Erin Call

Erin Call

You Can't Spell Engineering Without Erin

I Don't Get The Concept Of Microaggressions

Update: "wilkie" has knocked it out of the park with a thorough explanation in the comments. Make sure you check it out!

This post involves a discussion of two people, "Rita" and "Bastian," whose identities I've chosen to obfuscate. An astute reader will be able to divine their identities. A responsible reader will choose not to do so. I invite you to be responsible.

I spent some time this evening discussing feminism in tech. My colleague Rita brought up the subject of microaggressions. She gave the following anecdote as an example:

I was talking with Bastian about programming languages and mentioned that people don't like X for reason Y. He wondered, "how would you know?"

You must understand that Rita is less experienced in programming than Bastian. It is easy, therefore, to see how this comment would be painful for Rita to hear. Even though it was not meant maliciously, it brought into sharp focus the difference in their experience levels--and thus, not trivially, their socioeconomic standing.

I don't want to make Bastian out to be a villain, here. Indeed, Rita went on to defend him as a sweet guy who meant no harm. It was an offhanded comment that caused more damage than it was meant to, and if anyone reading this has never done that, PLEASE BE MY FRIEND, because you're an angel.

So the thing I don't really get here though is how it relates to feminism. Rita didn't bring this up as an example of how people can cause more harm than they mean to. She brought it up as an example of microaggressions: subtle indignities against a less-privileged person. The term "aggression", to me, implies a certain amount of emotional intentionality that I don't see in the anecdote at hand.

I'm able to see that there is a privilege imbalance, and I'm able to see how this was a subtle indignity. I'm not able to see how those two facts coalesce into a matter of import. People must be free to make mistakes--and indeed, Rita admits that Bastian's actions were nothing more than that. So how did this transform from "poorly-phrased" to "microaggression"?

I hope someone reading this has the time and energy to straighten me out on this matter, because it's weighing on my mind. I want to be an enlightened fella, but many aspects of the egalitarianism that I profess are unintuitive to me.

Posted on 2013-10-18T05:19:00Z
Posted in feminism.
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