“Like a girl…” : Microaggressions Used Toward Women

By: Drue Wigton //

As a kid, I never took much offence when my male friends would use phrases such as “… like a girl,” or “… for a girl.” I guess I never found these phrases offensive because I couldn’t realize just how offensive they are. Microaggressions such as these are very commonly used forms of sexist language, therefore creating an unnecessary divide between the two sexes, placing men higher in the gender hierarchy than women. Little did I know, by hearing things such as “You’re smart for a girl,” those around me were complimenting my intelligence, but they were complimenting my intelligence based off of a relative scale to men. I came to interpret this to mean that no matter how smart I could prove myself to be, I would never reach the same intelligence level as my male counterparts. 

For the last few weeks, I have messaged a lot of my friends to see how often women experience these microaggressions, ranging from the workplace to places of higher education. I received a wide variety of answers. Shown below are a few of the different responses that I received from those I interviewed. 

Abigail Coker (20) mentioned how often she experiences microaggressions at work. “There is a man who comes into our restaurant regularly, and we eventually learned each other’s names and will occasionally have surface conversations. He has since referred to himself as my “mentor” and me as his “protege.” Other than telling him about my future plans [in bioengineering/ environmental studies] I have never told him anything about myself. I can’t help but relate his actions with a dominant male presence – especially in STEM because we mostly discuss topics about engineering.” 

Talya Belgin (20) has worked alongside her father, who works as a handyman, and has taught her how to be a novice “handyman” herself. I’ve seen her abilities first-hand. Talya is my roommate and actually built our couch from scratch. When telling her male coworkers about how she built our couch, she observed the contrast between those who were impressed by her skills, versus those who were surprised by her abilities as a woman to perform this task. “One of my coworkers who was the same age as me even stated ‘How are you able to do manly shit better than I can?” 

Maya Krishnasamy (20) a Biochemistry major, mentioned how men in her classes and in her major often discredit the reasons as to why she has made it thus far in higher education. “I’ve had several comments during labs where I was told not to perform certain activities because I was supposed to ‘let the men work,’ and it was pretty obvious when it was being said seriously.” Maya also mentioned how others have said the only reason she was accepted into her program was due to the program needing to “meet the gender diversity quota.” 

Jezel Mercado (19) is doubling as an attorney and a witness on the mock trial A team at UC Davis. “It is acceptable and even seen as a sign of dominance in the courtroom when men are assertive, but if a woman were to exhibit these characteristics, such as I have, she would be accused of being too emotional.” Jezel mentioned how she has gotten multiple comments from judges presiding over the mock trial cases that are focused on her physical presence, as well as the way she presents her opening statement. A judge made a comment toward Jezel that explicitly stated that the way she handled her opening statement was too aggressive for a young lady in the courtroom. Jezel mentioned “on top of content, material, and performance, women in court have to worry about the way in which they will be perceived by the judges and the members of the jury, whereas men don’t nearly have to worry to the extent women do.” 

Riley Conrad (20) is pursuing acting at Penn State University, and mentioned how she experiences a lot of microaggressions from professors. “I often feel if I ask a question or act like one of the boys in my class does, I’m treated differently even though our actions are the same. I’ve been told I’m mouthy or that I have an attitude when I say the same things said previously by the men in my class.” She also mentioned how the comment “That’ll be good for when you have kids”  implies that she is only useful for having children, and the main purpose of her pursuing higher education is for a future with a husband and kids. 

Madeline Meyer (21) is majoring in Construction Management at Cal Poly SLO. When interviewed, She immediately mentioned how she noticed side comments made towards her that gave off the impression that women pursuing her major is not “normal”. “My first year I had a professor that would always doubt the women in his class… the way he interacted with us was clearly different than the way he would interact with the boys.” Madeline also mentioned how during her CM labs and in her workplace, it was often assumed that the men would be the ones performing the manual labor, such as the heavy lifting and hammering. “A new male intern started much later than I did, and was instantly put into the field while I’m constantly told there’s no field work to be done.” 

 Speaking from my own personal experience, as a woman pursuing higher education in STEM, one common place where I encounter a lot of microaggressions is in the classroom. I have had teachers assume that I’ve gotten poor grades on exams, compare my answers with those from the men in the class, and I’ve even had one teacher who was legitimately surprised when I was able to present the correct answer, which is a common occurrence, as seen in the interviews above. 

Microaggressions, such as the few mentioned above, establish the idea of “being a girl” as a negative thing. The pressure put on women to perfectly fit the social norm of being strong but not too strong, smart but not too smart, etc. is quite exhausting, and confusing to say the least. If being male and exhibiting male characteristics are accepted as “better,” then why do we view women who perform “manly” tasks as wrong? Where do we draw the line for the way women [and men] should act, and how was that expectation drawn at all? With that being said, I know for a fact I’d much rather do something “like a girl” than belittle others for being one. 

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