Microaggressions at Stanford

by Holly Fetter, ’13

Stanford is a pretty liberal place. It’s a sunny university near San Francisco, so everyone assumes it’s a happy place to be different. And it is! There are incredible resources for students of every background, and diversity isn’t just another buzzword on campus – it’s an integral part of the school’s identity. Stanford (unlike some of its peer institutions) has always been co-ed, racially integrated, and was even tuition-free for the first 30 years of its existence. It is, and always has been, an inclusive place.

But such a comfortable environment can make instances of prejudice even more pernicious. They’re much harder to identify, and if they are identified, the victim is often met with raised eyebrows or counterarguments. Many of us with privilege only see the dangerous “-isms “ (racism, sexism, classism, ableism, homophobia, etc.) manifested in blatant, infrequent, dramatic events, without noticing the subtle ways in which we all accidentally communicate prejudice, even if our intentions are good.

These less obvious occurrences are called “microaggressions.” All those syllables refer to “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative slights and insults toward a particular identity group.” There’s a blog called The Microaggressions Project that chronicles these instances of ignorance with the hope of increasing awareness about the little ways in which we make a big difference in our friends’ lives. In the words of the site’s creators:

This project is a response to “it’s not a big deal” – “it” is a big deal. ”It” is in the everyday. ”It” is shoved in your face when you are least expecting it. ”It” happens when you expect it the most. ”It” is a reminder of your difference. ”It” enforces difference. ”It” can be painful. ”It” can be laughed off. ”It” can slide unnoticed by either the speaker, listener or both. ”It” can silence people. ”It” reminds us of the ways in which we and people like us continue to be excluded and oppressed. ”It” matters because these relate to a bigger “it”: a society where social difference has systematic consequences for the “others.” But “it” can create or force moments of dialogue.

Over the summer, the STATIC staff asked Stanford students to reflect on the ways we’ve encountered microaggressions at Stanford. By collecting and sharing your anonymous experience(s), we hope to educate our community about this concept through a blog post so that we can all take steps to stop hurting one another.

