What Men Need to Know About Sexist Microaggressions
Masculinity that is constructed this way is damaging to us all. It’s going to take a powerful rending, a transformation of life as we know it to change this. Mainly, it’s going to take a radical re-envisioning of what it means to be a boy and then a man because right now homosociality, and the sexism it sustains, are baked into dominant understandings of power and masculinity.
As a society, we are contending with what it means to seriously tackle the obvious unfairnesses of gender discrimination and violence, especially the brute force variety evident in #MeToo stories. However, the real work of ending discrimination is not in challenging the blunt, but in challenging the banal. The insidious power of microaggressions is that you look like an idiot for challenging something so common and “insignificant.” It’s like a pointillist painting: one small dot layered on top of another. No one alone represents anything that means anything, but put together over time, they make up a vivid, powerful and coherent picture. The frame that bounds our lives is one in which the performance of masculinity continues to be more important than the rights, needs, dignity and safety of girls and women. Getting angry in these moments, situations of insult, humiliation, threat and risk, is rarely an option for us, even if it is the most rational response and one that, in men, would be seen as normal and justifiable.
Acts like the one I endured from this man are hostile reminders of precarity; they chip away at women. One of the reasons it’s so hard to defend ourselves is that we are socialized to bite our words and swallow our pride. Anger is still a taboo emotion for girls and women and so we display it very cautiously. We internalize fears of being called crazy, irrational, ugly, or worse and we anticipate mockery and retaliation. Studies show that in 75 percent of everyday incidents of sexism, racism, anti-semitism or heterosexism, women think about assertive responses, but we only stand up for ourselves 40 percent of the time