“Call-outs” are public announcements made online in which somebody is accused, in some way, of being problematic. These are, in theory, to draw attention to this person’s actions, so that others may avoid them. Call-outs often gain a great deal of attention and lead to the person in question being ousted from that particular social circle.

But is making a public post shaming someone always the right way to approach problematic behavior?

Certainly, people can be egregious, out-right wrong, and have harmful views.

But how does a public shaming contribute to changing someone’s perspective?

In other words: Is your aim to encourage people to see things differently or to punish someone – making yourself look better in the process?

In Kill All Normies, Angela Nagle opines that

“The strangest feature of this online ‘call-out culture’ was this mixture of performative vulnerability, self-righteous wokeness, and bullying. The online dynamics of this call-out culture were brilliantly described by Fisher as ‘driven by a priest’s desire to excommunicate and condemn an academic-pedant’s desire to be the first to be seen to spot a mistake, and a hipster’s desire to be one of the in-crowd.’ I would add to this that the key driving force behind it is about creating scarcity in an environment in which virtue is the currency that can make or break the career or social success of an online user in this milieu…”

I believe that the prevalence of call-out posts is a massive detriment to feminist spaces.

They discourage discussion, engender fear, and lead to a stagnation of ideas. The mass popularity of call-out posts encourages people to not think through politics for themselves – instead, choosing to reblog or share whichever post seems the most outraged. I myself was worried about joining a feminist blog to share my views publicly. I feared that any missteps I’d make would make me a target.

But most ironically, call-out posts require us to be static beings, with our politics and values firmly screwed into place. There is no room for error or personal growth.

The moral inflexibility that call-out posts require forgets our own origins as feminists – as people gradually learning about the patriarchy, power structures, and oppression. None of us came into activism with in-depth knowledge of feminism. And we never will attain that level of perfect understanding. The popularity of call-out posts ignore this reality and allow us to horde virtue until we are ousted ourselves.

Of course – we always have every right to be angry at offensive things. But if we can’t advocate for ourselves, or others, without immediately resorting to public shaming, how will we ever be able to translate our politics into action? We cannot educate and encourage others to reconsider their views when our first step is to name and shame. We cannot successfully pursue social change by requiring automatic perfection.

But what can we do going forward? How do we move from calling-out to calling-in?

  1. Was this statement made with harmful intent or ignorance? Of course, intent doesn’t alter the effect, but it can give you some information: should you call-in, or call-out?
  2. If you choose to call someone out, reflect on what you seek to gain from this interaction. Are you trying to make your community safer (such as by outing an abuser, or a racist) – or are you trying to feel superior?
  3. If you decide to call somebody in, put yourself in this person’s shoes. Were you like this a few months ago? Years ago? How did you learn? What would your younger self have appreciated?
  4. Explaining why something is harmful and offensive to your own demographic can be an exercise in emotional flagellation. Signal to your allies to call this person in.
  5. Before jumping on the bandwagon, think about whether you could be wrong. In some cases, the fault will be quite cut and dry, but in others, it could require more probing.
  6. Ask this person to explain their reasoning, and then explain yours. If they change their views – great! If not…
  7. Know when to cut your losses. Activism can be exhausting, and we all deserve breaks from time to time.

This isn’t to say that call-out posts aren’t useful – sometimes, your best option is to call somebody out. But I hope that using the techniques above will help you to mold your feminism into one that allows for error and growth – both for you and others.