What lens do you see the world around you through? How might your life be different if you were someone else? This is a question thought by many people of different backgrounds all over the Earth. Regardless of what may be believed by some life is different for everyone because of specific ways that they were born or in many cases because of specific ways in which society has been set up against certain groups of people. According to the University of New Hampshire Microaggressions are verbal and nonverbal behaviors that communicate negative, hostile, and derogatory messages to people rooted in their marginalized group membership (based on gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, etc.). They can occur in everyday interactions and can be intentional or unintentional but are often unacknowledged. Gender Microaggressions can range in typology, here are a few examples to help us better understand how these instances of microaggression based out of sexism are seen in everyday life; Catcalling, sexual harassment, body shaming, victim blaming, restrictive gender roles ,and objectification. These are not the only example in which gender microaggressions are seen but they are the most common ones.
So the question remains, Gender microaggression: fact or fiction? Do these instances or specific microaggression actually exist and do they have a lasting impact?
At fifteen years old I sat as my high school administration told me I would fail. This failure was not due to my lack of performance in the classroom, my attendance, or any other viable reason why someone would be struggling in school or in life as a whole. I was told that this failure I was bound for was based off of me as a statistic. A statistic rooted in ignorance and poor research. As a young black woman, I was a number in their eyes. A sliver on a pie chart inevitably barreling towards teenage pregnancy and/or ending my high school career. I was–and still am–none of these things.
As I walked into school every day I knew how I was viewed by those around me. Despite my GPA or academic performance, I was viewed as a percentage. Five years later I sit in my biology lecture class with my intelligence still constantly in question. Feeling a perpetual need to prove myself, I answered a question some of my male classmates had. Confident in my knowledge, I told them my answer only to be met by disbelief and skepticism. Upon asking another classmate who responded with the same answer that I just told them, they came to the conclusion that it was in fact the correct answer; but only because it came out of the mouth of a white male.
It is equally important to acknowledge the microaggressions themselves as well as the way in which they alter the ways people begin to view themselves. The stress that these instances bring onto those who are discriminated against can dwell not only mentally but physically also. Life is stressful and adding these extra anxieties on top of that can weigh on those affected (regardless of the type of microaggression) can cause these things being said or done to become something that is internalized. For example I, to an extent, began to believe these things I had been told about myself by my educators. I questioned myself, my abilities and my intelligence. The worst part about all of this is that I wholeheartedly believe that my high school administration genuinely thought that what they were doing was valid and did not see the how racist it came across or how it could impact someone like myself. Where my school failed to redeem themselves is when they saw how their message was interpreted and did not apologize or acknowledge their lapse in judgement, to me that is what hurts the most.
The purpose of this article is not to attack men or come off as angry. It is just as simple as recognizing our own, both men and women, prejudices that play out in our day to day lives. No matter what community you belong to it is important to cultivate an environment rooted in equal opportunity. As a society we need to hold each other accountable for our prejudice actions, despite what the intention, both good and bad, may be behind these actions. Everyday differing people groups face social adversities that can easily be fixed once we recognize our thought patterns. Despite all the things I face as a woman of color today, I know how far we have come as a nation. But I also recognize the room we have for growth as we strive towards the future. I am proud to be who I am and you should be too. As Sojourner Truth said “Ain’t I A Woman?”, and I would not have it any other way.