Exploring cisheteropatriarchy’s effects on LGBTQ+ women

June is Pride Month, so we use this one-time summer Ally Tips to explore cisheteropatriarchy’s effects on LGBTQ+ women and how we can become better allies to the LGBTQ+ community.

Reflect: Understanding Cisheteropatriarchy

Cisheteropatriarchy 1 (pronounced sis-het-er-oh-pey-tree-ahr-kee) is a system of power that centers cisgender, heterosexual men and masculinity at the top of a gender/sexual hierarchy, 2 using tools like gender roles to reinforce binary notions of gender and sexuality. This system creates a way of being in the world that accepts only certain kinds of behavior and relationships, punishing women and LGBTQ+ people who do not follow these roles/norms. 3, 4 Toxic Masculinity 5 perpetuates and is rewarded by cisheteropatriarchy, as it excludes men who do not adhere to acceptable behavior and beliefs of “real” men. 6, 7 How might this system affect our language patterns in the office, classroom, and beyond? How does it affect our expectations of professionalism and academic success (and our rewards for conforming to them)? How does it bias our sense of credibility or authority toward “masculine” behavior?

Learn: Cisheteropatriarchy in Higher Education

Cisheteropatriarchy limits how LGBTQ+ people, especially women, are allowed to live and express themselves, including in higher education. LGBTQ+ women suffer microaggressions directed at their intelligence and identity, 8, 9, 10 disruptions to critical professional opportunities, 11, 12 tokenization used to teach others and represent shallow diversity, 13, 14, 15 and poor access to affirmative healthcare and facilities. 16 LGBTQ+ students, staff, and faculty are less likely to report incidents of bias when they aren’t valued and safe. 17 LGBTQ+ women who do report often receive pushback, such as Dr. Rachel Tudor, a trans woman professor who recently won a discrimination lawsuit after being denied tenure because of her gender. 18 STEM fields have a deep history of repeating rigid, binary expectations of “normal” 19 and perpetuating a “bro culture.” 20 This climate in STEM causes LGBTQ+ women to feel isolation, attempt to hide their identity, and depart from their field.  21, 22


  • Check Your Language: One of the most critical ways that you can become more inclusive is to deconstruct how your language reinforces sexual and gender prejudice. There are multiple ways to become more inclusive around our language. We can normalize the recognition and respect for pronouns by introducing ourselves with our pronouns; however, you shouldn’t require others to do so, as you may force someone to out themselves when they wouldn’t normally do so. Using gender neutral language (e.g., “spouse” vs. “husband”) prevents exclusionary assumptions of gender/sexuality. Be sure to stay up to date on language regarding the LGBTQ+ community, as the evolution and usage of terms reflects the acceptance of all genders and sexualities.
  • Address Knowledge Gaps: Not everyone in your office, classroom, or department will have the same level of knowledge around the language and experience of LGBTQ+ people, so opportunities to learn about these identities and grow are crucial. The LGBTQ+ Center has many wonderful resources and programs on LGBTQ+ experiences. When you hear someone misgender or use the wrong pronouns of another person, make sure to address this mistake by role modeling (e.g., “I am sure they weren’t excited by the new assignment”). Call out when others attempt to reinforce stereotypes or prejudices around the lives of LGBTQ+ people, especially LGBTQ+ women (e.g., “you’ll never be able to have a real family” 23 or “you’re not a real woman” 24).
  • Shifting the Climate: Consider how your environment promotes norms that embolden “toxic masculinity” and cisheteropatriarchy, such as dominating a space or avoiding the encouragement of others’ success. Encourage practices where people pause and make space for everyone to be included in sharing ideas or stories. When empathetic collaboration and teamwork are emphasized, LGBTQ+ students, faculty, and staff are able to integrate their identities into their work/interactions without fear of being punished. 25, 26  Consider how your policies may also reflect cisheteropatriarchy, such as dress codes that reinforce gender binaries. 27