Microaggressions. Those little things that, on their surface, “aren’t such a big deal,” but are actually illustrative of how far we haven’t come as a society. The things that you point at to say “actually, we’re nowhere near equality.”
The concept of microaggressions was originally developed in a racial context, to discuss: “the ‘everyday insults, indignities and demeaning messages sent to people of color by well-intentioned white people who are unaware of the hidden messages being sent to them,’ in [Derald Wing] Sue's definition.” The term caught on and started to be used more generally to talk about the small things people say, often without thinking about them, and how they pile up.
Microaggressions became a popular site for collating examples, submitted by users with a range of experiences. The curators say:
Each event, observation and experience posted is not necessarily particularly striking in and of themselves. Often, they are never meant to hurt -- acts done with little conscious awareness of their meanings and effects. Instead, their slow accumulation during a childhood and over a lifetime is in part what defines a marginalized experience, making explanation and communication with someone who does not share this identity particularly difficult. Social others are microaggressed hourly, daily, weekly, monthly.
Each carries a sting. Many are thoughtless, but the very thoughtlessness underscores the attitudes behind them, the casual approach people have to each other, and the internalized nature of many forms of prejudice. The people who say these things would often profess shock and horror that they’d caused harm with their words.
“Everyday Sexism” is specifically collecting examples of sexist microaggressions, the things people casually say to women to reinforce their role in society. With a constantly updating feed of user-submitted entries, the site provides a stunning array of sexist attitudes on display. While it’s based in the UK, users can submit from anywhere –- thanks to the power of the Internet –- and users talk about everything from women in pop culture to being patronized by utility repair people when they ask technical questions.
Helena 2012-08-20 13:26 Went to the pub the other day with a male friend, and he went over to the cash machine to get some money out. The barman offered me an expensive 'girly' drink and when I said I wanted something cheaper he said 'doesn't matter, does it? He's paying'. As if the assumption that I would not be paying for my own drinks wasn't enough he then tried to give me a half pint of lager instead of a full pint for no reason; he just assumed again. Rose 2012-08-20 12:46 When I tell people I'm studying physics they usually look confused, and then say, 'Oh! You want to be a teacher.' No, I want to be a physicist. As an OU student I have to go to residential schools. I have had guys shouting in my face about how women aren't fit to have jobs, and guys following up sexist hateful speech with violence - nothing I say will make them stop, because they don't listen to women, and the other guys around don't want to get 'involved'. The gutless cowards wont even state if they agree or not.
Laura, the curator, says in the introduction that the site is intended to create a discussion, and stand as a reminder that sexism is not over, that we are nowhere near gender equality. “By sharing your story you’re showing the world that sexism does exist, it is faced by women everyday and it is a valid problem to discuss.”
She points to the statistics many people may be familiar with; women are underrepresented in positions of power, for example, and are more likely to be viewed as public property. To add to her list, I’d note that women are more likely to live in poverty, especially if they are women of color. And the list goes on.
But, she argues, sexism is also more insidious. It’s also about the small comments made every day, all around us, that remind us of the lesser place women are supposed to occupy in society. She created Everyday Sexism to fight back, to show that women are talking about sexism and regard it as a serious issue. The site is a way of telling the world that it is on notice and women are not afraid to report what they see.
Reading through the stories on the site, I was reminded of my own experiences at a past place of employment, when I was still struggling with my gender identity and presented as a woman for the most part. We were training a new employee, a man in his 40s, and he resolutely refused to allow me to handle any of his training because, he said, he didn’t want to learn from “a girl.” After he was brought on board as a regular employee, he made a point of hounding me with small, pointless acts of sexism.
I struggled to articulate what was going on when I complained to my manager. I fought to explain why this was a problem. And eventually, I quit, because no one was listening to me, and I started dreading the thought of going to work every day. Until he was hired, it had been one of the best jobs I’d ever had, and I’d loved working there. He managed to ruin my experience simply by assuming he was better than me, and being unafraid to remind me of that at every possible moment.
People like to say that sexism is invisible, that it doesn’t actually happen, or that women are simply being oversensitive when they say they experience it. What Everyday Sexism is doing is confronting that claim, showing visitors firsthand that sexism is alive and well, and doesn’t show any signs of going away. By talking about it, dragging it out into the open and showing people what we mean when we talk about sexism, maybe we can start fighting it.
Because this is not just a fight that needs to be won in the corridors of power and on the boards of major corporations. It’s also a fight that needs to be won in small businesses and on the streets and in private homes, in classrooms and community organizations. Until women can go through the day without being confronted with everyday sexism, we haven’t reached gender equality.
And storytelling is one way to accomplish that fight.
Ally 2012-08-20 15:35 At uni, being told by my housemate (an intelligent and confident woman) that, if she married, she would be happy to let her husband use her vote. Ms, via Twitter 2012-08-20 15:12 I go on a plane & whole cabin does comedy nervous laughter at female pilot & I die a little insideKat 2012-08-20 14:46 I was raised by very academic parents who expected me to study a "respectable" subject at a top university and get a great job. Gender simply didn't come into it. I always considered that I was treated in exactly the same way as my brothers. But now that I'm older, despite everything I was (rightly) pushed to achieve, I've hit the glass ceiling that my mother has herself put in place for me. As the only daughter, I am expected to drop everything and run home across the country the moment assistance is needed. Does my work come second to my brothers'? Or is it that family should be the daughter's priority? When the family is together, I'm the one who's expected to be in the kitchen, regardless of my work commitments. It works both ways, I suppose. It's considered a minor miracle, and is the subject of almost exaggerated maternal pride, that one of my brothers can bake a passable sponge cake.