What’s Your Microaggression Awareness?

Here’s one definition from Derald Wing Sue in the book Microaggressions in Everyday Life: “The constant and continuing reality of slights, insults, invalidations and indignities visited upon marginalized groups by well-intentioned, moral and decent family members, friends, neighbors, co-workers, students, teachers, clerks, waiters and waitresses, employers, health care professionals and educators.” In other words, they’re typically neither overt nor intended to demean, yet they still have that potential impact.

Here’s an example of a microaggression that I heard and which is often stated without any thought to the underlying cultural message: “It’s time to play with the big boys.” We don’t every say it’s time to play with the big girls, but we might say “pull up your big girl panties” (certainly not empowering coming from me). From my perspective this phrase – playing with the big boys – suggests that if you want to play big you have to be a boy (or a man).

I know, I know what you’re thinking – but I don’t mean it that way – but that’s the reality of microaggressions. Even if not intended they convey and perpetuate a message that’s been carried over for decades (or longer) and which suggests that women don’t play big. And before you think it (oops, probably too late), this is not about political correctness. It’s about respectful, conscious and empowering communication.

Why am I writing about this? Because impact matters, intended or unintended, and cultural beliefs and systematic marginalization are real. In my mind the best way to start to change things is to be more aware and to use that awareness to change my behaviors and communication.

I’m committed to never uttering any version of the phrase “play with the big boys.” It may be a small step, but it’s a step in a different and more empowering direction.

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