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Gender Microaggressions


Biden (White) and Barak Obama (Black) announced their candidacies. After announcing his presidential run, Mr. Biden was asked by a reporter about the public’s wild enthusiasm for a Black candidate, Barak Obama. Joe Biden responded, “I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that’s a story- book, man.”

There was an immediate uproar from many in the Black community who considered the statement insulting and offensive. To them, it represented a racial microaggression. Senator Biden, for his part, could not understand why a positive comment toward a fellow Democrat would evoke anger from Black Americans. It is important for us to understand that messages oftentimes contain multiple meanings. While on the surface the comment by Biden can be interpreted as praise, the metacommunication (hidden message) commu- nicated to Blacks is “Obama is an exception. Most Blacks are unintelligent, inarticulate, dirty, and unattractive.” Such a racial microaggression allows the perpetrator to acknowledge and praise a person of color, but also allows him or her to express group stereotypes. In other words, while praising the Black student might have come from the professor’s best intentions, the comment was experienced as a microaggression because it seemed to indicate that the professor was surprised that a Black student could be capable of such insightful and intelligent observations.


Like racism, sexism can operate at an overt conscious level or at a covert and less conscious one (Swim & Cohen, 1997). Blatant, unfair, and unequal treat- ment toward women can be manifested in sexual harassment, physical abuse, discriminatory hiring practices, or in women being subjected to a hostile, pre- dominantly male work environment. Like overt racism and hate crimes, such sexist acts are strongly condemned by our society and many men have become increasingly sensitive to their sexist actions (Sue & Sue, 2008). As our society has become more aware of what constitutes sexism and its harmful impact on women, the conscious, intentional, and deliberate forms of gender bias have seemingly decreased, but also continue in the form of subtle and unintentional expressions (Butler & Geis, 1990; Fiske, 1993; Swim & Cohen, 1997). These subtle forms of sexism are similar to aversive racism in that they come from well-intentioned men who believe in gender equality and would never deliberately discriminate against women. Yet, they unknowingly engage

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