More Australians need to call out sexism when they see it, says Our Watch – RN
A recent study found 40 per cent of women aged 18-25 have experienced sexual harassment. (Getty: Gpointstudio)
“Can’t you take a joke?” “You party pooper.” “They’re just words.”
These are some of the responses people fear they’ll attract if they call out sexist behaviour, according to Our Watch, a group that works to end violence against women.
But Our Watch CEO Patty Kinnersly says such retorts ignore a broader issue.
“Sexist and disrespectful attitudes are the most consistent predictor of a man’s support for violence,” Ms Kinnersly says.
“So while people can say, ‘these things don’t matter, they’re just jokes’, they actually do build an environment, bit by bit, where it’s more likely that violence will happen against women.”
A responsibility to make a difference
Disrespect towards women is a widespread problem in Australia. A recent SBS and Macquarie University report found that 40 per cent of women aged 18-25 had experienced sexual harassment in a public place over the past 12 months.
And while Our Watch research shows nearly 80 per cent of Australians want to know what to do when they encounter sexism, only about 14 per cent of people would do something — indicating they either don’t recognise sexism, or don’t know how to intervene.
The organisation’s new interactive online campaign, Doing Nothing Does Harm, hopes to shift those figures.
Ms Kinnersley defines sexist behaviour as “anything that makes a woman feel uncomfortable”.
Patty Kinnersly says people need to act on sexism in a way that feels safe for them. (ABC RN: Anna Kelsey-Sugg)
It’s also “language that denigrates a woman or makes her feel like she is not a part of the group, or that demonstrates that she is not as a valued or valuable,” she says.
So once you’ve recognised the behaviour, what can you do about it?
“People need to know what they can do that feels safe for them,” Ms Kinnersly says.
And even if you don’t feel comfortable speaking to the person making sexist remarks, you can still act.
“The minimum you can do is to go up to the woman afterwards and say, ‘Look, I’m really sorry that happened, I don’t agree with that, and are you OK?'” Ms Kinnersly says.
The ‘power of someone stepping up’
Another barrier to people speaking out against sexist behaviour is the fear of not having the support of the group around them, says Anastasia Powell, a criminologist who researches bystander behaviour.
That can stop people from speaking up, even when they’re uncomfortable with the sexist act that’s occurred.
“As soon as one person does step in and say something, they start to get the support of everyone else around the table who says, yes, we disagree with that as well,” Dr Powell says.
“And then you see the conversation resume.
“That’s the real power of someone stepping up and saying something.”
Dr Anastasia Powell says sexism is the groundwork for violence against women. (ABC RN: Anna Kelsey-Sugg)
Stepping up, saying something and showing disapproval are the actions Our Watch recommends bystanders take to combat sexism.
Ms Kinnersly says the Doing Nothing Does Harm campaign is not designed to produce a quick-fix solution, but rather to educate and build confidence in bystanders.
She says anecdotal feedback from the campaign’s videos shows it’s doing its job; people have told her, ‘I didn’t do that well last time, but next time I’m going to do something different’.
“So, the first time the person might just go and support the woman, but by the time it happens another time and they’ve thought about it, they might be the person who says, ‘Hey mate, we don’t speak about women like that’,” she says.
She says it’s a positive step towards changing attitudes and behaviour in Australia.
“We have to recognise that sexism and disrespect is the groundwork on which violence against women happens,” she says.
It’s a point Dr Powell echoes.
“If we want to stop violence against women in this country, then we all have to be part of that cultural change to challenge those behaviours and those attitudes and practices where we see them — whether it’s in a social setting, in the workplace, in school [or] in the highest level of our government,” she says.
“We have to call out that sexism and disrespect where we see it.”