OPINION EDITORIAL: Microaggressions toward women are harmful for everyone

Death by a thousand papercuts. The extensive variety of sexist microaggressions women experience throughout their lives accumulate into a deeply ingrained mindset that can chip away at their sense of self-esteem and perpetuate a sense of doubt in their own abilities and individuality.

A microaggression is a comment or an insult that is rooted in a stereotype towards someone in a marginalized group. The term was originally coined by Harvard University psychiatrist Chester M. Pierce in 1970 to describe racist behavior towards Black people, and has expanded to be defined as offensive behavior towards any person regarding their background. Microaggressions limit a person’s ability to view others as individuals.

As a society that has not fully recovered from centuries of misogynistic culture, it is important to recognize sexist microaggressions against women and to understand where they come from. Misogyny has been so deeply embedded into society – through movies, media and personal experiences – that we subconsciously adopt its ideas of what a woman is. That is why, oftentimes, microaggressions are overlooked as harmless comments or behaviors in social situations.

Women are often painted as overly emotional due to the hormone changes some experience during their menstrual cycle. Some microaggressive comments can be as overt as, “She must be on her period” when acknowledging a woman who is expressing her emotions. In addition, when women go to their doctors with menstrual health problems, such as abnormal cramps, the false notion that women are dramatic undermines their medical concerns and prevents women from receiving necessary treatment for their health

Microaggressions towards women do not only shape how others perceive the validity of their emotions and pain but also affect how women are viewed in professional settings. For example, an outspoken colleague is described as an assertive leader if they are a man, but are bossy and aggressive if they are a woman. Mansplaining – when men comment on or explain something to a woman in a condescending and often inaccurate or oversimplified manner – suggests that women are less intellectually capable. Name-calling, like “sweetie,” “doll” and “lady,” demeans women, making them question their own worth. Microaggressive actions such as these accumulate to discourage women from actively participating in discussions and expressing their opinions, which can ultimately weaken their performance and advancement within their careers.

These harmful actions, however, go far beyond those that occur in the workplace and surround menstrual health – there are a vast array of qualities that women are criticized for, including body image and the requirement to be visually pleasing for everyone else. People who are part of marginalized groups on top of being women experience a different set of microaggressions than women who fit the binary of white cisgender and straight. Race is a considerable factor that is incorporated in sexist microaggressions, such as asking Black women to straighten their hair to adjust to Western beauty standards. Racially-driven misogyny disproportionately disadvantages women of color to a further extent.

Women can also experience transphobia and homophobia, which can compound to harm them mentally and physically. Offensive comments such as, “What’s in your pants?” and, “I can make you straight,” invalidate women and their respective identities. Normalizing the mockery of trans women and queer women leads to more apparent aggression towards them, such as violence.

These lingering and adverse notions about women continue today through sexist comments and behaviors. It is vital that we as individuals acknowledge this problem and do what we can to make the world a better place for the female half of the population. Its importance stems from the safety of women, their happiness and abilities to succeed. Women are the backbone of society, and the suppression of their individuality also suppresses their invaluable contributions to society, which should be of concern to everyone. In a patriarchal society, we all have subconsciously inherited a stereotype of women that shapes our thinking and actions towards them. However, we all have the ability to unlearn it. We must spot and actively reject microaggressions in daily life, whether it be from ourselves or others.