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.

Notes during the session:

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)

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 only, 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 conference

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
  • Bad: Panic
  • Good: Smile and say, "Hello, I'm $NAME."
  • Good: "How are you enjoying the conference?"
  • Funny: ???

Scenario: Booth babes are necessary to business

Roles: 1 booth babe proponent, 1+ 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: "Actually, I don't mind 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!"

Scenario: Pornographic presentation

Roles: 3+ 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."
  • Best: Stop the presentation (if you are the organizer)
  • Funny: Run up to the stage and knee him in the groin

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 bad)


  • Bad: "Yeah, but $WOMAN sure is hot!"
  • 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 control of the following conversation)
  • Funny: "You're no beauty contest winner yourself."
  • Good: I don't think that's very polite.
  • She's a brilliant hacker - fixed some serious issues in the $project
  • Who cares. She's brilliant, and your stupid.
  • Good: I don't think that's really relevant. Do you know what she's working on?
  • Good: change the conversation
  • I'm sorry - I thought we were at a linux conference?
  • Good: this is a beauty pagent? I thought we were at a Linux conference?
  • Yeah - that's $name, she's a friend of mine and I don't think she'd appreciate being objectified in that way.
  • Please don't speak about women like that, it's rude.

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
  • Funny: ???
  • ban/kick

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: "Yes, she did! Let me find you links to her patches."
  • Good: "It's offensive to even suggest that."
  • Funny: "If so, then 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: "Oh, are we exchanging resumes now?"
  • Funny: ???