Friday, 29 April 2011

The little things

Posted by Annalytica

Feminists like to make a fuss over the little things. Throwaway remarks about apparently minor incidents are dissected for all their offensive implications, and as we pick them apart we get angry. Often people observing the dissection and the anger get the impression that the thing responsible for making us so upset is the feminism. It seems that we’ve invented new ways of getting offended and taught ourselves to get worked up and upset over things which never would have bothered us before we discovered feminism.

I'm talking about little things like passing judgement on other people's parenting choices, or their clothes. Little things like the roles of female characters in films, or the ways toys are marketed to girls and boys. Little things like a shampoo advert which implies that if a strange man deceives you about his identity to trick you into allowing him to touch you, this should be taken as a compliment on how attractive you are. Or any one of the many many little things listed on Microaggressions.

It’s an illusion to think that if we were blissfully unaware of all these implications we’d be happier. When misogynistic remarks are allowed to go by without comment, when we shrug them off and decide not to make a fuss, all the assumptions and implications are accepted unchallenged. Each little, apparently unimportant encounter finds its way into the subconscious and sits there with all the other little encounters, each of them reinforcing over and over again variations on the same message: I am worthless. My feelings, my desires, my experiences do not count. It’s not always obvious that this message follows, especially if you take just one of the little incidents without the context of all the others. And that’s why it’s so easy to let these things go by without challenge, and sometimes hard to see the link between the little incidents and the message. But if I don’t uncover the mechanisms by which the message of worthlessness is reinforced, it becomes very difficult to avoid the conclusion that it must be true: I am worthless.

And so, even though it may be the case that without feminism, I wouldn’t get so upset at the time when someone makes a throwaway comment, that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t get upset at all. I would get upset later and I wouldn’t know why. I wouldn’t know what had happened to make me feel so bad, because it wasn’t one thing; it was a thousand tiny things that I barely noticed at the time. And because I didn’t notice them, the only conclusion left is that I feel worthless because I am worthless. Or for a variation on that theme, I believe all kinds of negative things about myself that aren’t true, because I’m mentally ill. There is something wrong in my brain that makes me hate myself for no reason at all. The problem must lie within me – reinforcing yet again the idea that my feelings don’t count because they are a reflection of my diseased mind, not an understandable response to living in a misogynistic society.

So no, it isn’t feminism that causes me to get upset over minor incidents. Feminism gives me a plausible explanation for why I feel unhappy – an explanation that depends neither on dismissing my feelings as those of a crazy, over-emotional woman, nor on concluding that I am correct in judging myself worthless. Feminism gives me the tools to identify, understand and challenge the ways that negative messages about myself are reinforced – and a supportive community with whom to do that.


  1. Cannot stress enough how much I agree with this. Sometimes I despair of ever getting across to people the truth that if I wasn't consistently angry about the stuff that goes on in the world I would probably not get out of bed in the mornings.

  2. This is fantastic. Thanks for writing this; I'm adding it to my list of fundamental things about feminism to point people at.

  3. I only just found these comments! Thank you very much!