There's a growing sense of awareness around microaggressions, but we still have a lot of work left to do when it comes to eliminating them from our vocabularies. A series of socially charged PSAs by MTV, however, is doing what it can to help: The It Adds Up campaign tackles gender-based microagressions by highlighting microaggressions we all might be using without every really noticing it. It won't totally solve the problem — but self-awareness is a good first step, and that's what these videos aim to help us develop.
For those who need a refresher on the term, a microagression is defined as "a subtle but offensive comment or action directed at a minority or other non-dominant group that is often unintentional or unconsciously reinforces a stereotype." Paula Akpan of the "I'm Tired" project further defined it to Bustle recently in a way that drives home the effect microaggressions can have on those on the receiving end of them: She described a microaggression as "an act of unintentional discrimination that can take form during everyday life and can serve to alienate or offend the recipient." The point of a microagression is that it isn't necessarily as noticeable as a large-scale hate crime; however, they can still be just as damaging and problematic.
As a woman of color with immigrant parents, I experience these microagressions pretty regularly. People often say things to me like, "You're so exotic looking," "But where are you really from?", "Why couldn't your parents have named you something normal?", "Your English is surprisingly good for someone with immigrant parents," and "[Insert an endless stream of terrorist jokes here]." In my case, these microagressions alienate me as an American by identifying me as an "other" due to my skin color and the cultural or religious implications of my first and last name. Though people don't necessarily realize they're inflicting any hurt, comments that do this can be really harmful.
The It Adds Up campaign is part of a bigger MTV movement called "Look Different," which wants to counter the racist, homophobic, and transphobic biases in the United States. The movement, which started in April 2014 includes documentaries about race, miniseries about sexuality, and even quizzes backed by science to help you be less of a bigot like the Implicit Bias Quiz. MTV President Stephen Friedman said in a statement last year,"Millennials are the most diverse generation in history and it's inspiring to see how equality and fairness serve as their bedrock value." The campaign seems to both gain its inspiration from Millennials and target them.
Here are five other common microagressions that the videos in the It Adds Up campaign cover; see more over at the Look Different YouTube channel. If these phrases are part of your vocabulary, it might be time to rethink them.
1. "Don't be such a girl."
What's wrong with being a girl? And why use femininity and girlhood to shame someone for an action? This deeply misogynistic and sexist statement has the potential to put down a lot of genders, but specifically targets hate at girls and women. It implies that there certain traits are not only inherent in all women, but — and worse — that they should be avoided. Not cool.
2. "Man up."
Which, of course, implies that men are stronger than other genders. But like many microaggressions, this statement doesn't just harm those it pegs as "weaker"; it's often used to condition boys and men to perform strength and hide emotion. This, in turn, destroys the emotional life of boys, as well as instills sexism and hate within them.
3. "She'll hook up with anyone."
When said in a derisive manner, this statement implies that it's a bad thing for a girl to be autonomous and sexually liberated. Plus, a double standard comes into play here: If she hooks up with what society considers "too many people," she'll hook up with anyone, but if she doesn't hook up with people at all or is more conservative and reserved with her sex life, she's a prude. There's no way to win.
But hey, guess what? If she does hook up with "anyone," that's her choice — and we need to stop shaming her (or him, or xie, or anyone else who also chooses to hook up with anyone) for it.
4. "You'd look prettier if you smiled!"
OK, first of all, I'm beautiful and perfect whether or not I smile, and secondly, what am I supposed to be smiling about? The problematic beauty standards imposed on me by the patriarchy? The fact that you just came into my life uninvited and told me what to do with my face? Please, elucidate me.
5. "You must be on your period."
And you must be undermining my emotions and feelings about a topic because you have no other way to win this argument with me. Bye!
MTV has a series of five of these videos so far. You can watch one of them below; check the rest of them out at the Look Different YouTube Channel. And if you're someone who regularly uses microagressions to put people down, even if you don't know you're doing it? Now is the time to become aware of it — and to stop.