November 25, 2019 / Tasma Walton, Our Watch ambassador
Disrespect towards women and girls seems to be everywhere.
It happens in workplaces, schools and sports clubs, sometimes even by friends and family. It gets reinforced by the media and pop culture, by shock jocks saying a sock should be shoved down a female leader’s throat.
From the blatantly offensive to the subtle joke at dinner, many women and girls experience sexism on a day-to-day basis.
It is so commonplace that we have learnt to try to absorb the odd disrespectful comment here and there, because calling them all out would be exhausting.
There is also a fear that as a woman if you show any disapproval, you’ll be seen as ‘too sensitive’ or ‘too emotional’ because being a good sport means copping a ‘harmless joke’ every now and then, right?
Jokes that suggest women should just shut up, or be domestic servants to their male partners, or that girls fail at athleticism or science or mathematics for instance, are often intended to belittle, humiliate or silence.
Not only are they not funny, they can be extremely damaging.
Disrespect towards women, in the form of sexist comments or jokes, reflect and reinforce a culture that makes gender stereotyping, discrimination and violence against women more acceptable.
They are part of a much bigger problem that is embedded in the tapestry of our value system. This is something I know all too well.
Some of my earliest childhood memories are of living in fear of a violent man. A man who stifled my mother’s independence, decimated her self esteem, belittled her with words and silenced her with blows. He made sure we knew he was the ‘Man of the house’.
As a young adult trying to make sense of my experience, I became acutely aware of the veil of silence that covers domestic violence. The public narrative readily blames the female victim for the violence, and criticises her for not leaving the relationship sooner.
While thankfully my mother managed to get out alive, some women are not so lucky. According to current figures, 49 women have died violently this year and on average, one woman a week dies at the hands of her current or former partner.
Women and girls from minority groups are more likely to be vulnerable to abuse and experience domestic violence.
The evidence shows that women with disabilities and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women experience violence at considerably higher rates than able-bodied or non-Indigenous women.
Although changing a culture and value system that allows this kind of violence to occur seems like a mammoth task, there are many things that we can all do to ensure disrespect towards women and girls doesn’t slip by unchecked.
In fact, studies have shown that empowering people, friends and peers to do something when they witness an inappropriate comment or joke, is an effective strategy for change.
Our Watch’s Doing Nothing Does Harm campaign provides Australians with a suite of actions, big and small, to be able ‘do something’ in the face of disrespect towards women.
Everything from showing your disapproval of a sexist joke or comment by rolling your eyes or not laughing along, to checking in directly with the woman who was disrespected, are among the suggested options a bystander can take.
Essentially, it’s about knowing what you can do within your sphere of influence. If everyone did their part to challenge these attitudes and behaviours, we would create a new normal where disrespect and violence towards women is unacceptable.
So today, let’s make a pact: If you see or hear disrespect towards women, do something, because the safety of women and girls depends on everyone to act.
Tasma Walton is an Our Watch ambassador. Today is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
This article was originally published on Mamamia on 25 November 2019.