Geek Feminism Wiki

Often, when a sexist incident happens, we are so busy being gobsmacked that we can't react quickly. Sometimes days can go by before we figure out what to do.

This web page is for male allies who would like to know how to respond when they encounter a sexist incident. This page is not for discussion of what women can do to respond to a sexist incident.

Video of first run of workshop

This is an unedited live video of the first presentation of this workshop, warts and all. Please use the wiki as the authoritative version and excuse the mistakes and errors in the video.

Basic principles

The first rule of thumb is: Pick your battles. If you don't respond to every sexist comment you hear, that doesn't make you evil, just human. The second rule is: Don't battle. State your opinion once, correct any factual errors or true misunderstandings, and then change the subject or leave the conversation. Next, practice your responses. Role-playing according to the scripts below is one way to practice. Another is to read stories about previous incidents. Pick a few catch phrases you like and practice saying them until they come automatically. Some options:

  • "That's pretty rude."
  • "Please don't say those things around me."
  • "I'm offended by that."
  • (Your phrase here)

See Good sexism comebacks and Bad sexism comebacks.

Don't try to fight sexism by making a homophobic or transphobic joke. It's wrong, and it's self-defeating. We're not going to win respect and equality for women by attacking homosexuality and transgender folks.

When do you say "I don't like that," (my personal opinion is) vs. "That's not okay" (that is morally wrong)? When you have authority or power in the situation, use "That's not okay." When all you control is yourself, use "I don't like that."

A common argument is "I know one particular woman and she said she doesn't mind this comment, therefore you shouldn't mind either." A simple reply is: "Women are different people, just like men, and often have different opinions." Optionally, you can add, "They may just be trying to be polite, no one likes to tell someone something unpleasant to their face."

If you have power - such as being list moderator, project leader, conference organizer, LUG president, IRC ops, or funding coordinator - don't be afraid to use it to fight sexism. Many of us are used to having little or no influence and don't immediately think of using it. If you don't have any particular power in a situation, express your opinion to someone who does. In some case, just making a public report is the best thing you can do. And remember, you always have the power of being male. Automatically, your protest is several times more effective than that coming from any woman.

Role playing examples

Take each of these examples and get volunteers to play the roles. Each scenario includes the roles to be played and the set-up script. Some example responses are listed afterwards. Replay the scenario a few times with different responses. (Responses marked "Funny" are included for comic relief and not recommended as actual real-world responses.)

Note: All of these scenarios are taken directly from real-world examples, frequently word-for-word.

Scenario: A woman walks up to your group at a geek event

Roles: 3+ men in a circle chatting, woman standing to the side

Set-up: The woman walks up to the group of men and waits, smiling.


  • Bad: "How do you like the partners' programme?"
  • Bad: Uncomfortable silence.
  • Bad: Sneer, look down your nose, and turn away.
  • Funny: Panic!!!
  • Bad: Close the circle to prevent her joining the conversation.
  • Good: Smile and say, "Hello, my name is $NAME."
  • Good: "How are you enjoying the conference?"
  • Good: "Hi - where are you from?"

Scenario: Booth babes are necessary to business

Roles: 1 booth babe proponent, 1 or more male allies

Set-up: Booth babe proponent says, "I have to hire booth babes. Men like it and I'll go out of business if I don't."


  • Bad: Silence.
  • Bad: "I don't mind booth babes but other people might."
  • Good: "Hiring booth babes make me LESS likely to give you my business."
  • Funny: "You are all the booth babe I need!"
  • Bad: Make a joke at the expense of homosexual or transgender people. You can't fight sexism with homophobia or transphobia!

Scenario: Pornographic presentation

Roles: 3 or more audience, 1 presenter

Set-up: A presenter asks for a show of hands of people who will be offended if they show a pornographic slide.


  • Bad: Do nothing
  • Good: Walk out
  • Good: Raise your hand, "If you have to ask, maybe you shouldn't do it."
  • Good: Find an organizer and tell them about it immediately.
  • Best: Stop the presentation (if you are the organizer).
  • Funny: Run up to the stage and knee him in the groin.
  • Good: If you have a policy prohibiting porn in slides: "That contravenes the conference policy - so no. Thanks for asking."
  • Bad: Don't use the same tactics in reverse: pictures of naked men, or propose sexual harassment of men. It's neither equivalent nor just.

Scenario: Comments about a woman's appearance

Roles: One commenter, one ally

Set-up: One man says, "She sure is ugly/pretty" (take your pick, both are objectification of women).


  • Bad: "Yeah, but $WOMAN sure is hot!"
  • Bad: "But she just needs to lose a few pounds."
  • Good: "If we're going to discuss the sexiness of open source people, I'm going to go over here now." (But - you cede your influence on the following conversation)
  • Good: "I don't think that's very polite."
  • Good: "I don't think that's really relevant. What is she working on?"
  • Good: Change the subject to something else, don't participate.
  • Funny: "This is a beauty pageant? I thought we were at a Linux conference."
  • Good: "Yeah - that's $NAME, she's a friend of mine and I don't think she'd appreciate being objectified like that."

Scenario: Sexual advances/comments on a public IRC channel

Roles: One harasser, one ally, one woman

Set-up: Person with feminine-sounding nick joins an IRC channel. Another user says, "Are you hot? Send us pics!"


  • Bad: "And make sure it's a good photo!"
  • Good: "This isn't a place to pick up women."
  • Good: Report the log to server ops.
  • Good: You are the server op! Ban/kick the person immediately.

Scenario: Someone belittles a woman's technical ability

Roles: One harasser, one ally

Set-up: A woman's work comes up on an IRC channel. Someone says, "Did her boyfriend write that?"

  • Bad: "Like she would have a boyfriend!"
  • Bad (engaging the wrong way): "Yes, she did! Let me waste the next 5 minutes finding you links to her patches which you will then ignore."
  • Good: "It's offensive to even suggest that. Go away."
  • Funny: "Actually, she was doing her boyfriend's homework for him."

Scenario: Challenging a woman's technical ability

Roles: One harasser, one woman, one ally

Set-up: Man asks, "What do you do?" Woman says, "Oh, I'm a Linux developer." Man gets skeptical look, "Oh? Well, what did you write, exactly?" (Note: this is different from "What are you working on?" which assumes you are what you say, rather than asking you to prove your claim through example.)

  • Bad: Expectant silence.
  • Good/Funny: "Oh, are we exchanging resumes now? No one told me we were going to do this, I didn't bring mine."
  • (Your suggestion here!)