Challenging sexist comments and behaviour

By Courtney Mason
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It is now recognised that gender inequality is the underlying, root cause of men’s violence against women. There are many factors that contribute to gender inequality, but one that I feel particularly passionate about are the sexist comments, jokes and behaviour directed toward women. This kind of every day sexism is so ingrained into our culture that it’s often viewed as harmless fun, and sometimes even flirting. For example, when a woman is catcalled in the street by a group of strangers and she reacts with disgust, the cat-callers are often surprised as ‘it’s a compliment and women are too sensitive’. In my experience, women have come to accept this kind of behaviour as they experience it so often in their daily lives.

As former Australian Chief of Army, Lieutenant General David Morrison famously said: “The standard you walk past is the standard you accept“.  By not calling people out on their sexist jokes or comments this behaviour is automatically accepted, allowing it to remain as a cultural norm. This quote from The Line really sums up the destructive effects of such behaviour:

“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.”

It is only in the last year or so that I have started to speak out against this behaviour, whether it is toward myself or others. I’m not going to lie, it is very daunting at first, but I can assure you, the more you do it, the easier it becomes. Because it is so ingrained in our culture, people often make sexist jokes and comments without understanding the impact it has. The type of language and ideals that they hold are often unconscious due to the exposure they have received throughout their lives. If the behaviour is never challenged, then they will never understand the impact that it has.

Recently I was visiting my Mum in Queensland and we were driving with her partner and his brother. Her partner was parking the car and his brother began to criticise his parking skills by saying ‘come on, you’re parking like a girl’. They continued on with their jovial brotherly banter, repeatedly pointing out that he ‘parked like a girl’. I had never met his brother before, but I felt that it was important for me to point out that his comparison was sexist and degrading to women. What was a very common and unconscious insult for him, was actually very damaging and destructive. He was a bit taken aback as I don’t believe he would be overly accustomed to anyone pointing out the issues with this sentiment, but he didn’t respond negatively. It was a daunting thing to do, but at the end of the day, he has now been made aware of the impact his language may have.

Challenging this behaviour when it presents itself can often be nerve-wracking, even more so when you are a woman calling out a man. Standing up and speaking out against what is socially acceptable is very unsettling, but it is our duty to do so in order to eliminate violence against women. If you are unsure of how to address this issue, here is a list of ways to take positive action that has been put together by The Line.

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