Gender-based Instances of Microaggression

1. A priest in a Hindu temple barred women devotees from entering to prevent overcrowding.

Why is it an instance of microaggression?

The act implies that the presence of women devotees is less important. Treating the devotions offered by women as inferior is a contemporary manifestation of the archaic notion of women being too ignorant/impure to participate equally in Hindu ceremonies.

What could be a good response?

a. Question why only women contribute to crowding. b. Assert that women’s right to worship cannot be curtailed on any ground that is not based in religion.

2. “How brave of you!” Calling gender non-conforming persons “brave” or “confident” for simply existing in social spaces.

Why is it an instance of microaggression?

a. Complimenting a gender non-conforming person’s “bravery” often serves as a reflection and perpetuation of gender bias. It is a reminder of the shame that is meant to be carried by gender non-conforming persons for simply existing with their identity. It is a subtle form of othering - a reflection of the speaker’s biases and limited understanding of people’s gender experiences. b. It reinforces the idea that people outside the gender binary are not the norm and serves to brand people on the spectrum as the outliers in human society.

What could be a good response?

Point out to the speaker that such comments are more patronizing than affirming one's identity. A measured response which questions the intention behind such statements is necessary. A crucial question to be presented to the speaker: “Would you compliment a cisgender individual’s “bravery” or “confidence” for merely existing?

3. "I believe in equality, not feminism."

Why is it an instance of microaggression?

a. In a bizarre reversal, equates feminism with other entrenched forms of social/cultural discrimination. b. The aggressor denies gender-based violence and suffering historically inflicted upon women and other gender non-confirming people and often normalized by patriarchy. c. It also serves to negate the role played by feminism in fight for equality.

What could be a good response?

Ask them to explain the statement. If they do, chances are they will come up with complaints against ‘feminism promoting women’ more than men, or adversely affecting the interests of men in particular, isolated incidents. Let them know that an instance or two does not make the norm. Explain to them how feminism in fact tries to balance and correct inequalities against women. Highlight on how feminism fights patriarchy, and not men. If anything, it can help men break free of the prisons of patriarchy too (how men should walk/talk/play/not cry/not be too expressive and so on). In case they refuse to engage, move on. They probably got a cold feet.

4. “You don’t look lesbian/gay.”

Why is it an instance of microaggression?

Tries to fit a person within stereotypes of what a queer person ought to ‘look’ like. Apart from the ‘look’, this can be a more general remark on other aspects too such as how they walk, talk, or carry themselves.

What could be a good response?

Asking a question such as "what am I supposed to look like?" It is also worthwhile to point out that your identity is not determined by the way you look/dress. Inform the aggressor that pigeon-holding people on the way they look puts the burden of performing a certain part on the queer person. Tell the aggressor that such stereotyping also serves to enforce the idea that queer people need to look a certain way which in turn serves to exclude people who might not 'look queer'.

5. Making snide remarks about a lesbian couple buying an anniversary cake.

Why is it an instance of microaggression?

Snide remarks from strangers reinforce normative limits on the public space, building on pre-existing stigma around both female sexuality and non-normative sexuality. It attaches the stigma and other cultural/political anxieties to the body of the marginalized and curbs its expression and presence in public.

What could be a good response?

It might be a good idea to challenge the prejudices of the aggressor upfront. Claiming even more space in the shop without directly confronting the aggressor is also a way to assert and affirm your presence.

6. Expecting women to hand over bouquets to dignitaries at functions

Why is it an instance of microaggression?

The expectation that women have to do such tasks comes from a cultural association of women with domesticity and servitude, which sustains the vast economy of unpaid female labor. This has manifestations such as voice assistant features always being default female.

What could be a good response?

It is important to educate and inform people about gender roles and how they restrict people. In this instance it is a good idea to push for equality and having men hand bouquets to the dignitaries.

7. Assuming that women cannot work/are not interested in working in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

Why is it an instance of microaggression?

a. This reinforces the idea that women are not intellectually competent to study the "hard" sciences. b. This reinforces the idea that potential STEM women candidates will have to provide more evidence of competence than men. c. Further, reinforces the notion that women who are in STEM will have to look/behave masculine to get noticed.

What could be a good response?

It would be better to confront them and ask what they mean and why they think so. Not doing so could further fuel this wrong thought process. It is especially important if it comes from a place of ignorance.

8. “Don’t get emotional” in an argument on caste/gender to a person who deeply cares about these concerns.

Why is it an instance of microaggression?

Often a strategy to browbeat people vocal about caste and gender discrimination. To call them emotional serves to dilute the concerns as mere ‘sentiment’ than reasoned. Can have especially devastating effects on people trying to speak from the margins: tribal or Dalit people, queer persons and women.

What could be a good response?

Point out that arguments against discrimination necessarily carry an emotional undertone, especially for those who suffer/have suffered/relate to the suffering.

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