What Is Microaggression and How to Avoid Them?

  • AUTHOR: isbah
  • POSTED ON: April 24, 2020

When we talk about sexism and inherent patriarchy in our culture, we mean that it is so deep-rooted that often, men do not even realize that they are being unintentionally derogatory and insulting towards the marginalized group. However, the problem is that since men belong to a privileged gender, they refuse to accept the problems and consider these toxic societal traits a norm.

The wage gap, lack of education, rape, harassment, and domestic violence are some of the major problems caused by the bias against women. However, the issues are not just limited to these. Subtle sexism, also known as microaggressions, is so prevalent in our cultures that women cannot even point it out without being considered “too sensitive”.

For instance, when women are in a public space like a park or a street and there are a lot of people around, men usually place their hands on women’s backs while passing them. This practice is so common that even some women do not see anything problematic with it when in reality, touching someone’s body without their consent or permission should be considered wrong.

This stems from the male entitlement over women’s bodies that has existed for quite a long time and even after years of unlearning, men just refuse to accept the discomfort they cause to women in public.

Source: Mashable

However, even if a man does this unintentionally, the effects of microaggression are not quite subtle. Just like we mentioned earlier, sometimes, it is quite hard to place your finger on the source of annoyance when a man displays subtle bias against the female gender and so women have to second guess themselves before pointing out the issue.

This can cause microaggressions to accumulate over the years and lead to symptoms of anxiety and depression so much so that the mere presence of seemingly harmless men causes great discomfort to you. “Microaggressions can accumulate over a person’s lifetime, negatively affecting relationships with family and friends and essential functions like sleep”, says Dr. Kevin Nadal, a psychology professor and researcher on the impacts of microaggressions.

Women of color have it worse than their white counterparts. Kim Churches, CEO of the gender equity organization American Association of University Women and a white woman, says that “women of color and those who belong to more than one marginalized group bear the brunt of gender-based microaggressions.” If you are a woman of color who belongs to other marginalized groups like LGBTQ+, then the society becomes unbearable.

However, if you are a woman, no matter how difficult it gets, it is important to continuously point out anything that is a source of discomfort for you. Even though men do encourage such practices, they are not the only ones committing microaggressions.  

Anyone who stands by and watches women suffer the bias due to their gender is equally complicit in causing harm. Churches says, “When we allow those seemingly innocuous comments to get by, we’re actually allowing sexist and racist behaviors to continue without calling them out.”

So here are three things that one should consider when talking to women in order to curb the deep-rooted misogyny.

Think About How You Touch and Speak to Women

We mentioned earlier that crowded spaces are a nightmare for most women because they have to face strange and random men touching their backs and necks while passing by. This is quite insensitive and assaultive, especially because you never see men doing this to other men. So if you are a man, try to be conscious of the space around you and don’t touch anyone without their permission.

Catcalling is another form of microaggression and it can sometimes develop into full-on aggression as the long history of abuse can trigger unpleasant memories. Men often try to label catcalling as flirting but this malpractice is only targetted towards cis and trans women.

For instance, we do not see gay men commenting on male bodies or offering them sexual contact on the streets so the fact that men consider themselves powerful enough to intimidate women is quite disturbing.

Often, when women go for job interviews, their male employers comment on their looks and bodies, a practice that is obviously not considered acceptable. However, when they are confronted, they say that it was not meant to be “intentional” and this is a classic example of gaslighting.

Stop Pressuring Women

Women always feel this societal pressure of proving themselves to men that they are “good enough” when the female gender has already surpassed a lot of benchmarks for men to demand for any such proof.
Saying “women cannot play sports” is an example of direct sexism. Microaggression occurs when a woman communicates her interest in sports and she is asked to present evidence by naming her favorite teams, players, coaches, matches, etc. In comparison, men are never asked for any kind of proof because it is considered quite normal for them to have such a “macho hobby”.

Similarly, workplaces are infused with the same bias, and women are forced to prove their qualifications and worth unnecessarily just because of the assumption that their gender is incapable.

As a black woman with the traditionally male first name Christian, Nunes recalls a particularly stinging experience: She believes she was called in for an interview under the assumption that she was a man. During the interview, Nunes says she was grilled for 45 minutes, told she needed more experience for the executive director position, and ultimately offered a lower-level case manager role.

Don’t Tell Women How To Act

Women always receive advice like how to dress better, talk better, or behave to comply with the rules of the society. For instance, many female employees complain that they are asked to “sit properly” and “lower their voices” when their male counterparts are talking loudly and moving freely around their workspaces.
These kinds of expectations from women undercut their experiences, skills, and abilities.

They have to be attractive and likable all the time which automatically points towards another misogynistic bias of how men consider “controlling” and “commanding” women to be less attractive.

It is the twenty-first century and women and queer people still have to tell others how to behave in order to avoid being insensitive. Honestly, the fact that women have to explain every little aspect of sexism is also microaggression because it is emotionally exhausting to repeatedly point out how they are causing harm to you and your gender.

Updated April 24, 2020
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