  • I’m one of the few women in my techie major. When I’m near a lot of guys in lab, they’ll all immediately group together when we’re asked to find partners, and even though I’m sitting near them, they won’t invite me to join. I’ve noticed that this happens to other women in my class, too, so it’s not just my personality that keeps them away.
  • I felt frustrated when I was a freshman and everyone always planned events that involved a considerable amount of money. All the birthday trips to eat dinner in Palo Alto, for example, were really expensive for me, but my dormmates often didn’t think twice about planning them. By the end of the year, I just started making excuses for why I couldn’t go with them.
  • A new acquaintance and I were eating dinner at the CoHo when we stumbled onto the topic of our high schools. I didn’t over-dramatize any situation, but I did admit that we had had open race riots and a strong police presence at my school in L.A. Hearing this, he told me that that’s “probably why I seemed so different and cool.” Confused, I asked him to explain. He told me that the riots made me seem “street” and very “L.A.” I understand that he wasn’t being malicious, but his comments nonetheless made me feel a bit uncomfortable, since nothing is “cool” about being “street.” A boy being shot down the street from my school doesn’t make me feel “cool.” It makes me feel unsafe. He also immediately assumed that my school’s demographics were more minority-dominant when the truth was that my school was predominantly white with Hispanic being a close second (hence the racial tension). I didn’t go to a “downtown school” as he assumed. I lived in the ‘burbs and went to a high school made of brick named after an old Western cowboy film actor. Later on, he told me that I also seemed “exotic in a street” way, which created even more discomfort due to his being white and my being Asian. Needless to say, the conversation only went downhill from there. At least the food was delicious.
  • I am so done with guys assuming that I’m a straight woman. I’m a lesbian and have been out for a long time, and yet I still find myself coming out constantly because people (not just men) are always thinking I’m straight. I get especially annoyed when guys ask me if I’m sure I’m gay – especially since I’m in a committed relationship with a woman.
  • Why does everyone at Stanford (professors and administrators included) assume that every student has an iPhone or a smartphone? Some of us can’t afford those kind of devices.
  • People are always surprised that I’m a person of color and a legacy.
  • People never believe in the ‘authenticity’ of my queer asexuality. Many people, including my closest friends, have told me that they think I “just don’t have sufficient experience.” I get really frustrated because even these radical people choose not to honor my own self-identification.
  • This didn’t happen to me, it’s something I did to my friend. I knew that she had a weave in, and I asked her about her hair when we were in a larger group. I hadn’t realized that none of them were familiar with Black hair, and they immediately started asking her all sorts of “Shit White Girls Say” questions. I felt terrible that I had facilitated this uncomfortable conversation that made the one Black girl in our group feel even more isolated.
  • I hate hearing “That’s so gay” and “No homo.” Even if you don’t mean it to be offensive, it is. As a member of the community of individuals with disabilities and as an ally of the queer community, I find it rather upsetting to hear these expressions on a daily basis.
  • In my engineering class, my friend was being extremely condescending to me. I was the only girl in the group and he’d talk to me with this disgusting baby voice that made my skin prickle. I stopped being his friend after that. I told him he was being rude and stopped our friendship, although I did remain civil.
  • Whenever I’m in a social situation with my male friend, he introduces me by name and then follows that with, “she’s a feminist.” It always throws the person I’ve just met off guard, as if I’m a militant radical just waiting to go on a rant about gender bias or something. It belittles both the term (by making it something strange, “othering” it – yes, I am a feminist! and so what? so are a lot of people, and you should be too!) and me. Yes, I’m a feminist, along with a thousand other possible descriptors. By taking away my power to define myself pluralistically and positively – not that feminism isn’t positive, but it becomes hostile and degrading in his usage – he reduces me in the interaction through an apparently benign joke.
  • On multiple occasions, I have witnessed prejudice against mental illness on Stanford campus. The prejudice I have heard trivializes mental illness and creates sick jokes that are spread by people who clearly do not understand trials of mental illness. As a person who suffers from a mental illness, it is shocking that some of the brightest minds in the world make light of hardships that those of us struggle with everyday.
  • It’s pretty common to hear phrases like “That test raped me” and “That class is so hard it feels like you’re being raped.”  As a woman who has been sexually assaulted, I find it very troubling that such a serious incident can be trivialized and used casually in common vernacular.
  • Some Law School students organized a ski trip for about 50% of the first year class, and not a single LGBT person was invited.
  • People call other people fat, not realizing that people around them might have insecurities. This is usually spoken in a grossed out or otherwise hurtful manner.
  • I was talking with a roommate of mine who is in the same engineering major about possibly starting an LGBT engineering group since there wasn’t really a community built around this and LGBT identity is usually ignored in the workplace. His response was something along the lines of, “I really don’t see the point in starting yet another minority group. Science is about who is the best at what they are doing and discovering new things.” More was said but the delivery of annoyance was very striking. It was then and there that I knew our friendship wouldn’t last beyond us being roommates that year. Issue: Heterosexual privileged and lack of tact.
  • I had a gynecologist ask me if I was sexually active, and I responded saying “yes”.  When she found out that my partners were female like me, she said without thinking, “Oh, so you’re not sexually active.”
  • I had a guy who looked like a white cis athlete say once, “I think people just LIKE to be offended.” I was prepared though – stared incredulously and said something like, “You think YOU get to decide what should make other people offended?”  It actually worked.
  • Many people are incredulous when they find out that I study math, because I’m a woman.  It happens at Stanford and everywhere else.  That’s how I know the discrimination is still there.

We also received some instances of more than a microaggression – blatant displays of prejudice that should never be accepted. Here are some of those stories:

