Sexism is about more than someone feeling a bit hurt by a slightly insulting joke."

Ever made a joke that didn’t get the laughs you thought it would? The fact that everyone has different tastes, standards and experiences can blur the line sometimes. 

While some standards might not be easy to judge, when it comes to gender, actions or words that single people out because of their gender are likely to instantly insult about half the population.

10 examples of crossing the sexism line:
  1. Telling ‘jokes’ using insulting stereotypes that suggest one gender is somehow inferior, e.g. dumb, over-emotional or incompetent.
  2. Excluding people from places or conversations because of their gender, e.g. “We’re talking about sport here, girls – maybe stick to what you know.”
  3. Attempting to insult by calling people names associated with one gender, e.g. “What’s the matter, mate, got your period?” or “Who wears the pants in this relationship?”
  4. Wolf-whistling, cat-calling, making sexual remarks or comments about people’s appearance in public because it’s a ‘compliment’.
  5. Telling people sexism doesn’t exist or that they’re being over-sensitive about being unfairly treated because of their gender.
  6. Criticising others for falling outside traditional gender roles, because of someone’s appearance or actions, e.g. “She dresses like a bloke” or “What kind of guy becomes a nurse?”
  7. Making assumptions about who will pay for something based on gender, e.g. dinner or a date.
  8. Calling women in power ‘bossy’ or ‘power-hungry’ but men in the same positions ‘leaders’.
  9. Asking what female rape victims were wearing or where they were and at what time of night, instead of asking why the perpetrator committed the crime.
  10. Judging people by different standards depending on their gender, e.g. “Not bad for a girl” or “Boys will be boys”.

To make the sexism line clearer, ask yourself: “Is what I’m about to say or do stereotyping or treating someone unfairly because of their gender?” If you think you have crossed the line, check out our article You’ve crossed the line – now what?

Not sure what sexism has to do with violence against women? Current research shows the key drivers of violence against women are related to our attitudes – our attitudes towards women and our attitudes towards women’s roles in society. It’s also about the idea that women and men should act in certain ways or are better at certain things based on their gender. Check out our article Violence against women – What are we talking about? for more on this.

Sexism is about more than someone feeling a bit hurt by a slightly insulting joke. When words and actions are part of what we consider acceptable in our culture, some of us – often half the population – get a raw deal.

Constantly being considered the brunt of jokes, or less worthy/equipped to do or know about certain things, constantly being judged on attractiveness or sexual appeal, being told to be careful about dressing or behaving in a certain way to avoid being harassed, attacked or raped – all these things add up to diminish a person’s self-worth and confidence. And that’s just not fair. Fairness is the essence of ‘equality’ – giving both genders the same opportunities and respect.

And no, holding a door open for someone is not always sexist. But think about why we do these things – just being polite? Would you do exactly the same for a man or woman? We have a long cultural history of believing 'women are the weaker sex' and that a 'gentlemen honours women' by, for example, pulling out their chair at a restaurant, paying for meals, holding doors open for them. "Ladies first..."

When you offer your seat to someone on the train it's usually because they are frail, weaker or have a disability of some kind. So, again, think about what motivates your every-day actions and what messages those actions send out to people. 

So, before you try that sexist joke or comment, before you cat-call or comment on how hot someone looks, before you assume someone is less qualified to be in a particular job or have an opinion on a certain topic, double-check you’re not about to cross the sexism line…