One of the more common dismissals of feminism that I hear (apart from “women already have rights” and “what about the men?!”) is: “You’re just looking for something to be angry about“. The idea that those who engage in cultural criticism, feminist or otherwise, are nit-picky, obsessive, and need to “calm down” is just another way to silence opinions that society deems too radical.
Those who believe we live in a post-feminist world typically don’t have a good grasp on the meaning of the many facets of feminism (although we can’t blame them for that, as feminism is barely included in public school curriculums beyond the first wave to begin with.) Liberal feminism, most closely associated with the movement’s first wave, worked to level the playing field in terms of legal rights, education, and general access to opportunity. Liberal feminism assumes that once women have equal access and opportunity to all aspects of society that men do, liberation will naturally occur.
So, what happened? Women got the right to vote, the right to hold jobs without discrimination based on sex, and the ability to attend any school or university. That didn’t solve everything. Women still underperformed in STEM fields, were underrepresented in the political sphere, and underrepresented in the publishing world. Despite women’s successes, magazines still told them how to be sexy enough for the office, how to snag a husband, and how to lose weight fast (because their bodies were never good enough). Women and young girls were hypersexualized in the media, suffered from poor self-esteem and body image, and began to locate their worth in their appearances.
These issues may seem “smaller” than the right to vote, but they continue to be cultural roadblocks in our fight against sexism. These issues of identity, misogyny, and body-negativity pervade every aspect of society until we can no longer see them. One of the jobs that I assign myself as a feminist is to be the eyes that see our microaggressions.
Here is a definition of racial microaggressions that can explain the definition of microaggression in a broader context, such as gender.¹
“Racial microaggressions are brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults towards people of color. Those who inflict racial microaggressions are often unaware that they have done anything to harm another person.”
Microaggressions are most often discussed in terms of race, but they can involve any aspect of identity, from sexuality to gender to ethnicity. Microaggressions against feminists, against feminism, and against women in general seep through modern society, in television shows, in clothing, and in insults like “cunt,” “bitch,” “slut,” and “whore”. Rape jokes, “get back to the kitchen” jokes, and advertisements that seems to be stuck in the 1950s don’t help either.
Microaggressions work to silence discussion and prevent change in the way we talk about identity. This article from Shakesville explains how microaggressions are often used against feminism:
“… the idea that addressing “the little things,” like being told to smile or misogynistic t-shirts, somehow demeans feminism or distracts from “real” or “serious” sexism is utterly, completely, devilishly wrong.”
Now that you know what a microaggression is, call out the perpetrators. Politely let people know that while they may think something they said was harmless, humorous, or good-natured, you or someone else may find it offensive and harmful.
I also urge you to check out The Microaggresions Project, where people submit stories about the microaggressions they experience in their daily lives.