  • I was told that I was “too Christian” for my workplace by my supervisor and was threatened that I would no longer receive work unless I removed any signs of my faith from my workplace, which essentially was a picture of me with my grandfather who was a minister and had passed away that summer and two crosses that I had received from the students I had helped from an overseas missions trip to Asia. It was very hurtful, but the threat was real.
  • My roommate and his friends were wondering what the point of having engineering minority societies was and then went as far as to say that they are fundamentally unfair since they give students unfair advantages over others. At that point I was a leader in the society so it was a direct jab at me. For the sake of context, they are both white males with college educated parents. One of them has a parent who is an executive at a multinational conglomerate and the other has a parent who is a professor at a respected SoCal university. My parents didn’t even graduate from elementary school and I come from the lower income bracket.
  • Trans*people can have crushes/fall in love/make-out/have sex (omg!) just like everyone else. We experience the same range of capacities to love/have sexual and romantic relationships that cis-gender (or, not trans*) people do. If you find out a trans*person made out with someone, don’t tell them that that freaked you out and the rest of your hallway. A. It shouldn’t freak you out. Unless I made out with you, me making out with someone is completely irrelevant to you. B. Even if it does bother you, don’t be so unkind as to tell me about that. Also, when you discover for the first time that trans*people can have the capacity for crushes/love/relationships/hook-ups, you are not entitled to ask me any question you’d like to. Questions that I’ve been asked when I have not explicitly given my permission to ask any question: do you still get  boners (would you ask any cis-gender male-bodied friends that question?); is the guy you hooked-up with gay (Shame on you for having such a narrow view of gender and sexuality!); how do you get off (how do YOU get off?!).
  • I have (or I used to have…) a very close friend named Justin at Stanford. We always ate out together in the dining hall, hung out together on the campus, played board games together…. As a gay male, I have never really had a close straight male friend. In fact, Stanford was my first place to ever have friends who I was out to. During my Junior year, he started to become very aggressive to me. He started to act very aggressively to me saying that my presence annoyed him. He became especially more aggressive to me whenever he thought I did not act “masculine enough.” Our broken friendship made me feel very uncomfortable… I could not understand what was breaking our friendship apart. One day, I was in Justin’s room talking with his roommates. Justin was not into our conversation. Justin asked me to get out of his room because he did not want my “presence” in the room. I got very annoyed by the fact that he kept being passive aggressive to me. Out of my anger, I refused to go out of his room. He then suddenly said to me, “get out of my room, fag.” Right at the moment I heard that, I felt scared. I felt threatened… I thought he could physically harm me at any point after I heard him say that to me. I went out of the room and ran out of his room. I feel betrayed by my friend. I still haven’t heard an apology from him. Maybe I should have a one on one conversation with him….. But, I still don’t have the courage to do that. I feel too scared to talk with him now. A few months has passed after that event occurred. However, every once in a while, that moment when Justin used the word fag comes up on my head at random times… I will never forget that I was called a “fag” from my close friend.
  • The other day I was walking back with my boyfriend from the Palo Alto train station to his place. He lives in Palo Alto a few blocks from the station. It was late on Friday night, and as we walked down, holding each other’s hands, a few men in their 20s sped down the street, leaned out the window, and heckled us, yelled, and mockingly cat called. We couldn’t understand what they were saying, but it was obvious they were heckling us for being gay.

Aside from receiving responses documenting people’s experiences with microaggressions on campus, we also received some anonymous critiques of the entire premise of our proposed post. Here is an example, which you should feel free to respond to in the comments section.

  • Microaggressions can be a healthy form of expression. I disagree that this is a problem because I think the real issue (and you’re dancing dangerously close to this) is “over-nice-ifying” our feelings. You ever notice how what often makes a person feel better or mentally relived is an emotional outburst in which they express how they really feel? In my life, I find that venting, sometimes in the form of what you call “microaggression” is useful and even beneficial.

What do you think? Do any of these messages resonate with you?


Holly is a Senior majoring in Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity. Thanks to everyone who contributed their experiences, and to everyone who helped solicit submissions.

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28 thoughts on “Microaggressions at Stanford

  1. GT says:

    @qed

    I tend to disagree- I’m a Catholic and it has occurred to me many times that someone assumed I was anti-LGBT or anti-abortion simply because I was catholic, and I got vitriol from atheists. You are generalizing, which is the exact activity you are trying to attack.

  2. Happydays24 says:

    The reality is that people get offended over different things to different degrees of magnitude. This post proves this.

    The first person is upset that she is isolated within her major because of her gender- she wants to be treated like just another techie. Yet another person is upset because his/her friend won’t support his/her desire for a minority group within his/her engineering major because the friend wants to treat all scientists as just scientists.

    It’s important to raise awareness about certain issues and some of these statements are more universally offensive, but saying that all of these statements are “prejudice” is a little strong- people just have certain views about certain topics and they aren’t necessarily hostile or derogatory just because you don’t agree with them.

  3. Don't let the micro rent space in your head says:

    If it’s small enough to identify as a “microaggression,” then they should never go unchecked. Half of these are within the “aggressors'” right to assume or even the fault of the “victim” who sets himself or herself up to be offended by being oversensitive. If something small and snide that you don’t like is said to you, respond clearly and bluntly with why it was messed up. Don’t just end friendships and assume that people are far meaner than the passing comment they made. Open the dialogue by not being obnoxious yourself, since people won’t know their ignorance til you tell them. Definitely DONT just relegate your anger or indignant feelings to a stupid blog. Handle your business in person and show that you’re not to be insulted.

