Holiday survival guide: How to deal with ignorant relatives

It’s the holiday season once again, which means families are coming together and, in some cases, so are their opposing ideas. Often times, it seems best to keep quiet when you disagree with family you don’t often see in order to save face and maintain harmony.

However, there are instances when the boundaries of what should be tolerated are stretched too thin. There are times when we must stand up for what we believe in, even if it doesn’t seem like it will make any difference.

During my family’s Thanksgiving get-together, I noticed a lot of underlying sexism and the reinforcement of gender roles. At one point, everyone stopped to congratulate my mother’s male date for washing a single dish, while my mom and I had just finished washing all the other dishes for a full 45 minutes.

They regarded him as if he was a puppy that just performed a trick, “Look at that, he is washing a dish!” and “Wow, you need to keep him because he washes dishes.” To this I chimed in, “Everyone eats, so everyone should wash dishes.” My aunt’s husband responded, “That sounds like some feminist talk.” “Yep,” I said. My mother tried to excuse me by explaining that I care about social justice issues and he responded, “Good luck with that.”

If you come into contact with someone like this over the holidays, here are some effective ways to respond.

1. Ignore

General Script

You are not always obliged to take on the task of trying to right a wrong. We cannot all be on social justice radar 24 hours, 7 days a week. It is okay to opt out.

2. State how the comment made you feel

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This may not be enough to change the state of ignorance, but it can be a helpful first step in showing that person the impact of what they say.

3. Ask questions to clarify how you interpreted the statement

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In my case, I could have asked, “Do you mean to say that men are not expected to wash dishes?” or if I was more salty, “Do you mean to say that men are not capable of or very skilled at washing a dish?”

4. Take time to teach

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This is the most difficult endeavor to take on, but it is also the most important. Explain to the person why their small comment or action has much larger implications and impact than what is readily seen.

5. Breathe

Each of these confrontations will benefit from beginning with a deep breath.

We must reinforce inclusive, considerate and non-hateful ideas not only in our minds, but in the minds of those around us. The times, they are a-changing and like never before.

With globalization, diversity is becoming the norm everywhere. The glass ceiling has taken some fracturing blows from powerful women and men. Gay marriage has just been legalized across the nation.

This isn’t a time to back down or excuse ignorance as a factor of old age. It is time to challenge our elders and those who are close to us like never before.

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Traditional norms no longer dictate our future. Change is the new norm. The more flexible we allow ourselves and others to be, the more resilient our society will be as a whole.

It is OK to create a positive challenge for your family members and holiday attendees. It is OK to try to open their minds and, in turn, open their hearts to others.

Even if you do not ultimately influence the person you're interacting with, you may influence those around who are listening in. If anything, you will create an opposite perspective for their negative thinking, which serves to neutralize the thought. If applied enough times, this will make a qualitative difference, no matter how long it takes.

No matter what, remember that no one is born socially aware. Even you had to be taught by others. This is why we must remain patient and never give up hope in thwarting ignorance. 

Related Links:

How do You Define Feminism?

The tide is high for social justice, and America needs to hold on


Reach the columnist at ralydfor@asu.edu or follow @ralydford on Twitter.

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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