The University of Missouri’s News Bureau recently published a news story titled, “Media Microaggressions against Female Olympic Athletes Up 40 percent,” in June, 2017. The article, penned by Nathan Hurst is essentially a brief run-through two academic studies conducted by MSU’s Associate Professor of Communication, Cynthia Frisby, and an MSU undergraduate student named Kara Allen, a self-described “copywriter & storyteller.”

Let us look at the “research team” cited by MSU’s news column so that we can acquire a better understanding of who exactly is claiming that “microaggressions against female Olympic athletes are up 40 percent.”

Professor Frisby is known in some academic circles for some peculiar journal articles penned in the past, notably, “Sexual objectification in music videos: A content analysis comparing gender and genre,” which you can find here, and, “Building Theoretical Insights to Explain Differences in Remote Control Use between Males and Females: A Meta-analysis,” which you can find here. Of course, sexual objectification is not an inherently oppressive thing, and everybody does it, regardless of the genders involved. Her journal article on gender-differences and remote control usage, Frisby intended to explain how men and women use TV remotes differently, Frisby writes,

“The results of this study indicate that males and females differ with respect to remote control use. Males, according to the results of the meta-analysis, are more likely than females to use and dominate the remote control. this finding indicates that the remote control may “free” the male viewer from traditional restraints by allowing him to control the media environment.”

That’s right, ladies and gentlemen. Your tax dollars have contributed to the publication of Prof. Frisby’s groundbreaking research on how men oppress and control women and minorities even by using a remote control. 

Concerning the second and only other collaborator on the project, Ms. Kara Allen does not have any discernable presence in academia, other than being an author alongside Prof. Frisby of the journal article, “A Content Analysis of Micro Aggressions in News Stories about Female Athletes Participating in the 2012 and 2016 Summer Olympics,” which is cited repeatedly throughout MSU’s new column.

Let’s move on to the actual meat of MSU’s news column.

The major claim being made is that “microaggressions against female athletes in the media increased by nearly 40 percent from the 2012 Summer Olympic Games to the 2016 Summer Olympic Games.” This statistic was gathered by Frisby and Allen in a study that surveyed “723 newspaper and magazine articles covering the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.” This study, therefore, is founded on the supposition that two women in a college study have the capacity to sit down and examine 723 newspaper articles (approximately 361.5 each) for what they may label as “microaggressions.”

Now, the journal article itself defines microaggressions as “the brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial, gender, sexual-orientation, and religious slights and insults to the target person or group.”

Image result for microaggression
This is not a microaggression. If the woman of color in question legitimately speaks in a manner inconsistent with the majority of her ethnic background, asking why her vocal mannerisms closer resemble that of a white woman than a black one is not a preposterous question to ask. It is a legitimate inquiry rooted in personal curiosity and is not intended to be misconstrued as offensive in any way.

So, to be entirely consistent with the definition of “microaggresion” offered by Frisby and Allen, one must admit that any verbal, behavioral, or environmental communications towards a people group that are not intentionally or inherently hostile, derogatory, or negative towards one’s racial, gender, sexual orientation, or religious beliefs, cannot rightly be labeled as a microaggresion.

So, asking a foreign national who speaks with a thick accent and clearly embodies a radically different culture than that which he or she finds themselves in where their country of origin is from is not a “microaggession.” Likewise, recording certain activities or making comments on minorities on the basis of them being a minority is not an instance of indignity towards minorities; rather, it is a mere recognition of reality.

Yet, Frisby and Allen begin their column by stating that they will be classifying “microaggressions” as any instance of “sexual objectification, second-hand citizenship, use of racists/sexist language, restrictive gender roles, sexist/humor jokes, a focus on traditional feminine appearance and a focus on physical shape and body image.” This inevitably leads to any positive comments on athletic female bodies, commentaries on the innovative advances in female activity in the socio-cultural landscape, any humor deemed “offensive” by leftists, and praises towards femininity and traditional beauty as oppressive, inappropriate “microaggresions.”

Furthermore, Frisby and Allen assert that their study on the matter includes any descriptors of female Olympic athletes including the terms “colored,” “Oriental,” “girl,” “lady,” or any other indicators of reality that may be construed as offensive to extremely sensitive liberal audiences. For example, if a magazine article claims that an “Oriental lady” whose cultural background has historically oppressed individuals of her race and gender from exceeding in athletic activities, then the article will be considered by the study at hand as containing “microaggressions.”

The most important part of the study is this: the 723 news articles examimned by Frisby and Allen were not personally read by the researchers, they were compiled by three unnamed coders who simply searched keywords into a database. As stated in the article,

Page 4.

