Smile! Microaggressions Against Women

A woman covers her ears with her hands while several people point at her angrily.

Women have had to deal with a lot of shit in the workplace over the last century. From sexual objectification to outright sexual assault, the journey to equity hasn’t been easy, and frankly, isn’t even close to finished. 

If you want to experience rage, just watch a few episodes of Mad Men. You’ll realize just how far we haven’t come.

Today, women encounter more nuanced forms of criticism, belittlement, and undermining. These subtle acts, known as microaggressions, often manifest from as early as grade school. Examples of gender-based microaggressions include using sexist language or insults, making assumptions based on gender, using sexist humor, and labeling women with derogatory analogies

Let’s explore some of the common but often unrecognized microaggressions that women face.


From a young age, ladies are bombarded with this expectation: “Hey, smile, sweetheart! It makes you approachable.” And somehow, if they don’t have that constant cheerful vibe, they’re labeled as “cold.” Funny how society rarely tells men to smile, huh?

While society demands men to show strength, seriousness, and stoicism, women who try to embrace these qualities face criticism and backlash. They get called “bitchy” for daring to be leaders. Sadly, only 10% of Fortune 500 companies are led by women, with just a quarter of them making it to the top in the past year.

These figures paint a truly disheartening picture, but what’s even more disheartening is that some men refuse to take any personal responsibility in perpetuating such disparities. Crazy, right?

Assertive = Aggressive

Some of us may have been labeled as an “acquired taste,” assertive, or even, our personal favorite, “bitchy.” Unfortunately, a woman’s confidence, intelligence, and competence often provoke a sense of intimidation, while these same qualities in a man are celebrated as leadership.

This is precisely why women sometimes choose to blend into the background or stay silent when it’s glaringly obvious that the person running the meeting is an utter buffoon. It becomes easier to shrink ourselves rather than face the venomous backlash that is unfairly directed towards us.


We know a rocket scientist, and she is a woman. Someday, we’ll ask her how often she has been dismissed in a meeting, interrupted, or simply ignored because of her gender. But why ask questions you already know the answer to?

Kim used to bring a male colleague into meetings with manufacturing companies; she found it was easier to let them address questions to him than fight for a seat at the table. She’d then step in and school them, but it was her workaround and response to the inevitable mansplaining. 

Women excel at problem-solving, skillfully navigating around instances of sexism. It’s an innate ability we have honed since the beginning of time.

Value = Role

A woman’s value should not be confined solely to her roles as a mother, wife, or girlfriend. It is demeaning and infuriating to be introduced primarily in those terms. Such introductions, like being referred to as “my buddy’s wife,” undermine our worth beyond those specific roles. We are multidimensional individuals with unique talents, aspirations, and contributions to society that extend far beyond the confines of traditional labels. It is important to recognize and embrace the diverse range of qualities and accomplishments that define us as women.

Calling us ‘sugar’ may feel harmless, and men may even intend it to be that way. But it’s just another example of sexist language that subtly implies women are inferior. Pet names are for your pets, not your coworkers.


As women, our worth is often unfairly connected to our physical appearance. Society tends to judge us based on whether we are deemed too skinny or too fat, look older than our actual age, or have had any cosmetic enhancements like Botox. It’s disheartening to see how much attention and praise are placed on our outward appearance, rather than recognizing our valuable skills and knowledge. This constant pressure can make us feel like we’ll never be good enough, perpetuating unrealistic beauty standards and undermining our true potential. It’s important to shift the focus towards valuing and celebrating women for their expertise, intelligence, and accomplishments beyond their looks.

We won’t hold our breath.

Why It Matters

These microaggressions against women aren’t harmless. We mentioned the depressing statistics on women CEOs earlier, but inequality doesn’t just exist at the top. There’s still a gender pay gap, with women earning about 82 percent of what men did last year. The disparity is even greater for women of color, with Black women earning just 60 cents and Latinas earning only 55 cents for every dollar earned by white men.

When you consider factors like job title and rank, that gap shrinks. But it doesn’t change the fact that there are still fewer women in those top positions of power, which means overall, they are making less. 

So, buckle up. The ride to equal pay, equal treatment, and an equal shot is going to be bumpy. But if anybody can handle it, it’s women…and we have strength in numbers.

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