By VicHealth and contributors Last updated: 17 Dec, 2019

We encounter sexist behaviour so regularly we barely notice it anymore. Crude jokes, unwanted advances and unequal treatment of men and women doing the same job too often seem commonplace.

But sexism and sexually harassing behaviour is damaging. And, people who recognise the issue often find themselves unsure of how to call it out.

Victoria University student, Lauren Riddel helped develop a Bystander Awareness and Action e-learning program several years ago, a tool she says is vital for people needing advice on how to be an active bystander and call it out.

“I was working as a soccer referee at the time,” says Riddel. “Sometimes the only female at a game, I would hear comments from male players and wasn’t really sure how to deal with them.”

As a result of the bystander program Riddel now has the confidence to say something.

“The examples they use in the training module are so relatable. I now realise how much I’ve seen it happen among friends and family as well,” she says.

A VicHealth survey of thousands of Victorians shows that, like Lauren, people want to help but are unsure about stepping in.

Over three quarters (78 per cent) of respondents said they would intervene if they saw sexism and sexual harassment, but when actually faced with it, only 46 per cent reported doing something about it.

This is because calling out inappropriate behaviour is harder than it seems. So, how do we go about calling it out without fear of ridicule or confrontation?

As a witness, you may not feel okay to be direct in calling it out, but you might feel okay to:

  • calmly disagree with the person
  • make a light-hearted comment to defuse the situation
  • talk to the target and offer to help progress the matter
  • report the behaviour if you’re part of an organisation.

By taking these actions, you’re helping to discourage the behaviour while providing support for the victim.

“Recently, a male player said to me: you did really well for a female,” Lauren recalls. “I told him he could have stopped after ‘really well’ – I’d take that part – but that there was no need to bring my gender into it.”

You can read more on how to respond to sexist behaviour in the VicHealth publication: Take action: Empowering bystanders to act of sexist and sexually harassing behaviours and start to take an active role in changing attitudes.