In 1973 Mary Rowe, while working for the President and Chancellor at MIT, coined the notion of micro-inequities, which she defined as “apparently small events which are often ephemeral and hard-to-prove, events which are covert, often unintentional, frequently unrecognized by the perpetrator, which occur wherever people are perceived to be ‘different.’ " Examples of micro-inequities include:
checking emails or texting during a face-to-face conversation
consistently mispronouncing a person's name
interrupting a person mid-sentence
making eye-contact only with males while talking to a group containing both males and females
taking more questions from men than women
confusing a person of a certain ethnicity with another person of the same ethnicity
rolling your eyes
raising your voice, even though the other person has no difficulties hearing you
mentioning the achievements of some people at a meeting but not others whose achievements are equally relevant
consistently ignoring a person's emails for no good reason
only reading half of a person's email and then asking the person about the content later
making jokes aimed at certain minority groups
being completely unpredictable in your grading of certain people's term papers
issuing invitations that are uncomfortable for certain groups (“Please feel free to bring your wife,” "There is a link below to childcare options for female speakers who plan to bring their children," “There will be a belly-dancer at the party,“ "Our annual Christmas party will be held on December 18,” "Please bring pork chops to the potluck dinner")
Rowe noted that micro-inequities often had serious cumulative, harmful effects, resulting in hostile work environments and continued minority discrimination in public and private workplaces and organizations. What makes micro-inequities particularly problematic is that they consist in micro-messages that are hard to recognize for victims, bystanders and perpetrators alike. When victims of micro-inequities do recognize the micro-messages, Rowe argues, it is exceedingly hard to explain to others why these small behaviors can be a huge problem.
"My partner (male) and I (female) are both Masters students in Philosophy ... [Philosophers usually] ask both of us about our research interests, but they almost always ask my partner *first*."
"I [a female philosopher] noticed that the chair [of the talk] allowed each and every person who spoke to engage in dialogue with the speaker. But when I spoke ... the chair ... cut me off – I alone of all questioners was not allowed to explain my point further or engage in dialogue with the speaker."
"A male colleague once told me laughingly that a bunch of male graduate students were exchanging emails about my dissertation topic, which was so 'feminine'."
"After I was placed in the very last session of two consecutive conference programs, I started noticing that those very last sessions of conferences, which hardly anyone attends, and last sessions of the day, during which nobody can concentrate, are where most of the female speakers get stuck."
"I’m continuously amazed how otherwise enlightened people simply don’t think of women when they think about who to invite to conferences and contribute to edited volumes."
"At one of the first seminars I went to, I was the only girl. I raise an objection ... My point is completely ignored. Two minutes later, a male makes exactly the same point. The objection in his mouth is hailed as decisive."
"I have been ignored, talked over, and talked down to on many occasions. When I gave an objection to a view in a philosophy seminar, just ten minutes later, the teacher credited and praised a male student for having come up with the objection. "
"I was fortunate enough in this year’s job market to get an offer for a position at a university located in a town in a part of the US that I hadn’t lived in. To help me decide whehter to accept the position, I asked the head of department what it was like to live in that town, to get a feel of whether it would be somewhere that I would want to move to. He replied saying that it is a great place to live, and for reference, sent me a link to a page reporting how the area was one of the best in the country to raise children. I do not have any children, nor has it ever come up that I was planning to have any in the near future."
"My child had been born the previous year and I’m visiting in with a member of my dissertation committee. Wanting to share with him a great news that I my paper was accepted to a suberp conference, I said, 'I have a wonderful news, Prof X.' Prof X interjects: 'Oh, are you pregnant again?' ”
Though I don't have as much insight into the micro-inequities that take place in other disciplines or in various other workplaces, I suspect behaviors similar to those that occur in philosophy are prevalent elsewhere.
It is well-known that most micro-inequities occur as a result of implicit biases that we all possess. Common reactions to the following riddle illuminate this phenomenon.
"A boy and his father are terribly injured in a car accident. They are rushed into the hospital, and the father dies soon after. The little boy is in desperate need of an emergency operation, but the doctor refuses to see the boy saying, “I cannot operate on him, he is my son!” Who is the doctor?"
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