Don’t you just hate it when you think of the perfect thing to say after the fact? There’s a term for that: esprit d’escalier (or “staircase wit”). Then there are times when you can’t think of anything to say at all, which can be just as annoying. This can happen with friends, family, or strangers, online or off.
Nearly no one is born issuing snappy comebacks at the drop of a hat. It’s a skill that can be practiced and improved upon and worked on over time. If you want to join in the war of the wits pitted against oppressive jerks, you can, no matter how unfunny or dim you think you are (because you probably aren’t that bad). Getting started means training yourself to more quickly recognize situations ripe for a comeback, surrounding yourself with people who can inspire your courage and give you ideas, and practicing your newborn-to-newfound skills in lower-stakes spaces.
It Is Everywhere
One of the more frustrating things about dealing with the various *-isms is that they are so insidious that you may not notice that you’re the butt of their joke at all, let alone in time to respond to them.
Remember the unwitting wisdom of the Twitter dudebro:
"Teetering on the brink of an epiphany" pic.twitter.com/XZbeJ3uKVU
— iestyn lloyd (@yezzer) September 5, 2014
Let yourself see it. Listen to yourself. Trust yourself. Yes, it was a little odd when that white lady called all the women of color present “sassy” but the similarly-acting white women “strong.” It was weird when that man casually mentioned that he goes for blondes or gingers in a discussion about racism. It is fucked up that your male partner can paraphrase what you just said to the skeptics’ reading group to great praise where you were ignored.*
It can be hard to overcome that little voice in your head that reinforces the status quo, the one that tells you you’re not observing what you have actually observed, which is why you need….
We all hear that pesky whine that echoes what some non-existent “everybody” knows: that it’s no big deal, that you need to calm down, that you’re looking for trouble. Remember that it’s not your fault and you are more than justified in raising your voice against it.
Gaining confidence means exposing yourself to examples of people who are pulling off something along the lines of what you want to accomplish in your own life. It means consistently reminding yourself that there are awesome people who think similarly to you, are doing what you hope to do, and are all the happier for both these things.
People who are already in the game can inspire more than just confidence. They often have ideas that can help you out. You will find your own counter-troll/anti-oppression style in time, but practicing using spin-offs of others’ techniques is an excellent start (see this listing of some of my favorites).
Starting Out with Bottom-Feeders
To say something when it’s someone you know in a context you have to regularly find yourself in is intimidating at first. Instead of risking friendships, filial harmony, or your employment, you can work on your response muscles in contexts where you’re not going to lose much.
If you’re a woman or seen as as woman and have any sort of Internet presence that says in any way that you are possibly female, congratulations. This will be ridiculously easy, as the jerkfaces have probably already found you, whether you realize it or not.
Facebook: Check the “Other” folder on your inbox. Post links to things that assholes might pounce on due to their titles; I’ve found that even something as innocent as a link to an article about proper bra sizing will bring out the gross jerks who think it’s all about their libido. Post questions and statements that bring out the spluttering bigots that secretly live on your friends list.
Dating sites: You can pursue conversation with the randos of OkCupid instead of deleting their disgusting, awful messages on sight like you used to.
Other ways of encountering low-stakes assholery:
- Enable anon on your Tumblr.
- Get an Ask.Fm account and tweet the link to it.
- Tweet using a feminist/anti-racist or anti-feminist/racist hashtag.
- Tweet anything, ever.
* All examples mentioned in this paragraph are pulled directly from my own life.