Gender Microaggressions at Work: The Visible and Invisible

At work, this guy is always eyeing me up and down; it makes me feel awful.

During our team meetings, one guy invariably interrupts and talks over all of the women, even the team leader; why doesn’t someone call him out?

I shared with my female colleague that her jokes about women were creating an unhealthy dynamic in the department; she told me I was being too sensitive and should join the #metoo movement.

Gender Microaggressions

Gender microaggressions are defined as brief and everyday verbal and nonverbal behaviors and environmental conditions that communicate demeaning, hostile, and otherwise sexist insults towards women (Nadal, 2010). Nadal also describes three types of gender microaggressions:

  • Gender microassault: Blatant sexism, verbal, nonverbal, and behavioral. For example, verbal demeaning by calling a woman a “bitch” or a “whore.”
  • Gender microinsults: Often unintentional behaviors and statements that still convey negative messages about women. For example, in professional association meetings or classrooms, the convener may call primarily on men although women are raising their hand to speak.
  • Gender microinvalidation: This takes many forms, from exclusion from an activity because of a women’s sex, negating a woman’s ideas with jest, and ignoring a woman in the room of all men, even though she is a co-worker.

Swim, Hyers, Cohen, and Ferguson (2001) also calls these behaviors “everyday sexism” because they occur so often that they then become taken for granted as typical in that setting. We may all be in settings where everyday sexism is ongoing yet fail to notice but make attributions such as: That’s just John, being John; don’t take him seriously; or Carl is basically a good guy, just from an older generation, calling you sweetheart is not a big deal.

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