Hey guys, violence against women is no laughing matter

When my little sister Niki was murdered in 2015, jokes were the last thing on my mind. How could something which seemed so trivial, almost harmless, like a joke, affect Niki’s partner’s decision to pick up a meat cleaver and stab her to death while she slept?

Sexist jokes and disrespect towards women create a culture which makes the killing of women, like my sister, more common. They’re part of a bigger problem.

But new research from Our Watch confirms that one fifth of Australians think sexist jokes are harmless fun. I’d love to tell the larrikins among us that sexist jokes are harmless fun, but they’re not. And this isn’t because I’m part of the PC police.

It’s because there’s so much evidence now that sexist jokes, attitudes and behaviours create a culture where women are less valued and violence against them is more likely; violence which, I know firsthand, is crippling to those who experience it and their loved ones. The Our Watch research also found that 21 per cent of Australians think women are becoming too outspoken. I can’t even begin to describe how disappointed this statistic makes me. If my sister was still alive, this would make her speak louder. I hope it makes every woman speak louder because, just like sexist jokes, these archaic attitudes need to be drowned out.

Men, too, need to be a lot louder in calling out that joke at the pub that makes women feel uncomfortable; that leery comment objectifying a woman’s body parts; that whistle on the street; that Facebook meme calling a short skirt a hand-delivered invitation. And people want to do this. The research also showed that many Australians want to speak up against sexism, gender discrimination and gender equality.

It can be hard to challenge ingrained “blokey” culture, particularly because our society has told men not to speak up about issues affecting themselves, let alone others.

But it doesn’t have to be a big deal. It can be as simple as having a quiet word to your mate in private about why what they said is harmful. It can be as simple as not laughing at a joke. It can be as simple as sliding a DM on Facey. That way, you’ll even know when they’ve seen it.

As I’ve become more aware of my own male privilege, I’ve tried to always call out male entitlement. I don’t deserve credit for that – it’s the least I can do – but it’s nice to do your bit to change the story. When I called a guy out for a sexist “joke” in a bar, the guy simply told me he didn’t see a problem. “Piss off, it’s funny, mate.”

So I told him what I’m telling you. The research confirms that disrespecting women normalises a culture of violence against women. He admitted he didn’t realise the impact of his comments, then apologised to the woman in question. It really is that simple, but so few of us do it. Men, if we’re so tough, then what’s stopping all of us from stepping up and being better?

Recent personal safety survey results from the Bureau of Statistics highlighted that violence against women is on the rise in Australia, despite other rates of violence going down. Little by little. Bit by bit. Small, simple actions are the building blocks for a country where violence against women is less likely. If we do this, hopefully more positive numbers will come out of the ABS next time around. It’s too late to prevent Niki’s death, but it’s not too late prevent the death of the one woman a week currently being killed by an intimate partner. Deaths which are far from laughing matters. 

Tarang Chawla is an ambassador of Our Watch. www.ourwatch.org.au