Dealing with family sexism at Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is not my favorite holiday. Aside from the awful history behind it, I am just not a fan of turkey. However, the one thing I like about Thanksgiving is the fact that I get to see my family. For the most part, I love my family very much, and since I don’t get so see them very often, Thanksgiving is a special sort of reunion.

Despite all my love for them, sometimes my family pisses me off. Disclaimer: I am the token liberal of my family. Some of them strongly identify as Republicans while the rest claim to be independent, but hold ridiculously conservative views and vote Republican 95% of the time. Needless to say, I have to hold my tongue around them very often or risk getting into a debate that no one was interested in.

What I most often have to endure are the homophobic comments. Sometimes they’ll tell a homophobic joke and expect me to laugh, so to keep the peace, I just laugh at their ignorance. Sometimes they’ll hold very victim-blaming attitudes, and since violence against women is my “soapbox issue” and they are very well aware of this,  it is especially difficult for me to keep quiet and I usually don’t, but censor myself as much as possible. 

This Thanksgiving, however, none of the above offenses were committed. Instead, I got to deal with some classic sexism at its finest. It all happened when we were pulling down some Christmas decorations from the attic. My aunt and uncle had climbed into the attic and I was waiting at the bottom of the ladder to grab boxes from them. Now I realize some people, women AND men, might be too weak to grab a 40-50 pound box from up above their head and then carry it down the ladder. I, however, am not one of those people. I lift that weight on a daily basis and my family, if they have paid any attention to me at all growing up, know this about me. However, my aunt and uncle asked me to go get my cousin, who is male. Thinking that they wanted him to join them up in the attic, I did as I was told. Next thing I knew, my cousin was the one doing the job I had been waiting to do. Best part of all, my grandpa, with his knee and back problems, joined in the mix. Seeing the amount of stress he was in trying to carry those heavy boxes, I offered to help. He wouldn’t let me. At one point I just snatched the box out of his hands as he simultaneously let out a sigh of relief and gave me a dirty look.

Eventually, the Christmas decorations were all down from the attic and we all congratulated and thanked one another. Although I was tempted, I did not confront my family about their sexist assumptions. Had these people been coworkers or strangers or pretty much anyone else, I would have called them out. But that’s what I think makes family sexism especially horrible. For someone like myself who loves her or his family, staying a strong feminist when around them is especially difficult. I could speak my opinions every time, but my family members, especially my grandparents, hold strong views that aren’t going to be changed regardless of what I say. So the best I can do, if I want to maintain our relationships, is just hold my tongue, even if it means sacrificing a little of who I am when around them.

I just hope that one day, they will read one of my blog posts, newspaper articles, or Facebook posts and realize that I am who I am, and that’s not going to change. And then maybe they will hold their tongues as much as I have been.

Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

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