Everyone has a right to feel respected, valued and safe.
Sexist language and behaviour robs us of that respect, value and safety. It's idiotic, it's outdated and it needs to change. We all have a duty to step up when we witness sexism happening around us. As former Australian Chief of Army, Lieutenant General David Morrison famously said: "The standard you walk past is the standard you accept".
Every time someone makes a sexist comment or discriminates on the basis of gender, it becomes more acceptable, lessens people's respect for women, and erodes women's self-worth. Comments about how "Girls can't think 'logically' because they're too emotional...", "She's so ugly I don't know why anyone's even listening to her!" or "Wearing a skirt that short she was definitely asking for it..." end up leading to a society where women are 'worth' less, have less power, are less safe and are considered second-class citizens.
If you're not sure what sexism looks like from a female perspective, check out the everyday sexism website for hundreds of examples. You might be surprised by how common these experiences are.
You may not want to step up in these situations because you're worried about looking stupid or you're just not sure how to go about it. A lot of people are worried about the risk of backlash, not getting backup or not knowing what to say in these situations.
Stepping up as a bystander is about judging the situation and figuring out how to SAFELY and effectively take action - if you're worried about the reaction you're going to get STOP what you're doing and talk to someone in a position of authority, parents, teachers, security, etc. Do NOT get aggressive yourself - that's not going to help anyone.
So, here are some practical suggestions and examples of ways to take positive action:
1) Address the comment, not the person
- "Nobody likes hearing that..."
- "That's pretty offensive if you think about it..."
2) Ask a question that makes them rethink their statement
- "How do you think that makes them feel?"
- "I don't get it - what does that mean...?"
3) Use a "we statement" to gain support from people around you
- "Yeah, I'm not sure we'd all agree with you there..."
- "Is it just me or does everyone here think that's out of line?"
4) Take non-verbal action
- If you really don't feel comfortable speaking up sometimes you can just give 'a look' to make it clear you thought the comment was lame. Don't laugh - just sigh, shake your head, or walk away.
5) Make the connection between the comment and the person's own experience
- "So, would you say that about your girlfriend/sister/mother?"
- "How do you reckon your girlfriend/sister/mother feels when people say stuff like that?"
If you're not up for saying something at the time, you can always let someone know afterwards - in a less public space, where you're both more comfortable - that you don't rate what they're saying. Remember, people can get defensive and you don't need to get into an argument - just state your case and ask them if they can see your perspective.
You can also raise this stuff before it becomes an issue. If you've seen or heard sexist behaviour somewhere else, discuss it with mates so at least they already know you think it's bad form.