Calling out sexism 'amongst the boys’


High rates of violence against women happen in societies where men think they are superior to women.

In these societies, you will see and hear sexist jokes and excuses that try to get violent men off the hook. They're attempts to justify violence and sexual harassment, unequal pay for doing the same work, laws that favour men over women or a whole lot of men in leadership positions and very few women – all because of their gender.

Someone's comfort levels with, and willingness to 'call out' sexism or sexual harassment, and to promote gender equality, can differ depending on their own gender identity, sexuality, cultural or religious background, or the power dynamics between the people involved.

But we know it has to stop. So while it can be intimidating to stand up for what’s right, especially in some male-dominated environments, like sporting clubs or social settings, chances are the people around you feel the same way.

Ways to take action

If you do you find yourself in a situation where sexism, harassment or disrespect for women is occurring, there are ways to take action – without coming across like ‘a hero’.

Keep some of these ‘sexism come-backs’ up your sleeve, and be the better person:

  • “Come on, mate, you’re better than that!”
  • “What if someone said that about your mum, sister or girlfriend?”
  • “Comments like that aren’t making you any friends – especially not female ones.”
  • “You say stuff like that and wonder why there are no women hanging out here?”
  • “Not smart, not funny, just crap.”
  • “I don’t think we’d agree with that, would we guys?”
  • “Why would you say that?”
  • “I know it’s a joke, but it’s just not funny.”
  • “Think about what you just said”

Maybe you’re not ready to say anything. Well, the old ‘actions speak louder than words’ technique can work too: Don’t say a word, don’t laugh, don’t smile – just turn away, walk off, roll your eyes, look down or shake your head. When someone makes a sexist comment, not giving any response sends a better message than a half-hearted smile or laugh.

If you don’t feel comfortable enough at the time, there’s plenty you can do after it happens. Check in to see if the person who the joke or comment was directed at is ok. Bring it up with other people and decide whether you want to take it further.

Have a quiet chat with the guy afterwards, if you don't want to embarrass him in front of others (‘Hey, that joke you told earlier? It’s not on’). Let them know there are others around who don’t rate this kind of behaviour. If there’s someone in a leadership position that you trust, like a boss, coach or management you can let them know what’s going on and put it on them to sort out.

These small acts may not sound like much, but they are the vital one-percenters that break down cultures of violence and aggression towards women. If you speak up and challenge sexist comments then you will be making a difference. You are helping to stop a culture that disrespects and tolerates violence against women.

For more information on how to speak up and challenge sexist comments and behaviours visit Doing Nothing Does Harm.

If you’re concerned about your own behaviour contact one of these services:

MensLine Australia, the national telephone and online support, information and referral service for men with family and relationship concerns. Chat online or call them on 1300 78 99 78.

QLife provides anonymous, LGBTI peer support and referrals. Chat online (between 3pm and midnight, 7 days a week) or call them anytime on 1800 184 527.

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