When To Recognize an Uncomfortable Comment

Since becoming an advocate with STSM and seeing firsthand the obstacles and comments that survivors face, I am unable to stomach jokes about rape or consent. I become excited and sometimes even emotional about issues that are passionate to me. Often, this means that even little comments from other people have an extremely personal impact on me. Time and time again, we are told to ignore minor lewd or offensive comments, under the guise that it just “isn’t that big of a deal.” However, I can’t sit by and let it roll off my shoulders.

It is important to recognize that an uncomfortable comment should not be ignored. We are often told to remain silent when offended by a minor statement because it would embarrass the person if we called them out. By doing so, we are attempting to save another person from embarrassment at the expense of our own comfort. We should never have to sacrifice our sense of safety to benefit another person. This mindset actively contradicts the idea of being an “active bystander”, because we knowingly allow ourselves to feel uncomfortable or unsafe and yet do nothing about it. This raises the question, why would we step up for someone else but not for ourselves?

The goal of speaking up after an inappropriate comment is not and should not be to shame the commenter. Speaking up is important because it matters for our personal wellness, and because even the smallest microagression reflects a greater issue within our society. If you don’t tell your friend that you find their joke about pornography offensive, then chances are that no one will. To avoid “embarrassing” another person, it is possible to pull them aside after a conversation and say “I don’t appreciate hearing jokes about ____ because I am very sensitive to the topic.” This could even lead to an opportunity to provide a mini-lesson about the issue referenced in their inappropriate joke or comment! If you are uncomfortable talking directly to that person, mention your feelings to a friend or colleague to pass along. Most importantly, act in a way that is respectful towards the other person and makes you comfortable.

We should not allow ourselves to fall into a cycle of self-blaming because we are particularly sensitive to a topic. Instead, we should strive to work together with those in our lives to ensure that we are not subject to repetitive comments that upset us. Speaking up, regardless of the size of the issue, requires a great amount of courage and ultimately leads to safer, healthier relationships. This issue extends far beyond comments about sexual assault, it happens with comments about race, gender, nationality, and the list continues. We should value our own mental health to speak out for our concerns. Regardless of what the topic may be, no one should feel pressured to ignore anything that makes him or her feel uncomfortable. 

Vickie Belcher

Vickie Belcher is an Economics and Anthropology major at the University of South Carolina and has volunteered with STSM since September 2015. Her favorite part about volunteering with STSM is seeing how the agency works to directly help survivors and make a difference in the greater Columbia area through educational outreach.