Tips On How To Hold Men Accountable When They Say Something Problematic
As men, quite a few of us have been in this situation. You’re speaking to your mate, having a nice time, you’re enjoying each other's company. It’s all going so well until your mate decides to say something problematic, whether it’s sexist, homophobic, transphobic, ableist or else. The second they utter something so wrong, you go into a slight state of shock, it’s as if your brain has decided to stop working. You smile blankly as you take a second to mentally re-calibrate.
‘Did he just say?’ is the first thing that comes to your mind as you mentally leave the room and the conversation. This is followed by you endlessly re-playing the scene just to be sure you’re not hearing things. While you’re getting wound-up trying to validate what your friend said, the conversation has moved on. By the time you’ve validated what was said it’s all too late and you’ve now moved into the ‘I should have said something, why didn’t I say something?’ phase. This phase is the longest part of this journey and depending on who you are and what was said, this phase could last days, weeks or even years.
This is an experience I’ve navigated a lot in my life - especially growing up. This experience is that ‘moment’ where not only does your opinion of your mate changes but also yourself, due to your inaction. It’s this experience which enters un-announced when you’re spouting some ‘woke’ stuff online or in-person years later to remind you that you’re not all that you project to be. This experience can have a lasting impact, however, it’s important to remember that your reaction to it and you as a person can change - for the better. That is if you want to change, a lot of us don’t because holding other men accountable isn’t something we do. Holding men accountable isn’t normalised amongst men for a variety of reasons such as not wanting to lose friendships or being worried that we’ll look ‘sensitive’. However, one of the most important reasons as to why we as men don’t hold other men accountable is because we want to stay complicit and maintain toxic-patriarchy which we perceive as beneficial to us. When in reality it damages us so heavily.
Despite these internal and external barriers, some of us decide to start our journey towards becoming better human beings and allies against patriarchy and toxic masculinity. Generally speaking, the journey towards becoming a better human being is unique to each individual, however, a central theme of this journey is being action-orientated. Action that is not only present online but more importantly in our day to day lives, where it can be argued we have the most impact.
Holding other men accountable is important for a number of reasons. For example, calling out a mate when he says something problematic is a positive example of us using our male privilege to challenge toxic behaviours and beliefs.
Similarly, holding men accountable can be the difference between being disliked by a mate for ‘cockblocking’ and sexual harassment being enacted towards womxn. This is incredibly important to point out as research shows that 20% of womxn have experienced sexual harassment in the UK due to the behaviours of men. It’s worth noting that this is a conservative figure due to the lack of structural support provided to womxn who come forward. As such many survivors of sexual harassment choose not to report.
Given my history of staying complicit during moments like this growing up, this is an area I’ve been working on a lot in my 20’s. So, here are a few tips that have helped me in my journey of holding men accountable, friends or otherwise, when they say something problematic.
Take a moment to gather your thoughts - If another man says something problematic the first thing I do is take a moment to register what they’ve said - this helps me to create emotional distance. Normally I struggle quite a lot with being vocal on the spot, so if needed I take a moment to gather my thoughts. Once I’ve gathered my thoughts I think about what I am going to say and how I am going to say it . For example, is my tone going to be educational, stern or else.
Think about the approach you want to take - It’s important to think about what tone you’re going to take when holding other men accountable. The tone I take varies depending on the context, the severity of what was said and most importantly how receptive I think the person is going to be when being held accountable. I always try to take an educational approach because it allows me to actively work with the person - especially if they are a friend.
At the end of the day who am I to pretend to be any better when I used to think and say such problematic things myself?
Be mindful not to be confrontational - As individuals who have been socialised as cis-men, it is all too common for us to be combative and aggressive when it comes it resolving conflict. Which is what this situation can turn into. This is why I try to be super-mindful not to slip into old-socialised patterns of being confrontational when holding men accountable. This isn’t a battle for my ego or a display of my ‘wokeness’. Instead it is a process where I am working with someone so that they can recognise that what they said was discriminatory. Ultimately, the aim is to grow out of this experience together.
Prepare resources - One of the best ways I’ve been able to engage men when they’ve said something problematic is by engaging them through resources. Whether it’s articles, podcasts or even films. Through shared resources that challenge, confront and educate we can treat this process as a journey rather than a moment.
Be accountable - I always try my best to maintain accountability throughout this process - for the other person and for myself. For me, accountability goes beyond the initial ‘calling out’. Accountability in this context for me means doing the work and emotional labour that’s required so that we can grow together from this experience This means constantly engaging with my friend over shared resources to discussing the subject regularly when we chat. It also means doing the unglamorous work of chasing up, because I assure you will be left on read now and then on Whatsapp.
Accountability is one of the most important parts of the journey because otherwise what happens is that the responsibility of holding men accountable is forced upon womxn in our lives and wider society. This is something which has damaging consequences and it’s something I’ve written about recently.
These are just some of the ways in which I’ve developed an approach on how to hold men accountable when they’ve said something problematic. By no means am I an ‘authority’ on the subject let alone someone who claims to be a ‘woke’ man. However, I am someone who’s trying to cultivate ways in which we as self-identifying men can grow so that we start to address the damages we enact on ourselves and wider society. Something which in my view starts first and foremost in our personal lives.
Love & Light.
Someone Who Cares