“The data in this study were created by a team of three experienced coders under supervision by the principal investigator. The method of coding was based on micro aggression theme counts… The athletes were coded for race: white, black, other, categories included white unknown, black unknown, other unknown, black non-athlete, white non-athlete, and other non-athlete. The sport depicted was coded as masculine or feminine or neither. Feminine sports included gymnastics, volleyball, synchronized swimming; Masculine sports included basketball, baseball, weightlifting, boxing, golf, and rugby.”

The methodology employed, therefore, to reach the conclusion subscribed by Frisby and Allen is foundationally dishonest to the scope of their definition. The coding employed to gather the data used by the researchers does not accurately convey the proposed meaning of “microaggression.” It simply analyzes a list of arbitrary descriptors that accurately depict the environment of the 2012 and 2016 Summer Olympics. The employed coders and researchers did not personally read over 700 newspaper articles on the Olympics in question and went from there to form an opinion; no, they simply decided whether or not these articles possessed microaggressions exclusively on the presence of certain terms. 

Essentially, the data was gathered in a manner akin to Googling any given racial slur, then compiling every link that shows up as a result in a list of “racist websites.” It is an intellectually dishonest method of compiling data and provides no legitimate grounding for advancing an argument. 

So, what were the findings of these non-analyzed articles? In articles covering the 2012 Summer Olympics, Frisby and Allen identified 69 microaggressions against female athletes, compared to 96 microaggressions against female athletes in the 2016 Summer Olympics four years later. Of course, we are all children and find the fact that “69” microaggressions were identified is cosmically ironic. And, of course, the fact that the number “96” is classified by the satirical Urban Dictinoary as “a position where two people lie alongside each other facing opposite directions with their heads resting comfortably between their partner’s butt cheeks,” the findings of Frisby and Allen coincidentally coincide with one of the most well-known sex positions in history. According to Missouri State University’s coverage on the researchers’ findings, 

“These microaggressions included four instances of sexual objectification, 26 instances of treating females as second-class citizens, 44 instances of racist or sexist language or jokes, 61 instances of restrictive gender roles, and 30 instances of focusing on the athletes’ physical body types and shapes.”

Let’s analyze how the article defines the above terms, which are misconstrued as sinister-sounding phenomenon, when in fact, they are much less oppressive than what Frisby and Allen’s research seems to indicate. 

Page 4 of “A Content Analysis of Micro Aggressions in News Stories about Female Athletes Participating in the 2012 and 2016 Summer Olympics.”

Sexual objectification is defined by the journal article as any commentary on the female athlete’s body that praises her for her beauty, or assigns any worth to an athlete on the basis of “her appearance.” Four instances of this was found in 723 magazine articles, which is an astonishingly low 0.5% of the journal articles in question. 

The “treating [of] females as second-class citizens” is a phrase that is absolutely misleading, because the article defines the term as “language that places importance on the athlete’s ethnicity and group membership; the athlete is only focused on part of a whole rather than an individual.” Essentially, according to Frisby and Allen’s analysis, if a news outlet places importance on the athlete’s identity, they are instigating microaggression(s); yet, if they focus on the athlete’s ethnicity or team as a whole, they are supposedly being treated as “second-class citizens.” 26 instances of surveying a female Olympic athlete’s ethnicity and group membership equates to approximately 3.5% of the total news articles analyzed. 

The “44 instances of instances of racist or sexist language” is classified by the article as any mention of the athlete’s race or gender that “add no value to details of the event or athlete being covered.” Judging by the findings, approximately 6% of the articles surveyed found that the race and gender of female athletes were mentioned passively, not necessarily in a sexist or racist manner. 

“Restrictive gender roles,” defined by Frisby and Allen, are instances of “language that refers to acceptable behaviors associated with one’s gender and shows an overemphasis on femininity,” i.e., praising traditional notions of female beauty that is often extant in the trained physical prowess of female Olympic athletes. Or, the belief that men and women are biologically different and that there are scientific differentiators that naturally lead to the imposition of social norms when recognized by a civilization’s general populace. When converted to a percentage, about 8% of total articles analyzed mentioned femininity, not necessarily in a negative light. Furthermore, 30 instances (4.1%) were found in news articles covering the 2012 and 2016 Summer Olympics that covered the bodies of the athletes in question. 

In short, any news column covering the 2012 and 2016 Summer Olympics identified by codebooks as possessing any identifiers of reality including gender, race/ethnicity, femininity, or humor, regardless of the context of the term, absolutely skew the data received, because they are dealt with at a distance rather than personally. The “69” micoaggressions that the two feminist scholars in news columns covering the 2012 Summer Olympics and the “96” microaggressions found in similar columns covering the 2016 Summer Olympics are based on wholly unreliable data and in no way represent the reality of the situation.