Topic 3 Gender microaggressions

Types of Gender microaggressions

  • Sexual objectification

  • Second-class citizenship

  • Use of sexist language

  • Assumption of inferiority

  • Restrictive gender roles

  • Denial of the reality of sexism

  • Denial of individual sexism

  • Invisibility

  • Sexist humor/jokes

  • Environmental invalidations: macro level aggressions that happen on systemic and environmental level (unequal pay; glass ceiling; media images)

Imagine these scenarios

You are a member of a faculty search committee hiring an assistant professor in biology. The committee is just starting a face-to-face interview with a candidate named Maria Vasquez. One of your colleagues makes comments about her appearance calling her ”beautiful” on a frequent basis. He also asks her to “smile” if she does not have a smile on her face. She finds this very uncomfortable and nervously laughs.

A search committee hiring a department chair in environmental science is meeting to discuss the final list of candidates, which includes two men and one women. During the discussion, a male committee member says, “I think we should hire one of the men. I won’t work for a woman.”

A man named Alex is a candidate for a tenure-track job in chemistry. During his on-campus interview, the chairperson (a woman) of the search committee is giving him a tour. As they walk through the department labs, Alex makes a point to let the chairperson know that because he is a man, he feels he could make a great candidate for some of the top positions of the committee due to his determination, strength and assertiveness. The chairperson does not appreciate that he thinks this is a characteristic of a man, rather than a characteristic that all persons can possess.

Why are these comments and behaviours problematic? These are examples of “microaggressions”

Defining Microaggressions


  • Are verbal and nonverbal behaviours

  • Communicate negative, hostile, and derogatory messages to people rooted in their marginalised group membership (based on gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, etc.)

  • Occur in everyday interactions

  • Can be intentional or unintentional

  • Are often unacknowledged

Three Forms of Microaggressions:

1.Microassaults: “old fashioned” discrimination

  • Name-calling, avoidant behaviour, or purposefully discriminatory actions

  • Likely to be conscious and deliberate

2.Microinsults: subtle snubs that communicate a covert insulting message

  • Convey stereotypes, rudeness, and insensitivity that demean a person’s identity

  •  Are frequently unknown to the person

3.Microinvalidations: disconfirming messages

  • Exclude, negate, or dismiss the thoughts,   feelings, or experiences of certain groups

  • May be the most damaging form of the three microaggressions

Detrimental Impact of Gender Microaggressions

  1. Negative impact on standard of living

  • Unequal wages

  • Higher levels of poverty

  1. Negative impact on physical health

  • Migraines, heart disease, autoimmune disorders

  1. Negative impact on psychological health

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • Body image dissatisfaction and eating disorders

Moving Forward: How to Overcome Microaggressions

  1. Individual Intervention

  • Develop an honest awareness of our own biases, prejudices, and stereotypes

  1. Organisational Intervention

  • Make sure policies, practices, and procedures allow for equal access and opportunity

  • Create a welcoming communication climate

  • Provide professional development opportunities

  • Make accountability central

  1. Societal/Cultural Intervention

  • Critically assess cultural communication (education, mass media, institutions, etc.)

  • Create social policy and law to rectify discrimination and promote equal access

  • Promote multi-cultural education