Gendered Racism Among Women of ColorPosted on by
What is gendered racism?
When thinking of “–isms,” or systems of oppression, many often think of single constructs that operate independently like ingredients in a salad. Examples include how racism impacts individuals based on their race alone or how sexism impacts individuals related to their sex or gender – such as wage gaps between men and women. However, when systems of oppression combine, the effect develops into something entirely new, like a loaf of bread that includes multiple ingredients that are no longer individually identifiable. This is how I think about gendered racism, or a system of policies and ideas that cause and maintain racial inequities between those who belong simultaneously to minoritized gender and race groups. Even though all women can be affected by sexist ideas and policies, Black and other marginalized women of color are additionally affected by racist ideas and policies in ways that are multiplied for their racial group. Intersectionality serves as one conceptualization of gendered racism, and it has been applied as a theoretical framework for public health.
How does gendered racism impact Black and brown women of color?
Over the past 20 years, public health research has shown how health outcomes for women of color are distinct from those who share their race or their gender, such as White women and men of color. For example, a 2006 study showed differences in the effects of chronic stress for Black women compared with their male and/or White counterparts. In this study, the effect of “weathering” or early health decline due to coping with persistent stress, was tested for Black and White men and women. Results showed that Black women had the highest chronic stress load compared to Black men, White men, and White women, a pattern not explained by socioeconomic factors, such as poverty. This study showed how navigating a race-and-gender-conscious society requires high stress coping that weakens Black women’s bodies and puts them at greater risk of poor health outcomes. It also shows how racism and sexism experienced by Black women can combine to produce a multiplier effect on health that is greater than what is observed when looking at the impact of race or gender alone.
Black and other women of color experience stress due to gendered racism in many environments, including the workplace where they often navigate race and gender barriers in professional spaces. For example, a 2020 study on school leadership found that Black women are more likely to experience racialized and gendered role expectations above and beyond those expected of other leaders. In addition, Black and other women of color tend to be evaluated more harshly than men and White women as they navigate harmful stereotypes at work. For example, although anger is a commonly expressed emotion in the workplace, recent research suggests that when Black women express anger at work, their leadership potential is called into question. As another example, a recent study examined the influence of historical stereotypes of Asian women in relation to the 2021 shooting of six women in Atlanta, GA. The authors describe how cultural stereotypes of Asian women in cinema, music, and law have led to the assumption of Asian women being sex workers when employed in the service industry, such as the massage parlor where the shooting took place. Taken together, research suggests gendered racism experienced by women of color has consequences for their emotional and physical safety at work.
Reproductive and Child Health
Gendered racism that affects the health of women of color has implications for their children as well. Studies have shown differences in pregnancy stress for Black and Latina women due to race and gender stereotypes. Enduring a high-stress pregnancy due to navigating structural disadvantages (discrimination, inequality, segregation) as a woman of color can have a direct effect on birth outcomes for children who have yet to take their first step, such as low birthweight and preterm delivery.
Furthermore, higher maternal mortality rates for Black women and American Indian/Alaska Native women compared to White women have gained national attention as a public health crisis, with the American Medical Association identifying racism, unconscious bias within medical research, and health care delivery as major contributing factors to this issue. The harms of gendered racism are far-reaching, not only adversely affecting reproductive health, but also the health and well-being of Black and other women of color and their children at many time points throughout life.
The COVID-19 pandemic has given new context to existing knowledge about gendered racism. Women of color were distinctly impacted by the interconnected and compounded racial/ethnic inequities and gender inequities heightened by unemployment and low-wage employment, caregiving burdens, and unexpected consequences during the COVID-19 pandemic given the combination of stress and isolation from outside support systems. While shelter-in-place orders were implemented as a safety measure nationwide, the home environment was not the safest place for women, including many women of color. Referred to as “a pandemic within a pandemic,” increased experiences of intimate partner violence and domestic violence created an additional public health crisis for women of color. Due to gendered expectations around caregiving, family caregivers within communities of color were frequently women, who may have experienced an increased burden due to this role, as well as an increased risk of COVID-19 exposure.
What can be done to address gendered racism?
Addressing gendered racism requires understanding and focusing on its multiple social and structural dimensions that have broad impacts on individual and public health. Organizations can implement initiatives that focus on the educational, health, and policy implications of gendered racism. Issue-specific initiatives may also help to change policies and improve health, such as the declaration of Black Maternal Health Week, recognized annually, to raise national and community awareness and action regarding maternal mortality and morbidity disparities impacting Black women, and CDC’s Policy for Inclusion of Women and Racial and Ethnic Minorities In Research, which can help to expand research to advance our knowledge of health disparities and how gendered racism impacts the health of women of color.
As part of CDC’s CORE Health Equity Science and Intervention Strategy, the Office of Women’s Health within the Office of Minority Health and Health Equity is committed to promoting public health research, evidence-based programs, policies, and strategies to improve the health and well-being of women and girls. This can be achieved by building our understanding of gendered racism and its impacts and developing and disseminating best practices to inform strategies and interventions to address gendered racism. While actions across various sectors may help to improve individual and public health for women challenged by gendered racism, we all have a role in acknowledging and addressing gendered racism. Individuals can start with acknowledging and addressing implicit bias related to gender and race, and support organizations that work to implement policies or strategies to prevent gender and race discrimination. Leaders in communities can amplify the perspectives of women of color and support dialogue around intersectionality and oppression to learn from and acknowledge people’s lived experiences. Leaders and communities can monitor and address systemic differences in recruitment, pay, and career advancement; accommodate flexible work schedules for caregivers; promote mental health/stress reduction programs, and optimize mental health supports.
How do you plan to address gendered racism in your work and/or personal life? What is something you can start doing today?
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