Calling People Out: A How-To Guide

Calling People Out: A How-To Guide

Calling people out is somewhat of a ‘trend’ in the social justice age – and rightfully so. Letting people know when they’re spouting problematic bullshit is essential to changing the world. 

Although call out culture often gets a bad wrap, I think it’s crucial in this day and age. It’s 2017 and trans women are still excluded from feminism, black people are still being murdered by police, and LGBT+ people are still being treated as less-than-human. It’s clear that if we want to change things, we’ve got to start calling people out on their bullshit. We can no longer turn a blind eye, or hope that with time and gentle education people will change their minds. We’ve got to call people out, loudly and unapologetically.

That is, of course, easier said than done – especially in real life. Sure, it’s easy enough to reply to a Tweet, leave a blog comment, or interact virtually with problematic strangers. It’s less easy to speak out on public transport; and harder still at family gatherings.

But if 2016 has proved anything, it’s that tweeting strangers on the internet isn’t enough. If we want to change the world – or even just stop actual fascists getting elected – we need to start having the hard conversations offline, as well as online.

So if you want to start challenging the patriarchy, racism, homophobia, ableism, or anything else, here are some tips for effectively calling people out in ‘real’ life.

Assess the situation

Although I’m a firm believer in challenging bullshit whenever and wherever you encounter it, I’m fully aware that it’s not always that simple. Before calling someone out offline, whether it’s a stranger, an acquaintance, or a family member – assess the situation.

The most important thing to consider is whether or not it’s safe to call someone out. If you’re a woman and a man shouts something sexist at you in the street, shouting back might not always be the safest option. If the streets are empty, or the man is in a group, it might be better to walk away rather than call them out.

Similarly, if you have a fraught relationship with your parents and still live at home, calling them out when they treat you (or others) badly might put extra strain on the relationship and make your living situation uncomfortable at best, or unsafe at worst.

Not calling people out because it is unsafe to do so doesn’t make you weak or a coward – it makes you smart. Sometimes, you just have to pick your battles for your own safety.

Consider your tone

Depending on who exactly you’re calling out – and what exactly they’ve done – your approach may differ.

If, for instance, someone said something problematic without realising, a firm but calm approach may be best. Whilst it’s important to make people aware of their mistakes, it’s also important to remember to consider their intent. Oftentimes, people don’t realise they’re being terrible, and are grateful (if a little embarrassed and maybe even defensive at first) for the opportunity to learn and better themselves. Personally, I’m so thankful to all the people who have ever challenged me on my shit – but, rightly or wrongly, the people I ended up listening to were the people who were firm but polite, rather than the ones that mocked and shouted at me.  

This is not to say that people can get away with problematic shit simply by saying ‘Oh sorry, I didn’t realise!’ Nor to say that people are entitled to your patience and manners. I’m a firm believer in being angry and being vocal about your anger. But it is important to take a moment to consider who you’re talking to, and adjust your tone accordingly (this goes for like, life, not just calling people out FYI).

If you’re talking to your 13-year-old cousin, chances are they’re not going to respond well to being yelled at. But that racist dickhead on the tube? Yell away.

Know when to walk away

This goes for calling people out both online and offline, but it’s crucial to know when to walk away.

Sometimes, it’s not worth expending your mental and emotional energy arguing in circles with a person who is clearly not going to listen. Sometimes, you’ve just got to say enough is enough and walk away, content in the knowledge that you tried.

Conversely, it can also be clear when someone might need a little extra time or attention. Telling someone they’re being problematic and then walking away won’t always be the most effective solution. Sometimes, if you want to really change someone’s mind or get them to consider their actions, you need to take a little extra time to explain why what they did was shit.

Of course, you are under NO obligation to spend your time and energy educating people. If launching into a Feminism 101 conversation seems too boring or exhausting or whatever for you, that’s fine. Tell that person to do some research, point them towards specific resources if you’re feeling particularly generous, and walk away. You do you.

Ultimately, calling people out – online and offline – is exhausting work. So don’t feel bad if you can’t do it all the time, or any of the time. There are plenty of other ways to make a difference and change the world. But if you do want to shout at idiots in the street, I hope this guide has helped!

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  1. January 17, 2017 / 08:55

    I just recently learned the importance of when not to attack. Like, sometimes for black people we’re expected to react to every single situation? Honestly, with my anxiety and my inability to deal with confrontation, my friend reminded me how important it is to always consider your own health over “calling out people.” I guess with people with anxiety and swell on their anger or what they could of said, sometimes it’s just so much healthier to step away it. And you can’t fix stupid, ya know?

    • Liv Woodward
      January 17, 2017 / 09:29

      You’re absolutely right – at the end of the day the most important thing is your personal well being and mental/physical health. If calling people out is stressful, bad for your mental health, or even potentially dangerous, it’s not worth it! There are so many other ways you can make a difference besides from calling people out. Calling people out is important, yes, but it’s not always right for everyone.

  2. January 19, 2017 / 05:24

    I feel like this is very timely, especially in twitter. People are being called out left and right. But I firmly believe in educate, not humiliate. Some people really doesn’t think they’re in the wrong especially if they’re in raised in that mindset. And humiliating people on their beliefs will just make them more defensive. It should be a respectful discussion between both sides – unless the other person is just being an ass, then I don’t see anything wrong in walking away. I also agree with safety first before calling people out. If I’m catcalled during nighttime and I’m alone, I’d rather walk faster than call him out. Safety first, always.

    xx, Richel V. | Richel Goes Places

    • Liv Woodward
      January 19, 2017 / 09:41

      I think you’re right, in a lot of cases education not humiliation is key. However, if someone is straight up being terrible and making no effort to learn or improve, then telling them outright that they’re a dick is okay!

  3. January 20, 2017 / 00:04

    This is such a hard one to judge because it’s SO easy to get carried away in the moment. Somebody once said to me I could just DM people instead, so I do if they seem open to criticism. When I ‘call people out’ it almost always backfires, so I don’t know anymore haha. Some great tips here though!

    • Liv Woodward
      January 20, 2017 / 06:57

      Yeah I’ve definitely been there before where I’ve kept on and on fighting what is clearly a pointless and losing battle. It’s hard to know when to stop. I think DMing on Twitter (in some cases) could definitely be a good idea, I’ve never thought of that. It takes away the public element which is what I guess makes some people so defensive. Of course, some people do just need to be loudly called a twat in public!

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