How To Respond When Women Are Being Horrid (Without Being Sexist)

Posted on November 24, 2016 in Aunty Feminist, Staff Picks

By Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan for Youth Ki Awaaz:

Still got my air purifiers on as I write this from Delhi, but hey, we can totally tackle sexism from indoors, right? Let’s get started!

S asked:

Some women can be really horrible – like racist, casteist, transphobic kind of horrible. But often I’ve seen other people respond to them with equally damaging sexual threats or jibes or name calling. How can I shut down horrible women without being sexist?

Dear S,

The other day I read this insane long read on women who don’t like feminism. Not only do they not like it, they actively campaign against it. It’s a pretty long article (you can find it here), but a bit in it stood out to me. It’s when the main woman interviewed for the piece, who goes by the pseudonym Janet Bloomfield asks her small daughter about feminism.

“Bloomfield turns to her daughter: “What do you think the word feminist means?”

Jane doesn’t miss a beat: “Girls who think they are better than boys.”

“Do you think that’s right? Are girls better than boys?”

“No, boys and girls are the same.”

“The same but different,” Bloomfield suggests.

“They’re both human, so that’s the same.”

“Do you think girls can be soldiers?”

“If they want to.”

“Do you think most girls want to?” asks Bloomfield.

Jane pauses. “Some do.”

“Do you think some boys want to stay at home and be dads?”

Again: “Some do.”

“Should they?”

Jane repeats that it’s okay if they want to—that dads should care about their children. Bloomfield asks her daughter again what feminists think, and Jane repeats her earlier answer, adding that it’s not fair for girls to think they’re better than boys. “Where did you learn that feminists think that?” Bloomfield wonders. Jane answers with a crooked grin: “I learned from you, Mom.” Her mom answers, proud, with a grin of her own.”

It’s easy to hate on Bloomfield. I mean, the woman does sound appallingly misinformed, and someone with a large audience can be dangerous if they don’t put forward all the facts. But I’m interested in the fact that insults to women can be so gendered, like, you’d tell a woman that she’s “ugly” or a “dumb bitch” while you might call a guy a “dumb asshole” more likely, you’d criticise something he’d done rather than the fact of it.

Recently, DNA asked me to give them a quote on this very issue. They were doing an editorial column on model/actress Gigi Hadid’s impersonation of the US’s new First Lady-elect Melania Trump. I never saw it, but the backlash was enough that Hadid had to apologise. The reporter who called me asked whether it was fair to lash out at women in the limelight. To which I said that there were gendered insults everywhere, every day, to every woman, and that when you did it to a celebrity, people just sat up and took notice is all.

I’ve had my fair share of trolls. When I first started my blog, oh, about 12 years ago now, there was a little flurry of publicity around it—an Indian woman writing about sex! Goodness gracious me! And with that publicity came a bunch of people—the usual anonymous trolls, of course, you’d expect them, but also strangely, people I wouldn’t expect to shut me down so violently. There used to be this big NRI blog, I forget what it was called, so let’s call it India Chutney. The authors used to regularly post interesting things from India and the readers (usually Indians settled abroad) would comment. Anyway, so they picked up this little profile a paper had done of me, and the comments came in, and against my better judgement, I read them. I read them obsessively. And this one guy, after all the comments, pulled out my Orkut profile and started talking about how unattractive I was (and therefore all my stories had to be false or some such rubbish).

At least that was on the internet, and no one could see me recoil in shock. Another time, it happened in a friend’s living room. I was just sitting around, having a drink, when this one random guy asks me, “Oh, are you that blogger chick?”

“Yes,” I said, and then he said, “You’re not as hot as I thought you were going to be.” Oh, I was furious—so furious, that I couldn’t get a proper cutting retort out, and it took my friend to defend my honour.

But the point of these two examples? There will always be people around to pull you down based on something you really don’t think is up for public comment. Criticise my writing—that’s the stuff I put out there in this world — but my looks? That’s just weird, and rude, and wrong, because I am then reduced to defending something I had no control over in the first place.

So this woman, I’m assuming you have someone in mind when you name her — this transphobic, racist, casteist person — who is everything you hate about another human being, whose opinions make you actively unhappy, who you listen to talking in public and just want to destroy her, I suggest you do it with facts not slurs. There are plenty of facts around to support every single statement you want to make. Inequality? Totally. Trans people getting beaten up and killed? Also loads. Facts are a great retort, because no one can argue with them! And you’re also being totally gender neutral. Win-win.

Another option, dear S, is that you limit your exposure to this person. Some people will make you angry and long to yell at them, but there’s always a chance that all your carefully crafted arguments aren’t going to change anything. She will still be horrible, and you will have just spent pointless energy. Do what I do—and mute them on Facebook and Twitter, where the unread rant the most. Better yet, unfriend them. That will send a message clearer than anything else you’re plotting. And if this person is someone you have to see on a day-to-day basis: a relative, a colleague, a friend’s spouse, then make your point of view very well known. I find, more often than not, when faced with unpopularity, these trolls back down.

Good luck!


Aunty Feminist

Aunty Feminist loves to hear from her readers! If you’d like her to answer a burning question you might have, send it to us at or tweet your questions to @reddymadhavan.