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Being a ‘good man’ means doing something when women are disrespected

April 15, 2021 / Tarang Chawla, Our Watch ambassador

In this article

Six years ago, my little sister Nikita Chawla was murdered by her partner. I sometimes wonder, would Nikita still be alive today if someone had stepped in and done something when he disrespected her?

What if one of them had told him that the way he was treating my sister was not OK before his behaviour escalated to murder?

After all, we all know that being a good man means speaking up for what’s right. But where do blokes draw the line?

After all, we all know that being a good man means speaking up for what’s right. But where do blokes draw the line?

Just yesterday I was sitting at my local cafe when I heard two blokes sharing a laugh about how one of them had his fly undone the whole time, much to an onlooker’s amusement. We’ve all been there. And if your mate can’t tell you, who will?

While mates might step in to help avoid embarrassment when it comes to trivial things like ensuring flies are zipped up, the statistics around violence towards women show that this superficial line is pretty much where men stop.

This season of Married At First Sight is a prime-time TV example of the same “don’t dog the boys” attitude. We saw incident after incident involving Bryce disrespecting women. The other men stayed silent while women on the show would confront Bryce about his treatment of women.

In one rare instance, Jake told Bryce that his behaviour was “not OK” but men demanding better from other men appeared to be the exception, not the norm.

When guys say stuff that degrades women and themselves, like catcalling women in the street or making crass jokes about which female colleagues they’d like to “f**k” in a message thread, we all basically say nothing almost every time.

The saddest part is that we’re conditioned for this inaction. We’re told from such a young age, from movies and TV to the schoolyard and boys’ nights out, that we have to maintain the ‘bro code’, that we had better be blindly loyal and certainly never side with women over men.

While most men probably internally deplore sexist attitudes and think that women and men should definitely be treated as equal, when we’re surrounded by other guys, we find ourselves under immense pressure to either keep quiet about our disagreement or worse, fake it to “prove ourselves”.

In the end, despite 79 per cent of men wanting to do something when we hear jokes and comments that reinforce them, just 14 per cent of us will follow through.

Although we may think we’re avoiding confrontation, awkwardness, or our words being ignored and told to “stay out of it”, research shows there’s really no such thing as being an “innocent bystander” to sexism and disrespect towards women.

Let me put it simply: The fact is, doing nothing does harm.

Research by Our Watch and Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety shows that one of the most consistent predictors of support for violence against women is men’s agreement with sexist attitudes.

And it’s when these attitudes, especially through jokes and comments, go unchallenged or are dismissed as “harmless banter”, that we create a culture in which violence against women becomes more likely.

It’s the same culture that leads women to say “enough is enough” and March 4 Justice in the streets. And at the extreme end of that scale, that culture led to the murder of my sister Nikita by a man who claimed to love her.

The potential for damage is so great and so evident, that even though it’s obvious that not all men are violent, all men are still accountable to call out sexism and disrespect towards women when we see it in our own lives when it’s safe to do so.

It’s simply not enough anymore to think we’re ‘good men’ because we don’t use violence or hold these outdated views ourselves. Walking the talk means doing something when women are ignored at the family dinner table, degraded at a party, or spoken over in work meetings.

If we aren’t clear that this kind of behaviour is wrong, we’re more likely to stand by as it escalates into something far worse for another woman. And I know that’s something none of us want.

‘But what can I actually do?’, we ask ourselves.

Doing something doesn’t mean picking a fight with strangers, escalating violence or blasting a tirade of furious tweets. It’s definitely not about intervening in violence or putting ourselves at risk.

It’s about safely but surely influencing the culture we want to live in, where women feel safe and respected, and we’re all collectively empowered to stamp out the behaviours that we know aren’t right.

We can show we don’t condone sexist behaviour by not laughing along to sexist jokes, by supporting women who are disrespected by acknowledging that what happened to them is not OK, and by speaking up to ask a mate what they really meant by their “joke”.

No matter how big or small our action, by doing something we send the message that what went down was not OK, that we are better than this, and that we all need to do better next time.

Because unfortunately there will be a next time. And while nothing will bring my sister Niki back, we can take small steps in our everyday lives that help create a safe, inclusive culture in which there’s not one more Niki.

But to do that, men have got to do more to be part of the solution to address sexism and disrespect towards women. And that means labelling and rejecting it when we see it.

Because if we don’t tell our mates when they’re out of line, who will?

This opinion piece was originally published on News.com on 15 April 2021.

Media contact

Saraya Musovic, Senior Media and Communications Advisor (saraya.musovic@ourwatch.org.au or 0448 844 930) or media@ourwatch.org.au

*If you cover this story, or any story regarding violence against women and children, please include the following tagline:
“If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, family or domestic violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit www.1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.”

To access guides for reporting about violence against women and their children, visit Media Making Change.

About Our Watch

Our Watch leads Australia’s work to stop violence against women and their children before it starts. The organisation was created to drive nation-wide change in the structures, norms and practices that lead to violence against women and children.

Find out more about our work to end violence against women in Australia.

The evidence
Woman holding baby.