On Microaggressions and Why They Matter

Two stories:

  1. I was on the bus on Saturday and on older white man came and sat next to me. He sat down like a normal person and then WHOOSH was manspreading like he was going for a gold medal in the category. I mean, like, if there were a platinum medal in the Manspreading Olympics he’d be a contender.I looked at him incredulously and he stared straight ahead, pretending he didn’t know why I was upset–but for the small smirk that escaped.
    Instantly I was angry. But I was also aware that if I said anything I would be the bitch yelling at the 70 year old man on the bus. And, you know, I was tired. So instead I warmed up my thighs of steel and did a Gandolph-esque “YOU SHALL NOT PASS” through rage and thigh muscle alone. He got that far but he would get no farther. Nice relaxing bus ride.
    As we neared my stop I realized I didn’t have a lot of power in this situation, but I could refuse to give up more of it. So when I went to get up I didn’t say excuse me, I didn’t thank him for passing, I moved like he did–expected him to move for me and he did. I wasn’t going to thank this microaggressing asshole for something that is not a favour or a hardship but literally one of the few requirements of riding public transit–not holding your seatmate hostage at their stop.This, though, was a step too far. First I didn’t immediately acquiesce to his manspreading, then I acted like I was entitled to his movement and then I didn’t thank him?! How DARE I?!So as I stood, waiting for the door to open, he came up right behind me and rubbed himself on my butt.
  2. The wonderful Audra Williams often posts about emotional labour on her Facebook page, which turns into these fascinating 100+ comment clusterfucks of women talking about the toll that unrecognized emotional labour takes on them and their relationships and men coming in to #notallmen it up. I love them–not only because I think emotional labour is a fundamental aspect of the feminist movement and, seemingly, one of the more insurmountable ones–but because there are all these brilliant, strong women telling their stories, being honest and angry and vulnerable.And, inevitably, hilariously, like an unavoidable trainwreck, some men feel so attacked by women speaking honestly and directly about their experiences that they lash out. Perhaps you’re what’s wrong with feminism. Or maybe you’re the reason men don’t care about equality. Or sometimes I just can’t engage when you’re so emotional.But the most insidious, to me, goes like this:-thoughtful post
    -thoughtful comment
    -thoughtful comment
    -reasoned and measured response pointing out that no one said all men and
    that busting out #nam is derailing and irritating
    -example of why this is a harmful tactic
    -little bit of snark because oh my god this is the 18th time today I’ve been
    -overly generous comment that goes to great pains to assume good
    intentions and offers a non-challenging resource that won’t require actual
    effort on the part of the #notallmenner
    -THANK YOU for the one thoughtful and reasonable response! You win the
    internet for the day!!This then goes one of two ways. Either women point out that only responding to (and then aggressively praising) the one comment that cradles their feelings and doesn’t require change is microaggressive and shitty and the dude goes away and thinks about it and comes back and apologizes (I’ve seen this legit once. Today!) OR (every other time) the dude doubles down and drops his progressive facade and starts spewing every misogynistic word he can think of and then either creates dummy accounts or calls in his equally gross friends until they all get blocked.



These might not seem super related, beyond shitty patriarchal behaviour, but I think they both clearly show the harm of microaggressions. It’s not only the exhaustion of dealing daily with nearly imperceptible reminders of your marginalized status in the world, it’s that the microaggressions always hide a bigger, bolder, more dangerous type aggression.

Manspreading is insidious not because it’s irritating, but because it reveals a profound entitlement to space, and an expectation that women’s bodies should be entirely responsive to your desires–to disappear when you want them to, to not make any claims on space themselves. Thus, an entitlement to not just space but to women’s bodies as well. As shown by the fact that my tiny, tiny, tiny rebellion against manspreading was punished by a low-level sexual assault. And, let’s be clear, that was meant to be punishment.

Similarly, the poison of (unfairly distributed) emotional labour is that it’s predicated on an entitlement to not just women’s bodies, but their minds, their emotions, their work, and their care. Emotional labour, in and of itself, is a wonderful thing. I do a tonne of it. It’s how I show my friends and family care. It’s how I make a living. It is a large part of how I interact with the world, and the world would be a better place if we a) valued emotional labour monetarily (e.g. I work in management in the anti-violence field and am still barely treading water financially) and b) if it stopped being a gendered expectation wherein women (and other gender-marginalized folks) perform it and men expect it. If men were to step up to the plate and actually pull their weight in terms of care work and emotional labour we’d have a far different, far better world. But that isn’t even my point right now. My point is that we can’t even start to have that conversation unless we perform so much emotional labour around our messaging as to render it meaningless.

Because when we don’t, the microaggressive expectation for care drops and the seething entitlement it hides comes out.

That is why we need to continue talking about microaggressions–because they are the easily hideable, socially accepted way of enacting larger aggressions on marginalized people.



6 thoughts on “On Microaggressions and Why They Matter

  1. Agree 1000%!

    I admire your bravery with the thighs of steel tactic. I’m often faced with the same nonsense on public transit and I’m usually worried that if I respond that way, the man will interpret my unwillingness to yield my space as a desire to be touching him/a come-on (as perhaps Grandpa Perv did with you). It is truly maddening.

    I kind of wish we could ban men from posting in those kind of threads, or at least moderate them. If what they say is important, ok, but if not let’s move it along and stop the cookie-seeking…

  2. One very nice thing about being fat: I take up space. I can’t help it, even if I tried (even if I wanted tooooo. . .) I am automatically immune to manspreading. You can try but your leg is eventually going to meet the immovable barrier of my thigh or ass, and there’s nothing either of us can do about it. Sit with that discomfort for a minute and think about what it feels like to have the space you assume to be yours constricted. Let my fat ass be your teachable moment so that you don’t do it to a smaller girl. ‪#‎WeaponizedCellulite‬

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