Friday, April 19, 2013

On "Microagressions" and Continuing Gender Inequality

Given the nature of my blog, it is perhaps not surprising that, when I bring up issues related to gender inequality (which, naturally, tends to mean oppression of women. Although I fully acknowledge that it can happen to men, it would be disingenuous to suggest that oppression of men happens with anything like the same frequency or effect), I tend to discuss the topic predominantly in relation to the church. Yet it is obvious that these things happen in the rest of the world, as well. I was therefore intrigued by an article written by clinical psychiatrist Dr. Andrea Letamendi, written for The Mary Sue (a blog devoted to "Geek Girl Culture"), that touched on the other main focus of Transforming Seminarian, at least insofar as the Transformers fandom qualifies as part of "Geek Culture."

Dr. Letamendi's main concern in her article is with the reaction that she, and others like her who enjoy "geeky" interests, have to being called "Fake Geek Girls." Besides the fact that she is clearly not a fake (her entry demonstrates a love of related interests that extends so far that her Kindle uses a Star Wars comic-themed cover), many of the things that she (and others) take offense to are both trivial and largely unintentional. Thus it is natural that, when the offense is pointed out to the offender, the person who made the offensive remark responds in one of the predictable ways:
“Why don’t you just drop it?” “Why can’t you take a joke?” “Why aren’t you over this?” I ask myself these things too.
One reason Dr. Letamendi posits for her "overreaction" (if it is indeed that) is that the offenses, while trivial, are frequent and have built up over time. She uses the term "microagressions," which, although I'd never heard before, apparently dates back to the 1970s. It means more or less what you might suspect: "...subtle and seemingly harmless expressions that communicate 'hostile, derogatory, or negative slights and insults' toward people who aren’t members of the ingroup." She then helps explain the concept even further by a pair of lists. The first list demonstrates a group of "microagressions" related to the comic-loving community:
“You sure know a lot about Batman, for a girl.”
“You don’t look like a geek.”
“That’s nice of you to come to Star Wars celebration for your boyfriend.”
“Did your older brother get you into comics?
These statements were probably not intentionally hostile, yet communicate to the girl that girls don't really enjoy comics. They must be there (at the comics store, the convention, or whatever comic-related venue) because of some guy in their life.

The second list is a group of statements that are not "microagressions:"
“You’re not comics.”
“You don’t know SHIT about comics.”
“You are what I refer to as CON-HOT.”
These are (in Dr. Letamendi's words) "examples of actual threats, verbal assaults, and intentionally insulting remarks." The key word there is "intention." You can't make statements like these innocently. Thus, they're not "microagressions." (I'd assume that these are the full "non-micro" variety, but Letamendi doesn't comment further on these except to point out that they "confirm" the experiences felt through past microagressions.)

Again, Letamendi's essay was written in the context of "Geek Culture," and my experiences with Transformers fandom suggest that this probably happens in our specific corner of geekdom, as well. It is a fandom that has a not-insignificant number of female participants, yet remains associated with "boys' toys" (indeed, that's the actual name of the aisle in which you'll find Transformers in many toy stores!). Speaking only for myself, I know that it's true that my "default idea" of a Transformers fan is male, and when I find out that a particular fan is female, I have to "reset" the default for that person. While I hope that I have not participated in "microagressions" against female Transformers fans, I have to recognize that I may well have done so unintentionally and without ever realizing it.

This also happens in the wider world, as well. In church contexts, of course, but also in our assumptions about business and political leadership, and who we think of as doctors, police, fire fighters, etc. Any time we tell someone "you're really good at ___" and add "...for a girl" to the end of it, we've communicated to the woman that she shouldn't be good at the thing she's good at. The intention may well have been to give a compliment, but that message of "impostor" was tossed in at the same time. We need to learn about these kinds of assumptions and statements, so that we can stop making them.

1 comment:

  1. Speaking for myself, before the advent of the Internet, I had never run into a female who was into anything that qualified as "geek". Lately there's been an explosion of so-called "geek girls", which I think is great. Anything to help a fandom, especially one as insular as the Transformer fandom is a good thing. I'll admit that I was taken aback and maybe harbored a little resentment towards the sudden mainstream fame that being a geek has become within the past ten years, because it almost seemed like something that was once mine and mine alone was in vogue. Then I realized that I shouldn't be so selfish. Maybe that's what others are feeling? I'm not sure. Still, it would be a better world if people would just be happy that their fandom is growing and not dying.

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