16 Ways to Call Out Disrespect

By calling out disrespect we can shift attitudes and behaviours that contribute to gender inequality and violence against women.

The following list provides examples of ways we can safely call out disrespect when we see it in our home, education setting, workplace or in the community, developed by Respect Victoria: 

  1. Don’t laugh at sexist jokes.
  2. Give a disapproving look to show a behaviour or statement is not okay. Shake your head or roll your eyes.
  3. Leave a pointed and uncomfortable silence.
  4. Make a lighthearted comment: “What century are you living in?”
  5. Check in with the person affected: “I heard what he just said – are you okay?”
  6. Privately let them know their behaviour is not okay: “The joke you made in yesterday’s meeting was not funny, and actually not okay.”
  7. Calmly disagree and state that the comment is wrong or unacceptable: “I know you probably didn’t mean it, but I found what you said to be offensive.”
  8. Speak up and educate by explaining why you disagree: “Actually evidence shows the vast majority of women do not make up false claims of sexual assault.”
  9. Challenge the logic: “That’s not my experience” or “What makes you think that?”
  10. Stand up for the person affected: “Michelle was saying something, and you cut her off again.”
  11. Make eye contact with the person affected – let them know you’re an ally.
  12. Show your emotion: “It actually makes me sad / uncomfortable when you say that.”
  13. Support others when they call it out: “I agree, that’s not funny.”
  14. Appeal to their better self: “Come on, you’re better than that.”
  15. Report the behaviour to management, or via incident reporting systems if available.
  16. Disrupt or distract the situation to redirect the focus from the incident to someone else. 

Here are some handy tips on how to respond to common myths and comments you may encounter in your gender equality campaign in professional or social situations, developed by Safe + Equal and Respect Victoria:

Comment: “What about men experiencing violence? You’re just cherry-picking data to say that women are the victims”

We acknowledge that both women and men can experience violence, but the nature of this violence differs in terms of its severity and impacts. Data comes from sources such as the Crime Statistics Agency, the Prevention of Family Violence Data Platform, and the Personal Safety Survey undertaken by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. As uncomfortable as it may be, the data consistently shows that women disproportionately experience intimate partner violence and non-partner sexual assault, and are more likely to be hospitalised, injured, express fear or be killed by a current or former partner. To address the violence experienced by women, we must recognise its gendered nature. We look forward to a future with very different data that shows all forms and rates of violence being eliminated! 

Comment: “Jokes are harmless - speaking disrespectfully does not mean the man is abusive.”

Speaking disrespectfully does not necessarily mean someone is abusive, but people who are abusive often speak disrespectfully. The evidence tells us that the most consistent predictor for support of violence against women by men is their agreement with sexist and disrespectful attitudes towards women. Sexist jokes reflect and reinforce sexist attitudes. There are many jokes we can make that aren’t sexist and disrespectful – why not challenge ourselves to be creative with our humour and not fall back on old stereotypes!  

Comment: “Sexism and disrespect do not cause violence against women. It is caused by poverty, unemployment, and stress.”

Poverty, unemployment, or stress alone do not drive violence against women. Women experience poverty, stress, and unemployment at equal or often higher rates than men. However, 95% of violence is committed by men, not women. Violence against women happens regardless of income, class, or unemployment status. While we recognise those factors may increase the likelihood or severity of violence against women, they only play a role when people hold beliefs and attitudes that are sexist and disrespectful. 

Comment: “Violence is only an issue within some community groups like migrant communities or Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander communities.”

Family violence occurs among all types of families, regardless of income, profession, religion, ethnicity, or educational level.  

Comment: “Why must one gender be more respected than the others? Respect everyone regardless of gender, not just women!”

 We agree – everyone should be respected regardless of their gender. Unfortunately, though, women experience casual and structural sexism daily and are not respected in the same way as many men are. To create a society where there is no disrespect and no violence, we need to look honestly at what the evidence is telling us.

Comment: “Sexism only seems to work one way these days.”

Sexism is prejudice or discrimination based on sex or gender. Although sexism can be directed at men, women have been and remain the predominant targets of sexism. Sexism toward women must be viewed differently to sexism toward men because it is based on systematic inequalities and historic oppression. Sexism and similarly inflexible beliefs and attitudes toward sex and gender roles (sexism) are the most consistent predictor of attitudes and behaviours that lead to violence against women.  

Comment: “Why is gender equality and family violence/ gender-based violence a council issue? Shouldn’t you just stick to roads, rates and rubbish?”

Family violence and violence against women is a serious and prevalent issue affecting the health and wellbeing of many people living within our municipality. The role of council is to address issues that are relevant to our community, and we are legislatively required to work to prevent family violence (Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008). The reach of local government across the community is unrivalled and we are in a unique position where we can embed gender equality across multiple community settings and services. We believe that we can lead the societal change needed to achieve gender equality and subsequently prevent violence against women through the services we deliver, our organisational structure and operations, and most importantly through leadership in the community.  

Comment: "What happens inside a family is their business, no one else’s.”

Family violence is no longer considered a private matter and is being addressed as a serious public health and criminal justice issue. If you know of someone who is being abused, express your concern, and encourage them to seek help.