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What to do when you get called out

  • 11 July 2018
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.

Leyonhjelm 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