An assertion I’ve seen floating around in some of the recent threads on feminism and skepticism has been that women, being slightly over half the population, are not actually minorities. This statement demonstrates a lack of understanding of what makes a person a member of a minority group. This short post is meant to clarify the term for those within our communities who are unfamiliar with how it is used in the social sciences and social justice movements.
First, being a minority does not refer to a number. A minority group is defined as a group of people who are systematically denied equal access to resources and power that a socially dominant group has access to. So even if there are more individuals within a minority group than a dominant group, what makes it a minority group is the lack of equal access, not the quantity of members. This means that, yes, women are a minority group.
Second, similar experiences as minorities often lead to shared identities, which is also a common feature of a minority group. These shared identities enable minorities to band together and fight for their rights to equal access and their fair share of power.
Finally, being a member of a minority group has real and damaging effects on people’s lives. The best example that comes to my mind is health disparities (or health inequities outside the US). The NIH defines health disparities as the “the difference in the incidence, prevalence, mortality, and burden of diseases and other adverse health conditions that exist among specific population groups” (p. 1 of CDC report). Public health researcher and social scientist Ilan Meyer’s minority stress model demonstrates how the stress of being a minority (in his research, LGB individuals) that stems from prejudice and discrimination negatively impacts the health of LGB people. His model is being confirmed, including by a recent study that showed that the health of gay men improved after marriage equality was passed in Massachusetts, even for men who were not in relationships.
I hope that this opens the eyes of those within our community who believe that there are no problems faced by minorities within our community. We should strive to make our community a safe, welcoming space by calling out and rejecting the prejudice and bigotry that is directed at minority groups.
**Post image from BBC article on marriage equality and gay men’s health.