  4. […] and make the effort to educate ourselves on how to be active allies in the face of prejudices, both subtle and overt. An “ally” is someone who supports members of community/ies to which they do not […]

  5. Anonymous says:

    I find it interesting that most of the backlash in these comments is directed at women and members of the LGBT community who speak out about discrimination. Not one person has questioned the individuals who spoke about racial discrimination or socioeconomic status. This highlights a very important part of this discussion, which is that discrimination, while it exists for many groups, is definitely pointed in these discussions. It is obvious that our thinking about the LGBT community and women’s community is off.

  6. […] Stanford is not post-class Though Stanford is home to students who relate to each other as equals through academics and other activities, not every Stanford student has been afforded the same opportunities. Some students, for example, come from less privileged economic backgrounds than others. Students can feel that their identities have been marginalized when an event or organization requires a significant financial contribution in order to participate. This is known as a “microaggression.” A good resource for learning about microaggressions is the post Microaggressions at Stanford. […]

  7. Jessica says:

    In other words, people need to express their emotions and thoughts instead of remaining in a constant passive aggressive state where nothing is solved or confronted? Yes, we need to right wrongs and point them out. But facing reality is something Stanford students, with their dwarfed social skill sets, need to realize will not always be friendly or compassionate. If you are offended by something, do something about it so it won’t simmer into a stew of ignorant hate on a blog in the internet. If its hard to talk to someone, then get some help. Stanford offers more than it should.

  8. BESSY says:

    “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, The courage to change the things I can, And the wisdom to know the difference.”

    You can’t change the behavior of others. All you can change is your actions and how YOU feel. People need to stop validating themselves by other people’s opinions of them. Being upset because somebody does not like you for a ludicrous reason just means that you need to get your emotions in check and work on your self-esteem.

  9. Jessie says:

    “Why does everyone at Stanford (professors and administrators included) assume that every student has an iPhone or a smartphone? Some of us can’t afford those kind of devices.”

    PREACH. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve pulled out my non-Smart phone and been forced to explain why I own one. And for that matter having to explain *why* I have to work while going to school.

  10. Julian says:

    Honestly, I read this post and wasn’t sure whether it was a joke at first. This really is the worst in victim-complex identity politics.

    Let’s go through some examples:

    “I’m one of the few women in my techie major. When I’m near a lot of guys in lab, they’ll all immediately group together when we’re asked to find partners, and even though I’m sitting near them, they won’t invite me to join. I’ve noticed that this happens to other women in my class, too, so it’s not just my personality that keeps them away.”

    As a techie major, I have some news for you: these guys aren’t sexist. They just have asperberger’s and are terrified of talking to women.

    “I am so done with guys assuming that I’m a straight woman. I’m a lesbian and have been out for a long time, and yet I still find myself coming out constantly because people (not just men) are always thinking I’m straight.”

    90% (or so) of Americans are straight. I assume most people I meet are straight, too. That’s not discrimination; it’s common sense. You are not as special as you think you are.

    “People are always surprised that I’m a person of color and a legacy.”

    Oh, what terrible discrimination! Again, you are statistically a very very very tiny minority of students on campus. Why are you offended that people find a statistical outlier surprising?

    “In my engineering class, my friend was being extremely condescending to me. I was the only girl in the group and he’d talk to me with this disgusting baby voice that made my skin prickle.”

    See first comment.

    “Whenever I’m in a social situation with my male friend, he introduces me by name and then follows that with, “she’s a feminist.””

    Oh Christ, get over yourself.

    “Some Law School students organized a ski trip for about 50% of the first year class, and not a single LGBT person was invited.”

    Damn. They must have forgotten that there is a token LGBT quota for these trips. Again, this really is the worst in identity politics.

    “People call other people fat, not realizing that people around them might have insecurities. This is usually spoken in a grossed out or otherwise hurtful manner.”

    You choose to live an unhealthy lifestyle that is a drain on our tax dollars through increased health care spending. Don’t expect us to treat like a some immutable characteristic of your body that you’re born with.

    “I had a guy who looked like a white cis athlete say once, “I think people just LIKE to be offended.” I was prepared though – stared incredulously and said something like, “You think YOU get to decide what should make other people offended?” It actually worked.”

    After reading this blog full of the most kind of political correctness police, I think this guy is right.

