descriptionMicro-Aggressions and Single Mothers

Micro-aggressions – the many little devaluing and disrespectful verbal interactions and injustices that are almost too small to identify, but accumulate to make the recipient feel judged, undermined and demoralised. Sound familiar? I think for many single mothers, it will.

Last week I was delighted to attend the Women’s Policy Action Tank which aimed to put women in the centre of policy development. It was an amazing array of cross-sector panels, new research and helpful insights, much of which is very relevant to CSMC’s work with single mothers. Still fresh in my CEO role, I was very proud to be representing CSMC and heartened by the response I received from supporters of CSCM in the community sector.

Dr Kristin Natalier’s research into micro-aggressions really struck a chord with me. Kristin’s work has centred on single mothers on concession cards, who are the primary users of our support services.

There are three types of micro-aggressions:

  • Micro-assaults – often deliberately discriminatory or unhelpful comments, for example representing single mothers are bad mothers;
  • Micro-invalidations – negating the lived realities of a group, such as implying the single mothers run out of money because they waste it, rather than the reality that there just isn’t enough;
  • Micro-insults – demeaning and undermining interactions that are obviously rude or insulting.

These many small negative interactions serve to remind low income single mothers, or other marginalised groups, that money and power are bound together in ways that disadvantage them, and cumulatively represent the underlying systematic power inequalities. Ultimately, women’s sense of self and confidence becomes eroded, and individually and collectively, single mothers are devalued.

What can you do, upon receiving such behaviour? You can counter them directly in conversation, if possible, with a statement like “That’s not my experience, and it’s not the experience of many other single mothers”, or by using phrases or asking questions such as:

  • I’ve experienced the opposite…
  • I’m not sure that reflects my experiences…
  • I would disagree with that…
  • Who have you talked to about that?
  • Do you think there are other opinions about that?*

It’s not always going to be comfortable to response verbally in the moment, however these injustices do need to be taken seriously.

In many cases they may be linked to the culture of the agencies in which staff are dishing them out, and there are recourses to complain about the way you are treated by staff. For instance, you can make a complaint about Centrelink by calling 1800 132 468 or online.

Finally, including single mothers in development of policy that impacts them directly will help to build policies that reflects their lived reality.

For now, there is this – you are not imagining it! You are not alone!

If you would like to share experiences you’ve had of micro-aggressions, you can post on our Facebook page.

For support, referral, advocacy and information, please call our Support Line on 03 9645 0622 between 9.30am and 3pm Monday to Friday. If you’re outside Melbourne, you can call 1300 552 511 for the cost of a local call.

At CSMC, all our staff are, or have been, single mothers and we understand the challenges and joys of parenting solo and the realities of grappling with government agencies, family law, limited finances and other difficulties.

Jenny Davidson

Read more about Kristin’s work on micro-aggressions here. 
*This language has been adapted from a blog on sexist micro-aggressions.