Gender stereotypes and sexist jokes. What’s the big deal?

Pyramid posterViolence against women is based upon a foundation of unequal power between men and women, something that has been embedded historically in our society and in our relationships. We see this imbalance acted out in many ways, even today. It is in the jokes we tell, the language we use and in the way that men and women are represented in all types of media.

To overthrow the epidemic of violence in our community we must start at the very beginning and shake the foundation that supports it. You can start to do this today. Gender stereotyping and sexist jokes are present in most of our lives, we see them and hear them everywhere we go.

They are not harmless.


Gender stereotypes are a way to disempower people and sexist jokes are used to belittle people who struggle against them. When you hear something, call it out. There are many bystander strategies you can use, including the following:

  • Tell the person that it’s inappropriate, offensive, or simply not funny. Sometimes this can be enough to make someone realise they’ve over stepped the line.
  • Testimonial: ‘When I hear a guy telling a sexist joke I always ask, “Would you say that about your mother or your sister?”’
  • You can also approach the issue in a supportive way, pointing out that you expect something more from someone you admire and respect.
  • If you’re not comfortable acting in the moment, try approaching the person afterwards when you’re alone and tell them how you feel. Explain to them that those comments make you uncomfortable and why. If you don’t know the person very well, you could also speak to others in your group about how you feel and gather support for acting next time it happens.

This video shows how stereotypes create insults and disempowerment.

Many people who act in a sexist or inappropriate way do so believing that the majority of people agree with these attitudes and actions. But we also know that if you’re feeling uncomfortable and believe something is inappropriate, you’re probably not alone. It takes courage and leadership to say something and to stand up to this behaviour. By stepping in, you are creating an opportunity for other people around you to also speak up, and show that these attitudes are in fact, a minority.

Take action

Sexist jokes and Language suport men's violence agaisnt womenAs a bystander it is our duty to say or do something, no matter how direct or indirectly we act. The most important thing is to do something, and to do it safely. Choose a strategy that you feel comfortable with and try it out. We’d love to hear your stories about challenging gender stereotypes and sexist jokes.

You can learn more and get hands on practice by signing up for the Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) program.

Read more about ‘Gender equality and violence against women – What’s the connection?’ (Australian Institute of Family Studies)

If you or someone you know is experiencing violence please contact a specialist support service listed here or call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732)