This article was a collaborative effort by staff members Vivian Giang, Dana Yu, Katie Farro, Angelina Murphy, Grace Haynes, and Eidah Hilo.
The holidays can be a tough time for everyone, but as a feminist, they can sometimes be especially difficult. Family dinners and gatherings where you have to make small talk with your racist relatives? Classist cousins? Ableist aunts? No thank you. You’ve seen enough of it on Facebook, but you can’t exit out of the browser IRL. Now you’re trapped for x amount of hours with them, and there’s no way to boot anyone off the island. As much as you’d like to call them out, well, let’s just say it doesn’t always end well.
In hopes of helping our readers have a more tolerable holiday season, we present “Fem’s Declassified Holiday Survival Guide:”
- Have a friend that doesn’t mind being vented to. While you can’t avoid bigoted comments the entire night, it’s helpful to have someone that you can angrily text or Facebook message whenever you hear a problematic comment.
- Pick your battles. While it is important to voice your opinion, sometimes it is better to stuff your face with mashed potatoes or pumpkin pie instead of risking your own well-being by engaging with your misogynist uncle on feminism.
- Stay by your least problematic relatives. At worst, a small child will say something problematic, but at least they’re more likely to actually listen to you if you call them out. At best, this means you get to spend the whole party with dogs.
- Bring something to distract yourself. This might seem rude, since the point of a family party is to see family and catch up, but sometimes a book is just what you need to give your transmisogynistic cousin the brush-off. Since it’s winter break, it’s harder to say (or pretend) that you have homework to do, but you can still find a way to get your classist great-aunt to leave you alone.
- Steer the conversation in another direction. That way, you don’t have to listen to their gross opinions, and you also save yourself the trouble of having to decide if you really want to spend your time countering them. When in doubt, ask your relatives questions about them–even if you couldn’t care less about their boring job or recent vacation to Hawaii, it will take the heat off politics and give you some mental relief.
- Give short, clipped answers. The less responsive you are, the more likely it is that they’ll figure out that you don’t care or aren’t interested, and they’ll stop talking about it. Unfortunately, this means that they’ll still get away with their ridiculous ideas, but at least they’ll go away. Hopefully.
- Use humor to diffuse tension. Jokes accompanied by a smile are a great way to let family members know that they said something wrong, but in a less confrontational way. They’re also less likely to get angry, too, which is an added bonus.
- Remember that not every problematic comment is intended to be that way. Even family members that like to think of themselves as “progressive” can still say some pretty offensive things. While this can be shocking, it can also be a good reminder that when we don’t take a purposefully feminist and anti-racist stance, we can come out with less than optimal results.
- Remember your family loves and accepts you, even if they don’t agree with you. They knew this day would come when they sent you off to college, but they let you go anyway, and they listen to your strange left-wing opinions even if they contradict you afterward.
- Talk to them first. You might not be able avoid your relatives for the whole party, but most of the time it’s better to put it off.
- Expect to change their mind. It sounds horrible, but sometimes discussions and arguments can make your racist grandma more firm in her opinion, rather than less. If you start arguing with them and expect that they’ll become less ignorant, you’re probably just going to wind up frustrated at them for the rest of time, while they’ll think that they’ve proved you wrong. Sometimes, nobody wins.
- Act extremely angry. This unfortunately means you’ll be playing respectability politics, where you have to compose yourself in an acceptable way for people to actually consider what you say. That is, they’ll want you to spoonfeed them with nice words and a calming tone, and they’ll yell at you for being “emotional” and “attacking” them if you raise your voice just a smidge. Don’t give in to their bullshit, but also don’t let them get away with painting you in a bad light.
- Feel bad if you need some alone time. Being bombarded with misogynistic comments, even joking ones, is draining for every feminist. If you need some time alone and away from your sexist relatives, go for it. It might be a family get-together, but that doesn’t mean you have to be around them the entire time.
- Let anyone make you feel bad for playing a “social justice warrior.” If you have a reputation for talking about feminism, people in your family who disagree sometimes use it to mock you. It can be pretty demoralizing to have your beliefs and identity made fun of, but please remember that you should not be embarrassed for taking a stand!
- Let your less socially enlightened family get to you. Sometimes after living in a liberal university environment, it can be easy to forget about your small town roots. Don’t do that. Going home for the holidays can be a slap in the face when you realize your small group of equally socially aware friends is not representative of the general population. Do your best to diplomatically stand by your opinion without getting demoralized!
Hopefully, these tips will help you get through the holidays both happily and safely. If you can, and if it’s safe, however, you should speak out. If there is a problem that runs rampant and unchecked in your community, silence is complacency. Stand up for what’s right and actively challenge the system. If your misogynist uncle tells you that you should be in the kitchen helping the women prepare dinner, tell him you’d love to only if he gets up with you and helps as well. Be the positive change you want to see in your community, set the example, and be fearlessly outspoken.