holding your tongue
August 5, 2002 11:18 PM

Roni's question for We Have Brains this week was this: How much of your feminism flies in the face of your family? Do you find yourself at Thanksgiving dinner muffling your voice in favor of a 'nice' gathering?

Even defining family for the purpose of this question was a minor challenge: my family is essentially myself and my parents. Since we agree most of the time, I thought a little more about who my family includes - as there are certainly people with whom I disagree who are still close to me in some way or other.

My family is mostly composed of people I've chosen, or at least have the ability to avoid. The only exception to this per se is my parents. That said, generally my parents and I don't talk about much we disagree about. We see each other rarely enough that most family time is focused on our personal lives, and there's not much in my life or theirs that seems eager to offend.

Political discussion has never been a major part of our conversation. Yes, it happens, but it's not a big deal. And my parents are as likely to correct me for some misconception on my part as I am to go off on a self-righteous tangent of any sort. There was a time when this was a bit different; I can remember once telling my father not to say "gay" as an insult (a word my father still jokingly uses in reference to upholstery and wallpaper; it means, typically, "covered with pink flowers") when I was a teenager. When being direct is important, we are. Most of the time, we pretty much agree, certainly where feminism is concerned. And, while my parents understand why I run a feminist website about as much as I understand why they'd want to move to a tiny corner of a town [which is to say, not much], we get each other on a more basic level that means directness is accepted easily.

There are other "family" members: my extended family, or my friends' families, with whom I am less direct. Most of them are somewhat stereotypically southern or midwestern. That means, basically, that they're not given to loud declarations of their political beliefs, if they have any. [Despite what any northerner might think about southern manners and education, being southern means being polite more than anything.] I still hear the occasional implied racist/sexist/anti-fat statement, but most of these fall into two categories. The first is misinformation (i.e. "most feminists are lesbians") and can easily corrected. The second is deeply held opinions, and, while these can be argued, I don't expect to change them.

Extended family and others are essentially like coworkers; you have more responsibility to them than to strangers, but most of that responsibility consists of "playing nice". So, if the nature of your relationship requires that a certain cranky grandmother be treated as if she hasn't just said that, you hold your tongue and avoid her in the future. While any activist should feel obliged to educate others, that doesn't mean you need to aggressively "educate" anyone who isn't willing to listen. Ironically, it's often the people related to you who are most ready to ignore your opinions and your information.

Given that, family events (and I'm using a very wide definition of family here) do sometimes mean a choice between being polite and being correct (in your own view), preserving relationships and maintaining a clear conscience. I find that I'm able to be polite when I don't care much about the people involved and conversely, completely incapable of avoiding arguments with the ones I like most.

I suppose that makes sense. It's frustrating to care about someone harbors wrong opinions - and even more so because that person likely feels exactly the same way about you and your perspective.

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i didn't get this topic... am i still on the list..?



these are the thoughts of Cuntyness on August 7, 2002 09:28 PM

I agree with what you said- sometimes you just need to pick your battles.

these are the thoughts of kerri on August 10, 2002 10:21 AM

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