For LGBTQ+ History Month, we return to our conversation about cisheteropatriachy, the experiences of LGBTQ+ women in higher education, and the ways our allyship can help deconstruct harmful binaries.
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 Masculinity5 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 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 use of terms reflects 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 for this. 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 encouragement of others. Support practices where people pause and make space to include everyone in sharing ideas. When empathetic collaboration and teamwork are emphasized, LGBTQ+ students, faculty, and staff can 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 You can even begin to question how your field’s way of thinking might implicitly perpetuate binaries that reinforce normal versus deviant expectations.
Additional Resource Recommendations
- Book: Queering STEM Culture in US Higher Education– This edited volume features LGBTQ+ students, faculty, and administrators’ experiences in and around STEM.
- Video: Being a PoC in the LGBTQ2S Community – This panel discusses their experiences as LGBTQ+ People of Color and how gender/sexual oppression intersects with racism.
- Article: LGBTQ+ STEM Interviews– LGBTQ+ STEM centers the voices of LGBTQ+ scientists around the world, sharing about their stories in higher education and the field.
- Podcast: Life Kit: Making the Workplace More Equitable for Trans People – This episode features Chase Strangio, one of the lawyers who fought last summer to get LGBTQ+ protections under Title VII, to discuss how to create a better workplace for trans people.
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