Handling family over the holidays often gets harder as you get older for a few reasons. Growing up means more than suddenly having to buy presents for everyone and juggling your work schedule to go home for the holidays. It also means you’re way more aware of how misogynist or racist some of your family members really are. Like, painfully aware, which means you might need some creative ways to navigate the holidays with sexist family members.
There are generally two kinds of awful family members: the blatantly sexist one, who is unabashed in their unsolicited comments, super insulting jokes, and likely believe that “feminists” are a militant political sect that wants to castrate men as opposed to just human beings who want equality and respect. Then there’s the misogynist, who is more subtle in their ways and actually might not even know how much their actions and words betray an intense hatred of women. Very few family members are fully free of people who fall into one or both of these categories.
According to Psychology Today, misogynists are “are notoriously hard to spot. They do not come with a label attached, and they may even come across as pro-woman.” But they usually make themselves known and when you hear or see something sexist, you always have the choice of risking a little awkward silence and saying something about it.
It can be tough when you realize that a family member actually isn’t on your side, especially since the last year seems to have either revealed all of the sleeper sexists around you or made the ones you already knew about more obnoxious and hurtful.
But enough is enough. This year has been triggering enough, what with all the attacks on women’s rights, alleged sexual predators in every corner of our lives, and having to scan through all the bad takes on Twitter. You don’t need to tolerate it over a holiday dinner, too. So let’s have a game plan for dealing with the more triggering and offensive people in our families.
Here are a few ways to navigate the sexist members of your family so you don’t lose your mind.
1Call it what it is.
When you hear someone say something sexist, just saying something like, “Hey, that’s a little sexist, don’t you think?” can be enough. In fact, a recent study from Rutgers University found that calling out bigotry does actually make a person think the next time they have something awful on the tip of their tongue. It helps to be really clear about what offensive behavior or language you’re referring to and why it’s bothering you.
2Stand up for yourself.
Sometimes it won’t be a sexist comment or joke at the table, but some other micro aggression like interrupting you or another woman in the family. Practice saying, “please don’t interrupt me” or “let me finish, please” to that person and then carrying on. If you do this every time you get cut off or talked over, it will be easier to say “now that’s the fifth time you interrupted me” later in the evening.
3Stand up for other women.
The only way we’re going to change anti-woman culture is if we have each other’s backs. So when you see someone put down another woman in the room, speak up for them, especially your little cousins and younger family members! Lead by example: “Hey, she was talking!” is all you need to say.
4Recruit for your team.
Surely, you aren’t the only one in the fam who knows that you’re Christmas caroling with a sexist. It’s exhausting to be around family regularly, but when they’re not really great people in some ways, it’s even tougher. Talk to other people in your family about it — feel free to joke about it or roll your eyes at each other every time this person does whatever it is that they do. This way, you can back each other up and have someone to escape with if you need. Plus, it’s always fun to reconnect with the non-sh*tty people in your life.
5Consider the fallout from going in on an argument.
You don’t want to name call and start a huge fight, but you also don’t want to make yourself small. Only you can best assess the situation and know how things will end up. Calling someone names might only make the person more cruel, aggressive, or defensive, and you don’t have time for that. You can rise above the nonsense and still tell them that they’re wrong. If you think they can handle it, of course. Sexist men are often very sensitive and emotional about being confronted by a woman, so gauge just how deep you want to go.
6You can walk away.
It’s not up to you to change the world by yourself, so if you’ve tried and failed to get through to this sexist family member before, it’s reasonable to think twice about going back in. If you’re an introvert or tend to be anxious about social confrontation anyway, there’s no need to stand up to someone who’s just going to make all of that worse. It doesn’t make you a “bad feminist” to know when someone is just too terrible to change or could be physically and emotionally abusive later. This is especially true since some particular breed of sexist family members actually get off on making you angry, like a Fox News pundit who invites women onto their show just to troll them.
P.S. If it’s possible, you can also just *not go* to your family’s house. If you don’t go, tell another person that you don’t feel like being around Uncle Obnoxious or Grandma Racist. Maybe the message gets passed along. Either way, don’t feel guilty for standing up for your feminist values over the holidays.