According to a comprehensive new study, Australian men are ready to call out sexism. But how long until we start to see a change in attitudes and behaviour?
By
Samuel Leighton-Dore

4 Dec 2018 - 9:45 PM  UPDATED 4 Dec 2018 - 9:45 PM

Are Australian men ready to call out sexism? If a comprehensive new survey conducted by Macquarie University is to be believed, the answer is a resounding 'yes'.

The study, produced in partnership with new SBS series Is Australia Sexist?, found that 80 per cent of Australians would stand up for someone being sexually harassed at work. The series attempts to put these numbers to the test, using actors to recreate a possible workplace environment - with a number of hidden cameras filming the results.

Set in a bar, two hired actors present a somewhat familiar image: a seedy male manager and a female server "on her first day". The manager goes about showing her the ropes, making her visibly uncomfortable with some inappropriate touching and sexually suggestive remarks. While some of the customers turn a blind eye (a few even laugh at his jokes), the majority stand up for the young bartender and speak their mind.

"You're a freaking imbecile!" One older man says to the manager as he leaves the venue.

"If that was my daughter there I'd be f**king pissed at you," says another.

"I don't think you can do that," one man continues, turning to the bartender.

"Grab a lawyer, put a civil claim in."

While the bar scene and corresponding survey data are undoubtedly reassuring, I can't help but wonder whether it would translate to an actual work environment. Judging by my own experience, it's relatively easy to call out sexism and sexual harassment as a passer-by with nothing on the line. However, it's much harden when your job or casual employment roster is potentially at risk.

I'm guilty of this myself. The number of times I've puffed up my chest in indignation when a female friend, family member or total stranger has been mistreated in public towers over the number of times I've dared speak truth to power in an otherwise valued workplace.

Working in various bars across Sydney for the five years following high school, I witnessed the quiet cogs of justice used to control bar staff, many of whom were either on working holidays or didn't have the security of a contract. If someone was seen as causing a fuss, be it by speaking out of line or rubbing a manager the wrong way, their hours would be slowly trimmed back until they had little choice but to seek employment elsewhere.

As a result, varying levels of inappropriate behaviour were left unaddressed. I can only imagine the same can be said for those in office environments; those with the pressures of supporting a family.

Is the fear of disrupting workplace politics and facing the repercussions understandable? Sure. But it's no excuse.

While it's near impossible to accurately represent the nuances of sexist behaviour and sexual harassment, so much of which is systemic and/or hidden behind closed doors, the various hypothetical scenarios presented, analysed and discussed in Is Australia Sexist? will prove a valuable opportunity to start necessary conversations around the dinner table or office water-cooler. However, for those doing so, it's worth remembering that sexist behaviour in real life is often much more passive than that shown on TV - wrapped up in countless micro-aggressions Australian women have come to expect on a daily basis.

It can be loud, but it can also be quiet and well hidden.

The program's expertly overseen setups suggest that, at the very least, there's an increased awareness among Australian men, not only of the gross sexual harassment faced by women across the country, but of their responsibility to speak up when they witness it. Whether or not this awareness will eventually manifest into a meaningful shift in attitudes and commonly seen patterns of behaviour is another, equally important story.

Is Australia Sexist? airs on Tuesday 4 December at 8.40pm on SBS and SBS On Demand.

If you or someone you know is impacted by rape or sexual assault, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.

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