    “Many people are incredulous when they find out that I study math, because I’m a woman. It happens at Stanford and everywhere else. That’s how I know the discrimination is still there.”

    Again, you are an extreme statistical anomaly. Stop pretending like common sense is “offensive.”

    • Makshya says:

      your reply is literally a joke – if i wasn’t too busy living my life and trying to be in spaces i consider to be safe and proactive – i would take the time to remind you that your insensitivity is neither normal nor is it in any way a productive piece of this blog.

    • Louis says:

      I would venture to say that all of your responses are problematic to some degree, but I’ll choose two to focus on because I think they are particularly misguided.

      With regard to your statement that techie majors have Asperger syndrome (asperbergers? really?) and therefore lack the social aplomb to talk to girls, I think it should be pretty clear that your choice of language is unnecessarily offensive. Asperger syndrome is an autism spectrum disorder, and living with it is not easy, and to use that challenge as the fodder for a cheap joke is demeaning and offensive. This isn’t about being politically correct, it’s about being considerate of real people with real problems.

      As for your response to the person who mentioned being fat, I think you are missing the point. The fact of the matter is people can be insecure about their body image regardless of whether that insecurity is “merited” or not. Being judgmental about someone who isn’t present is both unkind to the person being targeted and potentially upsetting for someone who struggles with their own body image. Again, this isn’t a question of political correctness, it’s a question of compassion.

      If you don’t feel the need or the desire to express consideration and compassion towards people whose choices and circumstances have led them down a different road than you, that is your right. But I encourage you to exercise that right in an environment where being uninformed (seriously, asperberger’s…) doesn’t immediately invalidate your argument.

    • Jacqueline says:

      Right on, Julian.

    • qed says:

      Your post is so ridiculous that it’s really difficult for me to even deign to respond to you, but I’m actually so angry right now that I think I’m going to attempt it….

      “As a techie major, I have some news for you: these guys aren’t sexist. They just have asperberger’s and are terrified of talking to women.”

      1) Just because you are a techie major does not mean you KNOW these guys, KNOW why they act why they do, or can make blanket generalizations about them.
      2) Did you really just say that ALL techie major guys have Asperberger’s? What? I can’t even…. Like, so first of all that’s just blatantly unture, and since you know it’s untrue it’s really demeaning to those who actually struggle with Asperberger’s to label able people as having Asperberger’s when they don’t.
      3) Taking your ridiculous statement that these guys have Asperberger’s as accurate (which it definitely isn’t): Why do they invite the other guys to join, then? Asperberger’s makes it difficult for people to interact in social situations, not for them to interact with women. Even if those with Asperberger’s had more trouble talking to women because, say, they view women as potential mates/sexual objects, this would still be an instance of sexism.

      “90% (or so) of Americans are straight. I assume most people I meet are straight, too. That’s not discrimination; it’s common sense. You are not as special as you think you are.”

      That makes 10% of Americans not straight (according to your number, although I would guess it is larger because a lot of queer people do not come out for various reasons, such as it not being safe for them to do so). It is completely unfair to those 10% to assume they are straight, and then treat them accordingly (such as asking a woman if she has a boyfriend). How hard is it for you, with your straight privilege, to NOT assume and simply not act in ways that assume people are straight? Because a lot of people you meet WILL NOT BE STRAIGHT — why do you NEED to assume they are?

      Ugh.

      “Oh, what terrible discrimination! Again, you are statistically a very very very tiny minority of students on campus. Why are you offended that people find a statistical outlier surprising?”

      1) Did you miss the part where this was a post on MICROAGGRESSIONS? This student did not say what this student faced was “terrible discrimination” — but it was a form of microaggression, it was discrimination, and it did bother and upset this person. It’s not your place to devalue peoples’ reactions to offensive comments. A comment is offensive if it offends; it has nothing to do with intent (although certainly a comment that intends to offend can be even more biting).
      2) I get the sense that people are surprised at this because they tend to assume that people of color are first generation or that their parents could never have gone to a place like Stanford, which is a very offensive, racist assumption.
      3) Would it be okay to express surprise if someone was in a wheelchair, because the majority of people are not in wheelchairs? Would you go up to a person in a wheelchair and say something along the lines of: “Wow! A person in a wheelchair! That’s such a rare occurrence, I can’t quite believe I’m seeing this!” People are not zoo animals.

      “See first comment.”

      Yeah. Asperger’s happens NOT to make people act in a condescending way. Like, that’s just not a symptom. Also see my response to your first comment.

