U.S. Representative Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez’s eloquent rebuke of the verbal abuse she was subjected to by fellow Representative Ted Yoho prompted reflection by all women on the institutionalized workplace harassment they face, including within academia. Women in academia have been and continue to be routinely subject to stereotyping, harassment, exclusion, subtle verbal and non-verbal insults, rumors, gossip, and pathologizing of their communication. They are also subject to inter-sectoral discrimination based on their ethnicity, race, religion, and nationality in addition to their gender. Common stereotypes include:
•Bossy •Crass •Emotional, Difficult, Problematic •Scary (50 plus) •Overly Sensitive, Insecure •Overreacts •Nice (under 50) •The Mother •The Workaholic •Divorced
In contrast, male academics are subject to positive stereotypes which lead to promotions, awards, and accolades:
•Direct Leadership style •Straight-forward, decisive •Enthusiastic, Driven •Assertive •Dedicated to research •Successful at managing various projects
A disturbing tendency within universities is a policy of silence when facing such practices. Cases are routinely shoved under the carpet, surprisingly often by men & women administrators, personnel managers, and Deans who seek to uphold the reputation of the university at the expense of the woman academic. The harassment may be labled as a minor, the women academic reminded “to move beyond the incident” thereby leaving the culture of abuse unchanged. It is time to break the culture of silence which fails to condemn language which diminishes the woman academic. Universities should have transparent mechanisms to correct discrimination and harassment of staff and students. While globalization has prompted universities to pursue diversity, such policies may fail if there is a lack of institutional committment to confronting discrimination in an open, effective manner.
As I have received requests for strategies to deal with microaggression, there are several resources which recommend lobbying for universities to adopt a microaggression framework or an Inclusiveness toolkit. It is important for women academics to meet across departments to validate and share their experiences as well as cooperate to design better polices.