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October 25 2018 By Patty Kinnersly, Our Watch CEO

Last Tuesday marked exactly one year since a tweet by Alyssa Milano launched what’s become known as the #MeToo movement.

Doing Nothing Does Harm Image

Last week also saw the release by The Men’s Project of ground-breaking research that showed men who hold inflexible attitudes about ‘being manly’ – or those in ‘the Man Box’, as the research termed it – are much more likely to be violent towards women and to harm themselves through suicide attempts, drinking and car accidents.

It’s perhaps fitting then, that Our Watch chose last week to launch doingnothingdoesharm.org.au, a new campaign aimed at helping Australians do something – whether subtly or directly – when they see behaviour that is disrespectful towards women.

For generations, doing nothing has done harm. Bystanders in Hollywood, in workplaces, in public spaces, on screens and in the home chose not to act when men treated their female colleagues, friends and family members disrespectfully, unequally, even abusively.

Looking at the correlation between men’s attitudes and violence uncovered by the Man Box research, it’s unsurprising that the evidence tells us sexual violence against women has been, and still is, so widespread. 

Not unlike a lightning strike, #MeToo was a confluence of factors that produced a rare and spectacular event. A single tweet at a particular moment in history prompted millions of women to speak out about that violence in a mass online outpouring of two simple words: me too.

The collective cry was the culmination of decades upon decades of the harm done by so many people ‘doing nothing’, or not knowing how or when to do something.

Here is the good news; Our Watch research found that most people (79 per cent) want to tackle disrespect towards women when they witness it. It’s just that very few (14 per cent) actually feel able or know how to speak up and act.

To address that, Our Watch produced five short videos showing scenarios that will be all too familiar to many. At a restaurant with friends, a man laughs off the idea of a female CEO, makes sleazy comments to the young female waitperson, and insists women aren’t welcome when men are watching sport.

The videos are interactive – you, the viewer, are notified that you have a few seconds to click and change the situation.

If you choose not to act, the man keeps going as his friends – and you – cringe in discomfort.

If you act, one of the man’s friends steps in and the disrespectful behaviour stops.

And here’s the clincher: unlike any other ad campaign, if you choose to act (by clicking on the video) you will not see the ad on YouTube again.

If you ever browse products online, you’ll know those shoes or that barbecue you clicked on will keep appearing on every other page you visit.

This is the opposite. If you click on ‘do something’ on our Doing nothing does harm ads, YouTube won’t present you with them again.

We designed it that way to mirror how social change comes about. The more people choose to ‘do something’ when a friend, colleague or family member acts or speaks disrespectfully, the less that behaviour will occur, until we cease to see it altogether.

But just as #MeToo, in one year, did not fix everything, neither will Doing nothing does harm. The movement towards gender equality is a long game and it will take many more lightning-strike events, campaigns and people who capture the public imagination for us to get there.

When there is social change, there is always backlash, and we’ve seen some appalling examples of this. But not all resistance is bad. If we hear each other out and answer each other’s questions, together we can move forward.

At Our Watch, we know that addressing the drivers of violence against women is a community-wide responsibility and it can only be done by changing social norms and structures, attitudes and behaviours across a broad range of settings. That’s why we work with sporting codes, educators, businesses, the media and governments.

In the last fortnight, nine more women have been killed in Australia. This brings the 2018 toll to 54, an increasingly familiar but no less brutal reminder of how urgent this work is.

In the same two weeks, the ’man box’ research has offered long-awaited insights into the causes of men’s violence, thousands more words about #MeToo have been published, and doingnothingdoesharm.org.au has given people the tools to do something when they see disrespectful behaviour towards women.

Reflecting on all of this together reinforces my belief that change is happening, and all of us – men and women, individuals and organisations, are part of an unstoppable movement toward a future where we are all equal, and we are all safe.