(Hetero)sexist microaggressions in practice





Microaggressions, Membership Categorisation Analysis, (Hetero)sexism, conversation analysis


Verbal microaggressions perpetuate inequalities and negatively impact wellbeing. Yet, there is little work on microaggressions in situ. We address this gap, connecting microaggressions research with scholarship concerning prejudice and discrimination in situated interaction, and focusing on (hetero)sexist microaggressions. Conversation analysis (CA) and membership categorisation analysis (MCA) are applied to excerpts of naturally-occurring and focus group conversation to determine what (hetero)sexist microaggressions look like in practice; how they affect conversations; and whether they map onto well-documented CA/MCA phenomena. Findings suggest that when people produce microaggressive utterances, they use various devices (e.g. pre-sequences, idioms, humour) to mitigate accountability. Furthermore, concerning recipients’ reactions, the treatment of an utterance as microaggressive can involve hallmarks of dispreferred turns including hesitation and/or indirect challenges involving deletion/repair initiation. We therefore propose that such features are criteria for an utterance/sequence to be considered microaggressive. Moreover, such strategies suggest that speakers/recipients are agentic in the (re)production of (hetero)sexism, and therefore may be agentic in effecting change.



Author Biographies

Rosemary Lobban, University of Greenwich

Rosemary Lobban is a Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Greenwich, London, where she is also a member of the Institute for Lifecourse Development Centre for Inequalities. Her research concerns prejudice and discrimination regarding gender, sexualities, their interrelation and the intersection of other social categories. Her recent work considers ‘everyday’ (hetero)sexism in practice.

Russell Luyt, University of Greenwich

Russell Luyt is a Professor in the Social Psychology of Gender. He has published widely in the field of men and masculinities. His work focuses primarily on the crosscultural intersection of gender, race and social class; the critique of traditional masculinity, femininity and gender measurement; media representations; masculinities and aggression; masculinities, prejudice and sexual minorities; and qualitative methodologies.

Daragh T McDermott, Nottingham Trent University

Daragh T. McDermott is Associate Dean for Psychology in the School of Social Sciences at Nottingham Trent University. Dr McDermott’s research work focusses on prejudice and discrimination towards sexual and gender minorities, as well as the development of interventions to promote resilience and wellbeing in these communities. He is currently Co-Editor in Chief of Psychology & Sexuality.


Albert, Saul, de Ruiter, Laura E. and de Ruiter, J. P. (2015) CABNC: The Jeffersonian Transcription of the Spoken British National Corpus. Retrieved from https://saulalbert.github.io/CABNC/

American Psychological Association (2020) Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (7th ed). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Austin, John L. (1962) How to Do Things with Words. London: Oxford University Press.

Benwell, Bethan and Stokoe, Elizabeth (2006) Discourse and Identity. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. https://doi.org/10.1515/9780748626533

Drew, Paul (2013) Turn design. In Jack Sidnell and Tanya Stivers (eds) The Handbook of Conversation Analysis 131–149. Chichester: Wiley Blackwell. https://doi.org/10.1002/9781118325001.ch7

Drew, Paul and Holt, Elizabeth (1988) Complainable matters: the use of idiomatic expressions in making complaints. Social Problems 35: 398–417. https://doi.org/10.2307/800594

Edwards, Derek (2005) Moaning, whinging and laughing: the subjective side of complaints. Discourse Studies 7(1): 5–29. https://doi.org/10.1177/1461445605048765

Edwards, Derek (2014) Rhetoric, cognition and discursive psychology. In Charles E. Antaki and Susan E. Condor (eds) Rhetoric, Ideology and Social Psychology: Essays in Honour of Michael Billig 29–42. London: Routledge.

Elder, Chi-Hé (2021) Microaggression or misunderstanding? implicatures, inferences and accountability. Journal of Pragmatics 179: 37–43. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pragma.2021.04.020

Hayashi, Makoto (2013) Turn allocation and turn sharing. In Jack Sidnell and Tanya Stivers (eds) The Handbook of Conversation Analysis 167–190. Chichester: Wiley Blackwell. https://doi.org/10.1002/9781118325001.ch9

Hewitt, John P. and Stokes, Randall (1975) Disclaimers. American Sociological Review 40(1): 1–11. https://doi.org/10.2307/2094442

Jefferson, Gail (2004) Glossary of transcript symbols with an introduction. In Gene H. Lerner (ed) Conversation Analysis: Studies from the First Generation 13–31. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. https://doi.org/10.1075/pbns.125.02jef

Joyce, Jack B., Bogdana, Huma, Ristimäki, Hanna-Leena and Doehring, Ann (2021) Speaking out against everyday sexism: gender and epistemics in accusations of ‘mansplaining’. Feminism & Psychology 31(4) 502–529. https://doi.org/10.1177/0959353520979499

Kitzinger, Celia (2013) Repair. In Tanya Stivers and Jack Sidnell (eds) The Handbook of Conversation Analysis 229–256. Chichester: Blackwell Publishing Ltd. https://doi.org/10.1002/9781118325001.ch12

Lakoff, Robin T. (2004) Language and Woman’s Place. New York: Oxford University Press.

Lau, Michael Y. and Williams, Chantea D. (2010) Microaggression research: methodological review and recommendations. In Derald Wing Sue (ed) Microaggressions and Marginality: Manifestation, Dynamics and Impact 313–336. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons.

