We’re surrounded by news about the most extreme forms of misogyny from high-profile #MeToo cases to stories of domestic abuse, but what we hear less about, are the cases of inescapable misogyny women are confronted with in their daily lives.
Things like catcalling and street harassment are clear examples, but they can be more subtle and pernicious too. Like telling girls to smile more, constantly talking over and interrupting women, or ignoring their contributions in group settings. But why is this behaviour so normalised, and why do so many men partake in it?
Do students experience microaggressions?
Our research team at GoodCourse wanted to understand just how entrenched these attitudes were, or if they were just a hangover from a bygone era. So we teamed up with our research partners over at Attest, to ask female students about their experiences of microaggressions on campus. Our research covered three main areas👇
- To what extent do female students experience microaggressions?
- Do female students feel their concerns would be taken seriously?
- What can Student Services leaders do better to prevent them?
On 16/08/2022 we leveraged the leading consumer insights platform Attest, to survey 500 female university students (aged 18-24) nationwide on their experiences of microaggressions on campus. Respondents from London and the South East accounted for the largest cohort of respondents at 25%.
Microaggressions are widespread on campus
The results were pretty sobering, though for most women, the results probably won't come as much of a surprise. Nearly every female student we surveyed had experienced one or more microaggression during group work whilst at university 👇
Our research serves as yet another data point confirming that microaggressions are experienced by the vast majority of women, and are a pervasive feature of educational (and domestic) environments. A staggering 97.8% of students polled reported experiencing a microaggression, with only 11 out of 500 respondents saying that they had not.
Breaking down the individual survey responses showed that the most commonly experienced microaggression was being talked over or interrupted, with nearly 80% of respondents saying they had experienced this. Next, was being ignored or not consulted (60%), and 40% of female students had also experienced someone taking credit for their work 😔
The fact that these behaviours often go under the radar and unchecked, is part and parcel of a widespread culture of misogyny that has allowed such norms to establish in the first place. According to Laura Bates, author of Men Who Hate Women, “Misogyny is so normalised in our society that we struggle to recognise it as something extreme’.
Lucy Weatherley, a third year biology student at UCL, commented 👇
"A big part of why I don't speak up in university seminars is because I'm so used to men dominating educational settings."
Sexist attitudes and behaviours are taught from a young age
The National Education Union (NEU)’s 2019 study It’s Just Everywhere - sexism in schools found that 66% of female students and 37% of male students in mixed-sex sixth forms have experienced or witnessed the use of sexist language in school. On top of this, 36% of female said they’d been treated differently on account of their gender, compared to 15% of male students 😞
Our research surfaced similar findings showing that girls experienced microaggressions from an early age too. 88.5% of our survey respondents reported ‘being spoken over’ at school but maybe even more startling was that nearly 50% reported these types of behaviours in the home too.
Cultures of silence and lack of support
Gendered microaggressions on campus persist for a multitude of reasons, but what’s particularly worrying is that for those on the receiving end of microaggressions, the majority don’t feel able to access the routes to support that exist, or even express that these microaggressions are an issue in the first place.
In response to the question ‘Do you feel like you can speak up on these matters at university?’, only 22% replied yes and 38% reported that they didn’t feel like anyone would care, if they did.
These findings point to a culture of silence which may be preventing female students from speaking out on the microaggressions they face. Women on campus need to feel like concerns will be acted on for real change to happen, but they need allies too - those witnessing these acts need to be empowered to intervene and support effectively. As long as the current patterns of behaviour continue, it’s likely that microaggressions targeting women will continue to be the norm.
Student leaders need to be proactive
It’s evident universities need to do more to understand the issues at hand, if they’re to provide effective support to female students on the receiving end of sexist microaggressions. Our research highlighted that 64% of students said there should be better ways to report issues in university spaces, and there was also an overwhelming bias to increasing the provision of preventative training for staff and students alike.
Our findings reflect patterns in wider research too, for example, the National Education Union found that 78% of female students believe that ‘schools don’t take sexism seriously enough’ — speaking to the demand for universities to put in place procedures and mechanisms for students to access support with ease and confidence.
The solution: unlearning misogynistic behaviours and attitudes
So what can be done to minimise the occurrence and impact of microaggressions in schools and universities? Well, one key point from our findings is the need to educate perpetrators on the harmful affects of sexist comments, jokes and behaviours and their wider role in perpetuating structural misogyny.
The NEU’s advice on challenging sexism in schools speaks to the need to conceptualise misogyny as a taught behaviour, that needs to be unlearned through education and awareness, or by platforming the voices and experiences of young women and girls.
We’re trying to do our bit here at GoodCourse too. We exist to provide the easiest to consume, jargon free training available on topics from microaggressions to consent training.