A few weeks ago, I was at a party, talking to a female friend about our fantasy football league. We were debating the merits of some of our players in the upcoming match, when a man, a friend of a friend, piped in from across the room.
“You two sound so hot right now!”
Like, thanks guy-I-just-met.
A few minutes later, I wandered into a conversation in which some guys were complaining about how they didn’t like going to bars anymore. Totally! The music is always too loud, amiright? Noopppppppppeeeeee. They meant it wasn’t worth going to bars anymore because when they try to buy women drinks, the women will take the drinks but not talk to or sleep with them.
As tempting as it was to FLIP THE FUCKING TABLE AND STORM OUT I did not. I gave each of these men the same smile I reserve for strangers on the bus who try to talk to me when I’m listening to music. It’s a smile that says ‘I acknowledge that you were trying to be clever but kindly STFU.’
Ah, sexist microaggressions. On their own, they’re so small. They’re almost (almost!) not worth fighting over. It makes me feel petty to bring them up and explain why they’re hurtful.
AND THAT’S WHY THEY’RE SO FUCKING DAMAGING.
Because nothing exists in a vacuum. These comments are piled on top of decades of comments just like them. Each time a man interrupts me at work to explain what I was just talking about. Every time some random dude tells me to smile. It all gets filed away to the same folder in my brain. It’s all part of the same problem. But complaining about it can be a chore. I feel pedantic and overly critical. And it’s pretty easy for someone to justify his or her ass-hattery.
Microaggressions are made that way — micro — because of macroaggressions. The macro is the rape; the micro is asking what the victim was wearing. So trying to fight against these little pebbles when we still have so many boulders being flung our way – it doesn’t seem worth it.
So what do you do? EverydayFeminism.com has a pretty good list of ways to respond to and challenge the person speaking, if you want to. I’m working on it. It’s really hard. I don’t have great answers or brilliant success stories.
A paper cut is small but it still stings. Dealing with microaggressions is death by a thousand cuts.
Illustration by Nicholas Friesen