Language and Microagressions

Geek Feminism has a good post up right now titled I feel like you are trying to tell me something, which lists various ways that our world can often tell females (especially geeky females–geek culture is at least as sexist as society at large, but less likely to admit it) that we’re ‘other’, that male is the default and being female makes us part of a special group, nevermind that we’re half the population.

Language is often an issue for members of oppressed populations. For one, it often contains unpleasant reminders that we are not members of the privileged class. Also, language can affect the way we think. This can be used for good purposes (many social justice movements are trying to reclaim or change problematic language) but often reinforces the status quo. A few examples:

  • Though language is slowly adapting, terms like ‘police officer’ and ‘firefighter’ are still sometimes replaced with ‘policeman’ and ‘fireman’
  • Peach or light tan colours are often labeled as ‘flesh’ or ‘nude’, othering people with darker skin tones.
  • Transgender individuals often have problems with people using the wrong pronoun
  • The disability community has been pushing for ‘person first’ language, replacing ‘disabled people’ with ‘people with disabilities’ and other similar changes

These things are termed ‘microagressions’ because they are small, tiny things that aren’t always noticed, and are frequently wholly unintentional. That doesn’t stop them from othering people, though, and reminding oppressed individuals that we are not the assumed default of white, straight, able-bodied, cis-gender, (add adjective here) male. Changing language is an important step towards true equality.


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