• Yumi Stynes hosts new documentary, 'Is Australia Sexist?' (SBS)Source: SBS
The documentary 'Is Australia Sexist?' kicks off with the suggestion that Australian society is built on the foundation that everyone gets a fair go. But how much of a fair go do women and girls actually get?
Tanya Modini

20 Nov 2018 - 3:13 PM  UPDATED 3 Dec 2018 - 8:07 PM

By setting up hidden cameras on men and women in a variety of social experiments, host Yumi Stynes shows that a lot of men fail to “get” sexism and the intimidation, unfairness or fear that women feel every day.

In one situation, gender roles are reversed and a female actor cat calls men on the streets with comments like “I like your suit. I’d like it better on my bedroom floor”. If this wasn’t such a serious issue, it may seem funny. The men’s reaction is barely there. She is no threat to them. And therein lies the difference.

The results of the largest ever survey about sexism in Australia was commissioned by SBS for Is Australia Sexist? This robust academic research was supervised by Macquarie University and involved 3599 Australian men and women of all ages and backgrounds who completed the survey in April 2018. The results are featured throughout the program. 

That wolf whistle, that sexist joke, that assumption that women aren’t “up for” the top job, that camper van with the sexist message scrawled on the side, that ad that shows girls being pretty and boys full of action and adventure – all these spew out at us every day from every angle at all times.

What sort of impact does this constant deluge have on our attitudes and the great Aussie concept of a “fair go” for everyone? 

A community not giving girls and women a fair go

Guess where Australia ranks on the Global Gender Gap Report 2017 published annually by the World Economic Forum? Third? Sixth? Australia is not even in the top 10. We rank at number 35 out of 144 countries for gender equality – lower than some developing countries. 

Alarmingly, when the report started in 2006, Australia was ranked number 15 so we have taken a massive sexist nosedive since then.

But what does higher gender inequality mean for every day Australian women? How does it impact our society?

For starters, gender inequality and disrespect for women is one of the key drivers of violence against women. Gender inequality provides the social conditions that embed and perpetuate violence against women. And these social conditions include sexism.

Sexism is dangerous

“Sexist attitudes and behaviours create an environment where violence against women is more likely; in an environment in which women are disrespected, some people take that right and don’t draw the line”, says CEO of Our Watch, Patty Kinnersly.

And that lack of respect for women and girls is where it gets dangerous. In case you haven’t heard:

So, what do you reckon? Is Australia sexist?

It’s time to change our minds

Host Yumi Stynes says, “I think sexism is really complicated. It’s so ingrained in our culture and our learning. It’s something we pick up from the moment we’re born… it’s something we have to unlearn.”

The attitudes that men are better at most things, that men can control women, that it’s acceptable for women and girls to be sexualised, are formed at a young age. 

“If we want to stop violence against women, it’s time to change our minds.” But changing our minds and changing our attitude towards women is no easy feat.

The 2013 National Community Attitudes towards Violence Against Women Survey (NCAS) revealed that many Australians – male and female – have some disturbing attitudes about women and violence against women. For example, over 60% of Australians believe that a woman could leave a violent relationship if she wanted to. Even though that’s when she is most likely to be killed.

The release of the latest 2017 NCAS survey results is timely, 30 November 2018.

Heather Nancarrow, CEO of Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS) said that while there has been some promising attitudinal change and increased understanding of violence against women, “until everyone in the Australian community, including the men who are perpetrating violence, recognise that it’s their choice, their responsibility, that they’re the ones who should be held accountable for their violence against women, until we’ve got everyone agreeing with that position and acting on that position, we will continue to have a problem.”

The battle to change our collective mind continues. Innovative campaigns like “Doing Nothing Does Harm” from Our Watch, and the joint government initiative “Stop it at the Start” work on getting the message out that we have to challenge sexism to keep women safer. 

We won’t stop violence against women until men stop their violence. But to do that we need the voices of an informed, fearless community of unified men and women screaming for it to stop. The backlash and resistance to change must also stop.

Australia is well overdue to earn a much higher ranking in the next Global Gender Gap Report. Now is the time to start using our voices to ensure once and for all that women and girls are included in getting a fair go. 

Is Australia Sexist? premieres on SBS at 8:40pm on Tuesday 4 December, or stream it any time afterwards at  SBS On Demand.

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SBS and Yumi Stynes tackle the question, 'Is Australia Sexist?'
New documentary hosted by Yumi Stynes premieres 4 December, 8.40pm on SBS Australia.