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‘Being part of the team means pulling our mates up when they’re out of line’

Zach Merrett is an AFL player and a new Our Watch ambassador. Our Watch is a national leader in the prevention of violence against women.

If you’re a man and you witness one of your friends, family members, teammates, or anyone else you know being disrespectful towards women, it’s absolutely your job to do something about it.

We all know the kind…

The locker-room chat sharing intimate stories of women they’ve ‘picked up’, the ‘kick like a girl’ comments hurled from the sidelines, and the on-the-couch commentary that undermines sportswomen’s talent and contributions and ignores the barriers they face.

Having spent a lot of my time in male-dominated environments as an AFL player, I’ve been no stranger to the sexist abuse disguised as ‘humour,’ the attempts to look ‘cool’ and be ‘one of the boys’ at the expense of women and ourselves.

But until we pull up this in-the-bin behaviour, we’re all ‘that guy’.

It’s not enough to internally disagree with what was said or done. We aren’t off the hook because ‘deep down’ we reckon we’re good blokes.

For too long I’ve watched men sit back and say, “That’s wrong,” without actually doing anything about it. Accepting it’s ‘Just the way things are’. Not rocking the boat because it’s ‘harmless’. Just a bit of ‘banter’.

So, while most men already disapprove of sexist and violent attitudes and behaviours, just 14 per cent of us will actually do something about it.

The flow on effects of this are grim, to say the least.

When we do nothing, we effectively say ‘play on’ – to him and anyone else looking on.

We pressure women to ‘take a joke’, we stop them from being themselves on social media for fear of harassment and abuse, and we cause women to avoid places with lots of men and even leave their jobs.

The majority of Australians (55 per cent) think disrespect towards women is common or very common in sport.

And 65 per cent of Australian girls and women report to being harassed online – way more often than men, and worse than the global average of 58 per cent.

Our sports women are also targeted for abuse on social media more than us guys; and it’s more likely to be sexist, belittle their sporting ability, or sexually harassing.

Worst of all, when we do nothing, we create a culture in which gender equality takes a dive and violence and sexual harassment towards women becomes not only accepted, but more likely.

Because while not all disrespect leads to violence, all violence against women starts with disrespect.

And it’s not just women who suffer when we do nothing in the face of this sexism and disrespect.

Men are pressured by these outdated stereotypes of how to be a man. The idea that men should only ever be tough, dominant, super straight and uphold the ‘bro code’.

While plenty of us can and do have healthy friendships with other guys, unfortunately, a lot of men often bond by putting women down.

Whether it’s the chat about the boys trying to ‘pull’ on a night out or talking about a woman like she’s not a person, and that instead, ‘She’s doable’.

And these ‘bonding’ behaviours go into overdrive when we’re thrown into male-dominated places and industries and men try to out-do each other. Like we’re in some warped competition over who can dominate and treat women the worst.

Without the space and confidence to be ourselves, we’re either conforming or hiding who we really are for fear of becoming the targets.

Of course, we’re not responsible for other people’s actions. But through our own actions, we can help influence social norms by showing what’s OK and what’s not.

That’s why I’m supporting Our Watch’s Doing Nothing Does Harm campaign by coming on board as its Ambassador.

Doing Nothing Does Harm is a campaign for the 79 per cent of us who want to do something when we witness women being disrespected but need some extra tips to get there.

“When we do nothing, we effectively say ‘play on’ – to him and anyone else looking on.”

It gives us information and advice to do something in a range of ways, depending on what we feel comfortable with – whether that’s showing what’s not OK by shaking our heads, supporting women by asking if they’re alright, or speaking up by questioning the ‘joke’ or changing the subject.

The campaign is about moving forward together, educating and lifting each other up, and being versions of ourselves that we can feel proud of. It’s not about putting others down. It’s not about picking a fight with strangers or intervening in violence – for that, we call Triple Zero (000).

It’s for the gun footy players like Abbey and Cheyenne who deserved the community’s support and respect, not the string of insults they were hit with because they were outperforming the boys.

Because if we can normalise voicing our disapproval in a way that’s genuine and constructive, the person being disrespectful can actually react in a way that’s really positive.  

Perhaps they’ve never considered your perspective and calling them out helps to create a lightbulb moment for them. Because we’re all at different stages in our understanding of gender inequality, how we contribute to it, and how it plays out in our everyday lives.

Of course, individual action alone won’t fix the problem. And telling a mate who puts his girlfriend down to lay off doesn’t make us a hero. But unless we start to look at the values and behaviours we support in our own lives and make some active steps towards change, we’re absolutely part of the problem.

If we really care about creating a safe, equal society and want the best for the people in our lives, we’ll do something to pull them up when they’re off track.