We need to start taking gendered micro-aggressions seriously

Carolyn Svonkin
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By now, it should be common knowledge that rape and misogynist culture lives on a spectrum not only including the worst, most violent actions, but micro-aggressions as well.
 
This weekend, I watched the movie Moxie, and there was one line that stuck with me, even though the rest of the movie drops the ball in exploring the complexity of feminism. The line is said by Lucy, who’s being harassed by a male peer her friend says is “just annoying.” Lucy responds, “You know that annoying can be more than just annoying, right? Like, it can be code for worse stuff.”
 
In an article about the movie, a gender-based violence researcher explains, “It’s not that in one category over here we have micro-aggressions and dismissing of girls’ feelings, and then over here we have stranger rape; they’re all part of the same thing.”
 
This is undeniably true. The same culture that has created conditions in which 39 per cent of Canadian women aged 15 and over have been physically or sexually assaulted has also been permissive of sexist comments and jokes, allowed the objectification of women’s bodies, and sexualized and oppressed women—especially women of colour—from a terrifyingly young age. 
 
In a world where girls are taught that boys who bother, degrade, or touch them without consent have crushes on them, it’s easy to laugh off a sexist joke or comment. Sometimes that comment is nothing more, but the problem is that little things add up to an overall power structure where men can get away with making women feel small, using their bodies against them, and then claiming it wasn’t serious.
 
If society—and our actions, or lack thereof—tells women their discomfort isn’t serious, when does it become serious? When does an “inconsequential” micro-aggression lose the micro and become aggression—something more extreme that people take seriously? Considering the lack of convictions in sexual assault cases, is aggression even “serious” enough for us to acknowledge the gravity of what women, and crucially those with marginalized identities, experience?
 
We have to not only acknowledge the connection between micro-aggressions and the worst ramifications of misogyny in our society, but stand up against it. People of all identities must recognize and own this problem. It’s not on women to act as a constant misogyny check—we all need to check ourselves. 
 
As a woman, it can be tempting to write off sexist jokes or uncomfortable actions. These feelings are valid. They’re oppressive power structures at work, in fact. But we should want to live in a world where women don’t have to dismiss micro-aggressions as “annoying,” and that means every single one of us needs to get comfortable making a big deal.
 
Carolyn is a third-year Political Science student and one of The Journal’s Features Editors.
 

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