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Empowering Yourself: Tips for Resisting Disrespectful Behavior

We know that violence against women and children is due to several factors, including:

  • Gender inequality – the continuing belief, brought by colonisation, that women are property or there to serve. This power imbalance can play out at all levels of the community like workplaces, schools, courts and in the family home, reinforcing harmful attitudes and practices.

  • Lack of supports – conflict and stress in the household, like financial problems, issues such as alcohol or drug abuse and a history of violence in your own childhood all increase the likelihood of the cycle of violence continuing.

  • Discriminatory systems – outdated socials norms that tolerate and perpetuate violence, such as normalising controlling behaviours, may have shifted in the community, but not necessary in the large systems like our justice system. Effort is needed to change policies, laws and practices that continue to disrespect women.

So it’s no surprise that women, especially Aboriginal women in our white centric world, continue to be disrespected.

Everyone has a right to dignity and respect.

So how do you maintain your role as a sovereign woman, carrying on the knowledge and strength of the matriarchs before you and remain steadfast?

The biggest protective factor against the trauma of violence and discrimination is connection to our culture. There’s support in the collective, in working with culturally safe organisations and in practicing culture.

We also know from the latest research on understanding trauma that we need to:

  • Understand ourselves and reflect on our triggers, actions and practice. This will help keep our nervous system from jumping to panic mode when we don’t need it to.

  • Understand what people need to function well, like unconditional support and truth telling, so that you can give it to others and receive it ourselves.

  • Understand power and privilege and how to use it as a force for good.

  • Honour that everyone is made up of a collection of unique experiences that drive how they view the world and how they interact with it.

Disrespectful language and behaviours aim to shame, silence and control whoever it is directed to. There is evidence that four strategies can be used to address and disarm the perpetrator of disrespect:

(a) make the invisible visible, (b) disarm the microaggression, (c) educate the perpetrator, and (d) seek external reinforcement or support.*

To make the invisible visible, you can:

  • Ask for clarification ‘What does that means?’

  • Challenge the stereotype

  • Highlight the underlying meaning, ‘Relax, I’m not dangerous’

To disarm you can challenge what is being said. For example you can say ‘That’s not how I view it’ or ‘Respect and tolerance are important values to me so I’m asking you to show a little more respect for me by not making offensive comments.’ If direct confrontation seems dangerous, you could shake your head or use an exclamation like ‘Ouch!’

Educating the offender can take many forms, try:

  • Appealing to the offenders values – ‘I know you want to be a great leader but that behaviour excludes some people, undermining your intentions.’

  • Pointing out the commonality – ‘She aspires to be a working mother like you, you actually have a lot in common, you should talk to her.’

  • Pointing out the benefits – ‘Learning about harmful stereotypes will make you a better clinician.’

You can seek reinforcement or support from organisations by recording all incidents and reporting them to a manager or through a complaints process. EMH can help you. You can seek counselling, attend support groups or talk to your elders. Let us know in the comments what else you do to resist disrespect.

We honour all women as integral knowledge holders with unique wisdom derived from living cultural knowledge, individual and collective life experiences. – Kalina, CEO, Elizabeth Morgan House

You got this!


*Sue, D.W., Alsaidi, S., Awad, M.N., Glaeser, E., Calle, C.Z., & Mendez, N. (2019). Disarming racial microaggressions: Microintervention strategies for targets, White allies, and bystanders. The American psychologist, 74 1, 128-142 .

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