      “Oh Christ, get over yourself.”

      This isn’t even a substantive rebuke of the mentioned microaggression, so I see no way to respond except by saying: CHECK YOUR PRIVILEGE. Also, fuck you.

      “Damn. They must have forgotten that there is a token LGBT quota for these trips. Again, this really is the worst in identity politics.”

      If a random sampling of half the class were taken, there would be some LGBT students in that half. Thus, the fact that no LGBT students were included looks like a deliberate act to leave LGBT students out. Even if this was inadvertent, it reflects a large problem if NONE of the members of the group of people who organized this event were somewhat friendly with any LGBT students.

      “You choose to live an unhealthy lifestyle that is a drain on our tax dollars through increased health care spending. Don’t expect us to treat like a some immutable characteristic of your body that you’re born with.”

      1) Not everyone who is fat CHOSE to be fat. Some people are put on medications that make them gain weight. Some people are genetically predisposed to be heavier. Some people have diseases that cause them to gain weight. Some people live in areas where they do not have access to healthy foods, whether because those foods are too expensive or — as frequently happens in inner-city areas — because stores selling healthy foods DO NOT EXIST in their neighborhoods.
      2) Being fat does not mean you are unhealthy. Plenty of fat people are completely healthy — normal blood pressure, normal cholesterol, etc. Plenty of fat people eat healthy portions of healthy food and/or work out. You can have HEALTH AT ANY SIZE.
      3) Why do you assume that the person who submitted this particular microaggression is fat? No where in this person’s submission did they state that. Not that it should matter….
      4) This person also took issue with the fact that a lot of the times, people refer to fat people with disgust, in a “grossed out or otherwise hurtful manner.” Whether people are fat because they want to be fat or whether they are desperately trying to change that aspect of themselves, or whether they fall somewhere in between, it is NOT RIGHT AND IT IS NOT OK to treat them like this. Sizeism exsits, and it is wrong. Fat people are not lesser people, and they do not deserve such treatment.
      5) Referring to fat people in such a manner can also trigger insecurities in others — whether they themselves are fat or not. Know how expensive health care for EATING DISORDERS is in our society? Not to mention the fact that you should have the common decency to abstain from behaviors that are demeaning, hurtful, and triggering.

      “After reading this blog full of the most kind of political correctness police, I think this guy is right.”

      This isn’t even a sentence, so, um… go fuck yourself. It’s not about being politically correct. It’s about checking privelege and not harming others.

      “Again, you are an extreme statistical anomaly. Stop pretending like common sense is “offensive.””

      I’m not going to debate the extent to which a woman in math is an “extreme” statistical anomaly. But I will say that a big REASON there are not that many women in math is because of bullshit like this. Common sense isn’t offensive. Discrimination IS.

  11. student says:

    This is one of the best ways of discussing privilege (or issues related to being on the wrong end of a society that privileges some over others) I’ve read. Much of the difficulty of explaining homophobia or sexism or racism (and so on) is that today it generally doesn’t occur (at least at Stanford) in overtly offensive acts- you’re very, very unlikely to have “faggot” screamed at you for holding hands with another guy at Stanford, for example. It is the sum total of minor, “microaggressions” that leads to one feeling inferior and disenfranchised. The knowledge that you’re the only gay guy in your class and that you will be the only gay guy at the company you want to work for is a drag on your motivation because it makes you feel like an outsider, like you’re not welcome there. People can dismiss this inclination as illogical, and maybe it is, but I’ll bet the people that dismiss it as such have never, themselves, felt anything like it in a long-term, sustained manner bridging the workplace, the classroom, campus parties, clubs, holidays with your family, popular culture, etc. etc. It’s like we’re all racing to the same place, but the minorities have a few extra bricks in their backpack, on top of all the shit EVERY student has to deal with. This isn’t an affront to straight white guys, they’re not bad people for having been born into a society run for centuries by people that look, sound, and act like them, nor is there any monolithic “straight white guy,” but it’s definitely true that society generally privileges them as a function of our history, and the best thing everyone can do is to be aware of microaggressions and start performing some micro-corrections :).

  12. Louis says:

    I feel that there’s a disturbing pattern here of stereotyping and grouping the aggressors in some of these examples.

    Why is it OK to characterize someone that you don’t know as a “white cis athlete” just because he “looked like” one – and in so doing reducing an undeniably large and complex constituency into a stereotype that is being implicitly associated with, at best, ignorant behavior. Would it be OK to say someone looked gay just because he or she dressed in a certain way, or seemed gay because he or she spoke in a certain manner?

