The Hidden Effect of Microaggressions


“You play like a girl”, “Boys will be boys”, “Man up”…do these phrases sound familiar? Microaggressions play a noticeable role in our society. Little phrases and words that when stacked together play a huge difference in whether or not everyone is really equal.

Sexist microaggressions occur because we see femininity as lesser than masculinity, even subconsciously. They’re a subtle way of reinforcing gender roles in our everyday lives. When you call your teammate a girl for fumbling a throw, what you’re really doing is saying that girls can’t be as good at athletics as guys. When you tell a kid to man up after he scrapes his knee, you’re telling him that because of his gender he is not allowed to be emotional or express his feelings. And when you tell a little girl that the boys who have been teasing her on the school yard are only doing it because they like her, you’re really saying that she should have to withstand being mistreated as long as she’s getting male attention.

Microaggressions can be about things other than gender as well. Describing a rundown neighborhood as “ghetto” or assuming that someone can’t speak English because of the color of their skin are just some examples of racist microaggressions. Calling a young boy a player for having multiple female friends while thinking an actual lesbian couple are “just great friends” is an example of heteronormative microaggressions. “Ladies and gentlemen” and similar terms are all cisnormative microaggressions.

A lot of these seem like really unimportant things, or things that aren’t too much of a big deal. Yet, things like this are part of the reason we still have inequality. They make discrimination seem normal, so when we hear about larger scale discrimination we aren’t nearly as shocked or disgusted as we should be. Microaggressions exist to preserve the status quo. It’s seen as unreasonable to get mad about them, but when you hear them on a daily basis they can really become irritating. They get decent people to say awful things, simply because everyone else does and because there will be no negative reaction. It’s not so much the words themselves that are so awful, it’s the reason we feel so comfortable saying them and the history behind them. We will never be able to achieve equality if our society sees it as normal to make comments that infer that an entire group of people is inferior because of some characteristic.

Most people say things like this all the time. But our words can have a powerful effect over people, and especially children. If we start watching what we say, we can raise the next generation to be truly and totally equal.