The subtle violence of microsexism often goes unnoticed, although it reflects and perpetuates women’s inequality in relation to men. (Photo: iStock)

Microsexism means the violent actions and attitudes that are experienced in everyday life. These are repeated and have become natural in society because they’re so commonplace, but they constitute sexist micro-aggressions: the historically and culturally rooted idea which maintains that men are superior to women, just because they were born male.

The most visible aspect of sexism is physical violence against women, femicide being its extreme. The subtle violence of microsexism often goes unnoticed, although it reflects and perpetuates women’s inequality in relation to men.

By identifying these practices, we can break gender roles, stereotypes, and the hyper-sexualization of women. Alí Siles, from the Center for Research and Gender Studies at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, along with Aura Sabina, a feminist activist and Mexican literature teacher at the Meritorious Autonomous University of Puebla, explain:

We talk about 10 examples of microsexism. Do you recognize them?

1. Expressions and preconceptions about what’s “feminine”

Classic expressions such as, “Don’t be a queer”, “You’re prettier when you keep your mouth shut”, “Don’t be such a girl”, “You look like a woman”, “Last one there is an old woman”, are based on the notion that typically masculine traits are much more valued than feminine traits. They often pass as seemingly harmless jokes, but they’re sexist and misogynistic.

2. Emotional vs. rational

When a man tells a woman that she can’t do a certain task because her sentimentality won’t allow her to, or that she doesn’t have control of her emotions, it comes from the stereotype that men are mild-tempered, neutral, and composed, while women are the opposite: irrational, emotional, and unbalanced.

One example of this in the workplace is when it’s insinuated that two or more women can’t work together because there’ll be rivalry or conflict.

3. Rating the body

In songs, movies, TV shows, and even in memes, there’s greater objectification of the female body than the male. This area is highly sexualized.

For example: “Grab her, hit her, spank her, hit her. Take her out to dance ‘cause she’s going all out. Hit her, spank her, grab her, ‘cause she’s going all out. Grab her, hit her, spank her.”

This song’s abstractions include the dichotomy between the passive for enjoyment (feminine) and the active (masculine). The descriptions are unequal, highlighting the strength and superiority of the male body versus describing the female body as a domain to conquer, colonize, use, or exploit.

4. The female body as private property

Asking for respect or stopping an aggression against a woman because, “It could be your sister, your aunt, your mother, your wife,” as if they were private property. Women should be respected because they’re human beings.

In the patriarchal culture that both men and women have grown up in, there’s a distorted sense of ownership or the idea that women can be possessed.

5. Friend zone/Fuck zone

When a man asks a woman out and she makes clear that she has no sexual intentions, he accuses her of putting him in the friend zone. If you analyze his first intention, it was him who tried to put her in the fuck zone.

6. Male validation

Even on days like March 8, International Women’s Day, it’s been common to organize discussion tables, conferences, or talks in which only men participate to talk about gender issues or to talk about women on a specific subject. The idea behind this is that a woman can only be validated by a man.

For example, in 2016, publishing house Drácena published Elena Garro’s novel “Character Reunion” in Spain to mark the centenary of her birth. They thought it was a good idea to put a band around it saying, “Octavio Paz’s wife, Bioy Casares’s lover, García Márquez’s inspiration, and admired by Borges.” After the scandal, the publisher asked bookstores to remove the band.

7. Being a professional or being a mom

Comparing a woman’s success in her professional life with the difficulties she encounters at home or with her marital status. “She’s famous, pretty, and she earns a lot of money, but she’s single.”

This statement contains the prejudice that a woman’s destiny is to get married and have children, which includes expressions such as: “Oh, you’re not married and you’re already 30. You’ll be left on the shelf.”

The assumption is that when a woman decides to become a mother, she won’t have time, she’ll always be late, or she’ll stop working when the time comes.

8. Mansplaining

When a man explains a topic to a woman (assuming she doesn’t know about it and won’t understand it) without her having asked him to.


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9. Obstetric violence

Unbelievably, when women are in labor, they can experience aggression in hospitals and public health institutions.

Doctors and nurses can hold women responsible for ailments in a very veiled manner, telling them, for example, why their reproductive health habits are wrong, and even making really violent comments.

One example of violence during childbirth are expressions such as, “Shut up and push!”

10. Revictimization

When a woman goes to file a complaint for sexual harassment and those taking her statement string it out, question the veracity of her testimony, or re-victimize her, i.e. when taking her statement, they ask things such as who she was with, where she was, or what she was wearing, questions that imply she was to blame for the aggression of which she was a victim.