    Why is it OK to claim that someone’s “issue” is both “heterosexual privileged” and “lack of tact,” when only the second should be relevant? The issue is not (nor should it ever be) who the person loves, and likewise the issue is not the circumstances into which he or she was born. The issue is that a single person used indelicate and unkind language to express an ignorant thought, and bringing any other information into the mix is simply prejudicial. Would it be OK to speculate that a Muslim terrorist is a terrorist because he or she is both Muslim and hateful? Or would it be more appropriate to focus solely on the latter, because the former need not define anyone in a negative light?

    I recognize that neither counter-example that I provide is perfect, but I believe that they nonetheless follow from the premise I’m trying to propose. In both of the above examples, we have two components; the action and the actor. The actions are, naturally, indefensible, but the same is not true of the actors. The actors are real people, complex beings that cannot and ought not be boiled down to their most basic, externalized identities, nor do they need to be defined by their actions. In the first example of the (possibly) white-cis athlete, firm words of consternation actually changed his mind; in the second, the roommate’s willingness to discuss further is a sign that he/she was willing to consider very strongly the effect of his/her words. To gloss over these facts in favor of providing speculative and/or irrelevant information about the identity of one’s aggressor is an indefensible action in itself.

    If I understand the purpose of this blog correctly, it is to draw attention to the small ways in which we discriminate and generalize. I submit that, in some cases, discussions of aggression (both micro- and macro-) can fall into the very same traps they castigate, and that upsets me.

    • Anonymous says:

      I completely agree.

      Also, to the trans person…Can you blame people for being curious? Unless you know for a fact that they are explicitly trying to mock you or make you feel uncomfortable, why not use it as an opportunity to educate those around you? One of the great things about Stanford is that there are so many people with such a wide array of experiences. If you don’t feel comfortable talking about it, that’s one thing, but then you should just say so rather than whine about how you “didn’t give any of them explicit permission to ask questions”. I don’t think anyone generally gives anyone explicit permission to ask questions about their personal life, but most people don’t freak out if someone does happen to ask a question? If you don’t want to answer it, just say so…not that big of a deal, and I really don’t think it’s a microaggression. In fact, it sounds like exactly the opposite. These people are trying to understand more about that lifestyle (albeit maybe in not the most sensitive manner), and rather than educating or at the very least, being polite and civil you are simply being rude.

      • student says:

        You bring up a really good point here. Many people that ask these questions are not in any way trying to mock or offend the trans student in question (to stick with this example) and may even be trying to do the opposite- to learn more about trans people and gain more understanding. But what I think you’re not doing is looking at it from the trans student’s perspective. For each cisgender person that asks them probing questions about their sex lives, it’s a one-time, perhaps slightly awkward, occurrence. If the trans student is overly kind and answers all of their questions, the cis student benefits. But what did the trans student get from that? Yes, they’ve expanded one person’s horizon, and made the world a more accepting place by one person, which certainly isn’t nothing, but that same trans student may have to go through this scenario over and over again, with a different person each time, each time they’re in a situation with someone who’s never met a trans person before (which must happen fairly often because most people have never met a trans person). It’s exhausting for them, and they’re constantly having to explain themselves in a manner that no cis person is ever expected to. If I were that student, it would make me want to pull inward and stick to the few friends I had to avoid having to go through it again and again. This can affect that student academically, socially and even professionally (if you’re socially disenfranchised are you really gonna be good at “networking” like a frat guy is?).

        Also, simply because someone is trans and another person is curious doesn’t give the other person a license to ask deeply personal questions about the trans students genitalia or sex life. I’m curious about vaginas. Could you imagine if I, a guy, walked up to a cis girl and asked about her vagina? I’d probably have a sexual harassment case on my hands pretty quick. But for a trans student it’s dismissed as curiosity? I believe people are good, and most people when they ask questions mean very well, but it also displays a lack of consideration for the (in this scenario) trans student’s feelings. Cis people don’t have to go around explaining their gender and whatnot to everyone, so why should a trans student?

    • esqg says:

      “I submit that, in some cases, discussions of aggression (both micro- and macro-) can fall into the very same traps they castigate, and that upsets me.”

