The Writing is on the Wall: Environmental Gender Microaggressions // Cecile A. Gadson, M.A.
Image from alphr.com
From kindergarten to higher education to the workplace, women may share the experience of entering a space and having this subtle feeling of an unwelcoming environment. This unknown but noticeable feeling in particular spaces where women are not well represented or revered could manifest from environmental microaggressions based on gender. Broadly speaking, microaggressions are subtle, everyday verbal, nonverbal, and behavioral putdowns, slights, and indignities towards people who hold marginalized social identities (Sue, 2007). Those who are often targets of microaggressions include people of color, women, sexual minorities, and lower class individuals. Microaggressions are often experienced as interpersonal interactions that communicate subtle bias and prejudice. Although microaggressions are still implicit in nature, individuals whom experience theses slight begin to recognize and identify the direct source. Unlike interpersonal microaggressions, the direct source of environmental microaggressions can be somewhat invisible.
Environmental gender microaggressions are like a spirit or presence that women can often feel but not always see. These type of microaggressions are messages that are embedded in the climate and at large the society. They do not belong to a person but they communicate to women that they are less than, less cable, and often times not welcome in spaces traditionally occupied by men. For example, college women having to take classes and give professional talks in classrooms that are decorated with past leaders who happen to be all White men. No one is saying that women who occupy these spaces are not welcomed but the walls of male leaders communicate that their presence is not typical and subordinate. The walls seem to empower those who are environmentally represented and threaten and sometimes silence those who do not favor the men on the wall.
Environmental gender microaggressions can have a significant impact to women who occupy spaces that are not welcoming. The walls and policies communicate that spaces such as the classrooms, boardrooms, and workplaces are unequal and somewhat barrowed spaces. That is, women are not equal and valued members in these spaces but mere visitors, supporters, or inferior spectators. The impact of environmental microaggressions include under performance, stereotype treat, and psychological distress. For example, a woman engineer could experience anxiety and self-doubt as she presents her work to a male dominated audience. Even when one is aware of the source of the environmental microaggression they are often invalidated by those who are less vulnerable to this degradation. For example, moving symbols (e.g. photos of all White male leaders) out of shared spaces such as classrooms is often reduced to an aesthetic opposition when, in fact, the symbols displays and activates unwelcoming messages towards women and people of color.
So what can be done to combat environmental gender microaggressions? Although environmental microaggressions are very systemic in nature, women and individuals from other marginalized groups can advocate for small changes in their environment. For example, women and graduate students of color can discuss non-inclusive spaces on campus, such as classrooms. A simple act of diversifying or neutralizing the walls in a classroom could be the first step in making spaces more inclusive. These small steps can lead to bigger steps such as policy changes that can empower and not devalue women in all spaces.