Prejudice and discrimination against women have polluted society for centuries. Oftentimes, we pay more consideration to dramatic ordinances or actions that seem to be “sexist”—such as the longtime denial of women’s access to higher education—than we do to the subtly discriminatory exchanges that are commonplace in daily interactions. Hidden gender-discriminatory comments and actions aimed at women are microaggressions that occur frequently in daily life. They are as problematic as the blatantly unfair laws limiting women’s rights.
A year ago, I was sitting in my middle school art classroom, learning about pottery. My teacher walked to the front of the classroom and made an announcement: “I need a nice, strong boy to cut pieces of clay for the rest of the class.” The majority of the class seemed relatively unfazed, which, to me, was more depressing than the comment itself. No one had registered that the teacher had just made a gender-discriminatory statement.
In order to lessen the discriminatory mindset, younger generations must understand that a comment like this is unacceptable. It was infuriating to me that a woman whose job was to teach the world’s future leaders was actually reinforcing gender stereotypes herself.
After years of blindly absorbing conversation tainted by gender-discriminatory undertones, girls develop the idea that they are not as capable as boys, and boys get the message that they are superior based solely on their gender. Sure, we can argue over comparative muscle density and strength, but the truth is that eighth grade girls will cut clay just as well as boys will.
This sort of institutionalized discrimination is often exhibited in education. According to a US News & World Report publication, a mere 25 percent of math and science degree-holders nationwide are women. As a fanatic of these subjects, I have been exposed to some unfortunate comments.
Ironically, one of these comments came from a female science teacher. The grade had participated in a statewide science contest, and our teacher was announcing who had placed in our class. After presenting the results, she uttered a comment along the lines of “I was surprised at the number of girls who placed this year. Boys tend to do better at these types of questions, which require just reasoning. Us girls usually have hearts instead.”
Although this teacher remains one of the most skilled teachers I’ve ever had, her statement shocked me. One would think that, as a member of a minority in her field, she would be more sensitive to derogatory remarks.
I’ve wondered how and why these ideas are instilled in people. Why did my female science teacher imply that girls are not as capable as boys at reasoning questions, when she dedicated herself to science? It was upsetting to me that a smart, admirable person could feel that way.
The hidden abundance of microaggressions perpetuating gender-discriminatory views is still harming society. They may not be overt denials of women’s rights, but the true danger of their existence lies in their subtleties. The brief and thoughtless comments fuel menacing ideas of the inferiority of women.
It will be just as difficult to rid society of this type of commentary as it will be to win the fight for women’s legal rights. However, by talking about these issues, we will be one step closer to eradicating them completely.