Chapter 1 - Consent Subchapter: Stepping in

Pushing back on culture

Key points

  • People can be mean and disrespectful without moving the line.
  • The problem is that a disrespectful culture increases the chances that someone will move the line later.
  • If you have a moral objection to what’s being said, and you feel safe, then there is value in you stepping in to try and change the culture around you.
  • Culture is set by social norms, and social norms are based on our beliefs and actions—so by demonstrating your beliefs you help shape and maintain social norms.


What about disrespectful behaviour that’s not a line move?

Sometimes you will see people just generally being mean or disrespectful, but not necessarily moving the line. For instance:

  • Making degrading comments about someone
  • Jokes about people with less power
  • Comments that reduce individuals or groups to objects or animals



  • “Ash is an utter moron.”
  • “They’re all dogs.”
  • “Look at all the chicks around here.”


Saying rude, angry, cynical, disrespectful or demeaning things about a person or a group of people is not a line move. (Directing them at someone could be a line move, because it could be harassment or abuse: “Can I call you a ****?” “No!” “Well you’re a ****!”)

Butand this is an important butmaking degrading comments can create an environment in which line moves are more likely to happen.


A guy looks awkwardly at a woman and then relaxes and smiles.


Why is harassment and abuse more likely to happen?

Well, the way we talk about other people and groups can influence the way other people around us see them.

Let’s think about the opposite for a second. If you’re talking to friends and you make admiring comments about a person they all know, then your friends are probably more likely to see that person as worthy of respect, and treat them respectfully when they interact with them in future.

If you make degrading or disrespectful comments about this other person, then your friends are probably more likely to treat them disrespectfully, and this means it’s more likely that someone will make a line move.

For example, if a group of students are saying, “Jacob’s a fag,” and everyone laughs, then there’s a higher chance that someone will bully or taunt Jacob for being gay because they think that's what the students they hang around would do.

The same thing applies to comments about groups, like gender or race groups.

For example, if a group of guys look at a group of girls and say, “Look at all the pussy around here,” they are creating a social norm of objectifying women—literally reducing them to their vaginas—and if they see someone as an object, why would they respect their inner world? They might not; they might think it’s fine to just take what they want.

This isn’t to say we can’t ever criticise or just generally dislike other people—sometimes people can’t stand each other.

But commentary makes culture, and if we make a culture that sees individuals or groups as not worthy of respect, then those people are more likely to be harassed or abused.

We need to own what we’re saying and consider the consequences.


Stepping in against comments and attitudes

If degrading and disrespectful commentary creates hurtful social norms, then maybe we should be stepping in to challenge them.

The step-in process is the same—check in, disrupt, recruit—but the decision-making might be more involved:

  • What’s wrong with what you’re hearing? What’s troubling you about it?
  • Who’s in the conversation? Is this private or a group?
  • How are the other participants reacting? Are they giving support, pushing back or staying quiet?
  • If you speak up, how will the group react?
  • Is there a way to step in without being excluded from the group?
  • Is this group actually so toxic you need to get out?


These can be difficult questions to process, and there is no easy answer.

If the situation is really unclear, you can focus on two key questions:

  • Morality: Do you have a strong moral disagreement with the group? 
  • Safety: Are you physically, emotionally and socially safe to express that disagreement?


If the answer to both of these is yes, then it’s probably a good idea to speak up. At best you discover that lots of other people in the group felt like you, or your words change people’s minds, and the social norm adapts. At worst, the group rejects your feedback, but you carry on with a good relationship.

If you don’t feel safe, then maybe it’s not wise to speak up. Maybe you should check in with people one at a time to find out if anyone else agrees with you (checking in and recruiting) or look for a more supportive group that is aligned with your values.

Otherwise, stepping in and challenging disrespectful commentary gives us a chance to put an alternative point of view, influence the culture around us, and help our friends, family and peers see other people or groups as worthy of respect.


The power of social norms

Culture is heavily influenced by social norms—the unwritten rules of behaviour that we pick up from the people around us.

We learn social norms by watching and listening to the people around us. We learn from what they do and say, and we also pick up on what we think they believe—and we can internalise those beliefs ourselves.

Social norms can be set by people with lots of power in a group, but more importantly they are determined by numbers—the more people doing something, the more it is a norm.

This is why it’s important in any group for people with respectful beliefs and behaviours to express them, be vocal about them, and stand up for themselves and others—it’s a way of sending a message to other people in the group and establishing positive social norms.


A group dressed for a formal occasion, dancing on a vibrant stage set.