Avoidance, Anger, or Action? Talking to Your Parents About Feminism
By Jeri Asaro
[dropcap background="no" color="#333333"]P[/dropcap]arents! They can simply make you crazy. I bet you think we all forget what it is like to be young. The generation gap seems to grow larger with each passing year, and each new technology update! Many parents still live in the world of flip phones. I believe this notion is especially true in the time of life before adults have children of their own. And even then, raising children can be a hot button topic all by itself.
Listen, my parents are sadly gone and have been for over 14 years, but I remember entering adulthood, with my own, very clear points of view on many subjects, and butting heads as soon as the varied topics came to the table. Quite literally, Thanksgiving dinner, with my Italian family, was strained on more than one occasion.
Trusting and respecting the wisdom of your parents is complicated. Parents come in all shapes and sizes, so this guidance from me really has to be considered based on your personal situation. My dear son has two parents. We are very different people, and have strengths in diverse areas. While my son may take my advice on financial matters, he takes his father's advice in business dealings. And, in both areas, he may listen to parts of the advice, but ultimately, he does what he feels is best for his life. We do not always agree with him, but for us as parents, his taking his own path is how he learns the valuable life lessons he will take forward, and ironically try to pass onto his children someday.[divider type="short" spacing="10"]
I, most commonly, see adults dealing with the opposing views of their parents in two ways. One is avoidance, and the other is anger. When I was in my 20s, I did not ask for my parents advice, and told them only the basic activities going on in my life. I moved out at 19, and never moved back home, so I did not have to share my day-to-day life with them. I was financially independent of them. I called as little as I could get away with, and stayed on the phone for the least amount of time possible. I lived far enough away that a monthly visit sufficed. By then, I had so much laundry to do, I always felt I could kill two birds with one stone.
[pullquote align="right" cite="" link="" color="" class="" size=""]The best way to get them to pay attention to you, and appreciate your side, is to know all the facts. An argument is just that, a heated expression of both sides of the story.[/pullquote]
Do not misunderstand; I loved my parents dearly and respected how they raised me and the beautiful life they gave to me growing up, but I just did not want to listen to their advice at that time. It was the mid-'70s and early '80s, and I was a young woman, on my own, in a changing world. I had moved from suburbia to an urban area of New Jersey. I knew it all and had it all under control, or so I thought. With my parents, I chose the path of avoidance. Truthfully, years later when I had my own child, I realized they were wise people whose own life experiences taught them great lessons, and they were simply trying to pass them on to me. Some life lessons are universal! Wanting your children to avoid making the same mistakes you did is only a sign of love.
Whether it was the "free love" era of the '70s, or the social injustices we see today, everyone is entitled to an opinion. This year's presidential election alone could cause an all-out war if you are not careful. Who hates Trump? Who loves Clinton? Who wishes Bloomberg was running? Who believes that Kasich is the only candidate who sounds like he has a head on his shoulders? Republican? Democrat? Independent? Conservative? Liberal? And, if you really look at the issues, the important topics tie directly to the inequalities of the world: poverty, the elderly, war, homelessness, housing, equal pay, gender inequality, and abuse. How do you have an intelligent conversation with your parents about such important topics? First and foremost, it starts with respect.[divider type="short" spacing="10"]
[dropcap background="no" color="#333333"]W[/dropcap]hen you look at your parents, you may see people set in their ways. Keep in mind; they were once young and idealistic too. Their ways may be set because of what they have experienced in their lifetimes. Someday, you may be just like them to your own children. Granted, times are different and their views may not be parallel to your own. So what? Those differences make the world go 'round. Talk about them all along, instead of just waiting until the time of heated disagreement. Let them know your ideas; watch the news together. Share interesting articles with each other that show both sides of the issues. Explain how certain injustices affect your life personally; speak from your own experiences, and encourage them to do the same with you.
Some of the older folks can seem ignorant at times, and maybe they are. Inappropriate jokes or disparaging comments about people in the workplace can make you crazy. It is hard not to be offended. The best way to get them to pay attention to you, and appreciate your side, is to know all the facts. An argument is just that, a heated expression of both sides of the story. Know both sides and be ready to respectfully discredit the other side. In so doing, keep compassion in mind. Arguing for argument's sake will get you nowhere.[divider type="short" spacing="10"]
One Thanksgiving dinner, when I was 18, we were at my grandmother's house for the usual feast. A male relative accused me of wasting my money on attending college, with the one intent of finding a husband. Boy, did my back go up! Just thinking about it makes me angry again. At that time, it was a feminist issue, just like many of the issues we deal with today. Misconceptions, like this one, fuel the fire.
The discussion started, and I could feel myself getting heated. My voice was quivering and becoming increasingly loud. He was coming back at me with negative comments. I glanced over at my father, seated across the table from me, who could see my building rage, and he quietly signaled to me to calm down– not stop, but just calm down. With his eyes, he gave me permission to stand up for myself, but to do it in a respectful way. My male relative was feeling attacked, but so was I. The anger on both sides did not do anything to get the points across; it brought about the opposite reaction.
I took a breath and brought the conversation back to how college would affect me personally, and why it was worth my hard-earned money. At the end, he still would not admit that he might agree with me just a little bit, but he smiled, wished me well in school, and slipped me a twenty to buy myself something for my new apartment. My dad, who as I said in my last article, was a progressive man for the times, made me proud that day because he allowed me to state my views to my other family member, but he guided me to do it in a way that would be appropriate for the setting. And let me just add, through no help from me, the feisty daughter of that relative is, today, quite an educated and successful woman.
Taking a side on an issue, and taking action in defense of it, can demonstrate how heartfelt the issue is for you. You might even be able to encourage your parents to help you fight for your cause. For example, look at our fearless leader here at Feminist Wednesday, Erin Bagwell. She believes that young women today need positive inspiration to help them become strong leaders in our future. She did not just offer rhetoric; she did something gutsy to fight for that cause; hence, Dream, Girl. Probably, there were naysayers in the crowd, but by taking action, she likely earned their respect, just like she earned mine. And, keep in mind, I am the older generation![divider type="short" spacing="10"]
[dropcap background="no" color="#333333"]W[/dropcap]e cannot all see eye to eye. Be the better person; weigh the situation and make sure the discussion is worth it. Then, do it well! Your parents want to understand you, and how you feel about issues, big and small. Yes, they may want to sway you in their direction, but when you win them over with your knowledge of the subject, and encourage them to do their research as well, you may find that you can, as they say, agree to disagree, or even better, you may begin to help the needed change move along a little faster.
Face it; times change slowly, but they do change. When I was growing up, being gay was kept in the closet. Now gay marriage is legal, and same gender couples actually hug and kiss on national television. What a relief! No matter how old you are, your parents always see you as a youngster. Sometimes, they do not realize you have grown up to have valid opinions of your own. They occasionally still treat you like a 13-year-old, and force feed you information you do not care to hear. Kill them with knowledge, conversation, and kindness, and you might find that you can actually sway their opinions, just a little bit.