      I agree, up to a point. Carelessly grouping people as “the bad guys” can have long-term negative effects, but these are secondary to the harm being done all the time. So treat them as such, and try not to respond to them without prioritizing the primary problem; especially for anyone who has a personal fear of being grouped with “the bad guys”, because that fear may be preventing you from thinking clearly. I believe your (Louis’) comment to be sincere, but watch out for others who use “that’s unfair to the aggressor” as a silencing tactic. That is, making people feel bad for saying anything at all. So to respond to your examples:

      Athletics aside, if someone looks like a white cis guy, then even if they have a history or identity that doesn’t match that, they have a ton of white, cis and male privileges because most of those privileges are given to people based on how they look. The description makes sense. Furthermore, perception is part of how the interaction works. Saying that someone “looked like a white cis athlete” (didn’t say he was one) helps to describe the kind of alienation that people feel when privileged people make light of their experiences. Maybe there’s a more careful way to talk about it though.

      As for “the roommate’s willingness to discuss further is a sign that he/she was willing to consider”: it’s not clear evidence of that. Unfortunately if “more was said”, that is more likely a sign that the roommate was simply being defensive and/or trying to “win” the conversation. Not having been there, I can’t say–but neither can you.

      TL;DR There’s not just the action and the actor, there’s the target. If you prioritize talking/writing about how the descriptions mistreat the actor, versus the target’s described experiences, you might want to rethink.

      • Louis says:

        I appreciate your response, and I agree that my words may have seemed to ignore the target’s primacy in discussions of aggression. I do want to point out that I mention in my comment that the actions (aggression) are indefensible. To put it more bluntly, it is unacceptable to engage in purposeful aggression, and it is unacceptable to refuse to acknowledge and alter the attitudes which lead to engagement in non-purposeful aggression.

        All I mean to say is that we ought to be careful how we choose to approach discussions of aggression, not to prioritize the offender, but rather to prioritize not ignoring the offender, particularly in cases of unintentional aggression.

        Of course, it’s my vice that I tend to assume good faith even if there isn’t much/any to speak of. That’s the lens through which my statements were made. I am only human, after all.

  13. JoelZ says:

    some of these are just ridiculous….

    If you are a self-admitted feminist, then why do you have problems being introduced as one?

    And to techie woman – why do you expect to be recruited to be in the group? Do you even know the guys who are grouping up with each other? No one *owes* you an invitation to their group. What’s wrong with grouping with the other women who weren’t in a group?

    • AntiSlice says:

      There’s nothing wrong with choosing to group with the other women in the group. But it’s jarring when you know that no one else in the room knows each other and they still group together. And what if there are no other women in the room? What then?

      Being introduced as a feminist in a social situation is similar to being introduced as, say, a Catholic or Democrat. It’s not usually relevant to the conversation and doesn’t lead to more questions in the same way introducing someone with their major or profession would. Given the amount of vitriol that’s aimed at feminism sometimes I wouldn’t blame that person for not wanting it made part of her first impression.

      • John says:

        I’m a Catholic, and I would have no problem with someone introducing me as such. Would it be strange? Sure. Would I come on a blog and complain about it to the Internet? No. I guess that’s where the difference lies.

      • AntiSlice says:

        @John I’m Catholic too (well, pretty much lapsed at this point), But unless we’re in a religious/social context or conversation (at a wedding at a church or discussing religion or something) it’s out of context enough to be strange to me. And this isn’t once or twice. This is one friend consistently making a point to mention it.

      • esqg says:

        I didn’t think to say so but I’ve also had this “introduced as a feminist” thing happen to me, once by a guy making an “oogedy boogedy” look at another guy. I guess we don’t know the tone of how it’s conveyed, but since many guys take “feminist” to mean “person who hates men, so someone we should never listen to”, it can unfortunately be damaging. (Plus it’s vague. I’m for gender liberation and intersectionality, more often than the issues “feminism” usually brings to mind. So I’d rather explain myself.)

        In fact, being introduced as “Christian” or even “Catholic” is understood to be vague because it doesn’t say how religious you are, or whether you have political views in opposition to others trying to live their lives. I wouldn’t necessarily have a problem with that introduction, even though it isn’t true. It’s not comparable.

      • qed says:

        @John:

        I’d also point out that Catholics have never been subject to the level of discrimination that women in this country have. Certainly Catholics are not currently discriminated against nearly as much as women are. Being described as a feminist can invoke vitriol and hatred. Being described as a Catholic very rarely would. So they are far from analogous situations.

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