We’ve all been there: a dinner party or a family gathering where there’s an awkward sexist comment. This kit is designed to help you in that moment, because conversations with a friend or family are one of the most accessible and effective ways to change attitudes.
How does it work?
Having conversations with people you know is effective because there is an automatic level of trust — you aren’t a stranger trying to change their mind, you are someone who they recognise as a rational, reasonable person in their lives. And while some forms of communication (a billboard or a TV show) are one-way, a conversation with a friend or relative lets you have a dialogue and explore questions. People often make decisions and form opinions based on feelings, not just facts. Powerful conversations will draw on both.
Before You Start
Pick your battles
If you’re already aware of gender equality and the work that’s needed, you’re one of the ‘committed’ audiences who don’t need convincing. When we plan to have a conversation with someone, it’s important to identify allies (others who are committed to equality) to work closely with, and then focus on the ‘moveable middle’ — people who share some values with you and just need some encouragement, education, or a different perspective to progress their attitudes. This group is where change can most effectively begin.
People who are strongly opposed to gender equality — the entrenched opposition — are the least likely to be influenced by your conversation, and the social norms in our culture reinforce their prejudices. By shifting the existing social norms, the entrenched opposition will start to modernise, and realise how outdated and ill-informed they have become. In other words, you do not have to try to persuade them right now; they will come along when the critical mass of community attitudes changes.
This kind of conversation can be tricky and it’s important to assess your surroundings first. If there’s someone in the room who you know is dealing with violence at home, make sure it’s safe to talk freely or you might want to talk to them alone. Is their abuser also at the party? Maybe now isn’t the time to talk. Also, be careful when confronting abusers directly; you may escalate the situation, and you – or their partner or kids – may be inadvertently put at risk.
With any societal change, there will be some resistance, so don’t be surprised when this happens. Go gently with your gender equality work, remember to care for yourself and allow yourself to receive care from others. Talking to allies, having some fun or accessing support from a service like 1800 RESPECT are all great ways to self-care. If the conversation brings up difficult memories for you or anyone else in the room, let people know that they can call WIRE to debrief: 1300 134 130.
How do I start the conversation?
Getting started can be the most difficult part — or there might be a really obvious point to start, if Uncle Jerry has just made a really problematic comment about his attractive female student or if Grandpa is tickling three-year-old Kira and she’s shrinking away.
But how do you make sure everyone stays calm, and the food all stays on the table?
One way is to check the myth-buster sheet in the kit for good come-backs to common misconceptions.
Another way is to start with very open-ended questions, so that the people you’re speaking with have an opportunity to air their side.