Lee, Seung-Hee (2013) Response design in conversation. In Jack Sidnell and Tanya Stivers (eds) The Handbook of Conversation Analysis 415–432. Chichester: Wiley Blackwell. https://doi.org/10.1002/9781118325001.ch20

Levinson, Stephen C. (2013) Action formation and ascription. In Jack Sidnell and Tanya Stivers (eds) The Handbook of Conversation Analysis 103–130. Chichester: Wiley Blackwell. https://doi.org/10.1002/9781118325001.ch6

Lilienfeld, Scott O. (2017) Microaggressions: strong claims, inadequate evidence. Perspectives on Psychological Science 12: 138–169. https://doi.org/10.1177/1745691616659391

MacWhinney, Brian and Wagner, Johannes (2010) Transcribing, searching and data sharing: the CLAN software and the TalkBank data repository. Gesprachsforschung 11: 154–173.

Nadal, Kevin L. (2008) Preventing racial, ethnic, gender, sexual minority, disability, and religious microaggressions: recommendations for promoting positive mental health. Prevention in Counseling Psychology: Theory, Research, Practice, and Training 2: 22–27.

Nadal, Kevin L. (2013) That’s So Gay! Microaggressions and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. https://doi.org/10.1037/14093-000

Pierce, Chester M., Carew, Jean V., Pierce-Gonzalez, Diane and Willis, Deborah (1977) An experiment in racism: TV commercials. Education and Urban Society 10(1): 61–87. https://doi.org/10.1177/001312457701000105

Pomerantz, Anita (1984) Agreeing and disagreeing with assessments: some features of preferred/dispreferred turn shapes. In J. Maxwell Atkinson and John Heritage (eds) Structures of Social Action 57–101. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511665868.008

Pomerantz, Anita and Heritage, John (2013) Preference. In Tanya Stivers and Jack Sidnell (eds) The Handbook of Conversation Analysis 210–228. Chichester: Blackwell Publishing Ltd. https://doi.org/10.1002/9781118325001.ch11

Robles, Jessica S. (2015) Extreme case (re)formulation as a practice for making hearably racist talk repairable. Journal of Language and Social Psychology 34(4): 464–470. https://doi.org/10.1177/0261927X15586573

Sacks, Harvey (1992) Lectures on Conversation, vols. I and II, Gail Jefferson ed. Oxford: Blackwell.

Schegloff, Emanuel A. (2007) Sequence Organisation in Interaction: A Primer in Conversation Analysis, vol. 1. New York: Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511791208

Schegloff, Emanuel A., Jefferson, Gail and Sacks, Harvey (1977) The preference for self-correction in the organisation of repair in conversation. Language 53(2): 361–382. https://doi.org/10.1353/lan.1977.0041

Speer, Susan A. (2015) Responding to -isms. Journal of Language and Social Psychology 34(4): 464–470. https://doi.org/10.1177/0261927X15587017

Stivers, Tanya (2013) Sequence organization. In Jack Sidnell and Tanya Stivers (eds) The Handbook of Conversation Analysis 191–209. Chichester: Wiley Blackwell. https://doi.org/10.1002/9781118325001.ch10

Stokoe, Elizabeth (2008) Categories, actions and sequences: formulating gender in talk-in-interaction. In Kate Harrington, Lia Litosseliti, Helen Saunston and Jane Sunderland (eds) Gender and Language Research Methodologies 139–160. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Stokoe, Elizabeth (2012a) Moving forward with membership categorization analysis: Methods for systematic analysis. Discourse Studies 14(3): 277–303. https://doi.org/10.1177/1461445612441534

Stokoe, Elizabeth (2012b) ‘You know how men are’: description, categorization and common knowledge in the anatomy of a categorial practice. Gender and Language 6(1): 233–255. https://doi.org/10.1558/genl.v6i1.233

Stokoe, Elizabeth (2013) Applying findings and creating impact from conversation analytic studies of gender and communication. Economic and Industrial Democracy 34(3): 537–552. https://doi.org/10.1177/0143831X13489043

Stokoe, Elizabeth (2015) Identifying and responding to possible -isms in institutional encounters: alignment, impartiality, and the implications for communication training. Journal of Language and Social Psychology 34(4): 427–445. https://doi.org/10.1177/0261927X15586572

Sue, Derald Wing (ed) (2010) Microaggressions and Marginality: Manifestation, Dynamics and Impact. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons.

Sue, Derald Wing and Constantine, Madonna G. (2007) Racial microaggressions as instigators of difficult dialogues on race: implications for student affairs professionals. College Student Affairs Journal 26(2): 136–143.

van Dijk, Teun A. (1987) Communicating Racism: Ethnic Prejudice in Thought and Talk. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.

Weatherall, Ann (2015) Sexism in language and talk-in-interaction. Journal of Language and Social Psychology 40(3): 410–426. https://doi.org/10.1177/0261927X15586574

Wetherell, Margaret and Potter, Jonathan (1992) Mapping the Language of Racism: Discourse and the Legitimation of Exploitation. New York: Columbia University Press.

Wilkes, Julie and Speer, Susan A. (2021) Reporting microaggressions: kinship carers’ complaints about identity slights. Journal of Language and Social Psychology 40(3): 303–327. https://doi.org/10.1177/0261927X20966356

Whitehead, Kevin A. (2015) Everyday antiracism in action: preference organization in response to racism. Journal of Language and Social Psychology 34(4): 374–398. https://doi.org/10.1177/0261927X15586433

Whitehead, Kevin A. and Stokoe, Elizabeth (2015) Producing and responding to -isms in interaction. Journal of Language and Social Psychology 34(4): 368–373. https://doi.org/10.1177/0261927X15586432

Open Access logo




How to Cite

Lobban, R. ., Luyt, R. ., & McDermott, D. T. (2022). (Hetero)sexist microaggressions in practice. Gender and Language, 16(2), 125–148. https://doi.org/10.1558/genl.21005