out". When observations about other peoples' personal behaviour enters into debates then we move into dangerous territory. No one in public life is perfect and perhaps parading, in a very public way, someone's character deficits is not the best way to teach. It exposes wounds as public spectacle.

Pam Connor | 12 July 2018  

"[T]ake responsibility for what you've done ... make a commitment to change that behaviour..." Not entirely unlike the Sacrament of Reconciliation - in its most authentic expression - that we used to have in the Church! We are already forgiven; the important thing is to acknowledge with humility what we are forgiven _for_. Thank you Neve, its always worth taking time to absorb your articles and chew on them for a bit.

Richard | 12 July 2018  

The points in the article are validly made and poignant. As a male of a generation when much inappropriate comment was made and accepted, I understand my role to play in helping others of my generation, as well as my two sons, understand what is discriminatory and ignorant and what is not. However, Bert Newtown made no "rape" joke(s) at the Logies. Perhaps his self-deprecating remark at his sexuality was a little shocking, but neither of his references in relation to Graham Kennedy or Don Lane could be classed in any reasonable or objective way (by my generation or any other), as a rape joke. Your points could have been just as easily been made with reference to Hall and Leyonhjelm comments, don't over-coat it and slur for the sake of (undeservedly) slurring an Australian icon.

Tom Cranitch | 12 July 2018  

I think Leyonhjelm was 100% wrong, the other cases I don't know about. But I don't think that calling someone out necessarily means the accused has done anything wrong. Some people like to be a victim, some people have different ideas/values which they are entitled to argue for. I think of Germaine Greer who seems to be called out regularly, but she has her own thought out views, which she is entitled to and represents very well. There are such things as political correctness, and 'virtue-shaming', and I would be careful of demanding apologies of anyone on the basis of a remark. (But Leyonhjelm should have apologised immediately - what a creep!)

Russell | 12 July 2018  

Sorry, not virtue-shaming, (confused with Hanson-Young's 'slut-shaming' claim) - it's virtue-signalling!

Russell | 12 July 2018  

Sounds as though 'relationship education' is becoming ever more essential in schools. It's hard to religious the personalities of mature- age people, and if classic defensiveness has become necessary to your responses, you're probably going to need serious therapy to enable you to do it differently. On another topic - I agree that Scarlett Johansson's response missed the mark, but it's not necessary for her to step back for a trans actor. She's an excellent actor, and she doesn't need to be trans herself, any more than Hamlet must be played by Our Mary's husband.

Joan Seymour | 12 July 2018  

I await an article about ladies making inappropriate remarks . Clementine Ford has provided plenty of material.

Jenny | 13 July 2018  

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