How To Respond Anti-Feminist Comments From Parents

by Gina M. Florio

Parents are so good at hurting our feelings without meaning to. They say the wrong things at the worst times and don't always comprehend why it would be offensive. It happens even in the most loving of families, and it's totally normal. I've gotten into plenty of fights with my parents over the years — and consequently ruined many Christmases — because we don't always see eye to eye on charged topics such as feminism and politics. It's especially difficult to talk to them about misogyny and sexism, since they don't fully see how systemically gendered our society is and always has been. I've been teaching them little by little, though, and they're getting there. (Let's just say the holidays don't include as much shouting and throwing of things as they used to.)

While the feminism our parents were introduced to has certainly informed the feminism we know and love today, the two have their differences. Third-wave feminism amongst millennials focuses much more on inclusivity of all women and their neglected needs, and it celebrates individual expression of feminism and gender in ways the last generation may not have been comfortable with. I don't know about yours, but my parents are still trying to wrap their heads around this kind of feminism, even though they understand its bedrock values.

At the end of the day, we often see feminism in a different way than our parents do, which makes for some heated discussions at best, and dividing disagreements at worst. No matter how worked up the conversation may get, however, there are some things you can say that will always help to keep things civil — and let them know what you truly stand for. Here are seven ways to respond to anti-feminist comments from your parents.

Comment #1: "Just Because You're A Feminist Doesn't Mean You Have To Act Like A Man"

Here's an infuriating example of how we've all been programmed to think of gender as a binary concept. Since our parents are from a generation that lived out prescribed gender roles in profound ways, it's often still hard for them to think outside the gender binary box in terms of how men and women "should" act. They may find it strange to see us, their daughters, take charge of a situation and go for what we want, regardless of how it may come across to others. If this sounds a lot like your parents, don't worry. They'll get used to you acting like a boss over time.

Your Short Answer: "There is no 'right' way for men and women to act. The more we convince ourselves that women should stick to the roles assigned to us by society, the more we hurt each other and prevent ourselves from moving forward."

Comment #2: "There's A Way To Be A Feminist And Still Be Ladylike"

Any phrase thrown at me that consists of the word "ladylike" gives me a pounding headache. I despise it. The whole concept of "ladylike" was created to keep us quiet, submissive, and devoid of opinion. My parents used to cringe when I spoke up in public settings about my feminist beliefs and convictions. To them, being boldly outspoken is not exactly "ladylike," so it's taken a lot of time and effort to explain to them that "being a lady" is something I'm not interested in, and that I won't always act in a way that is proper in their eyes.

Your Short Answer: "Women are free to live out their feminism in any way they wish, free of societal standards and expectations. If that means they're a quiet feminist, that's great. If they choose to be more candid about their beliefs, that's fine too. Telling a woman to be more 'ladylike' is a means of control, so I'd rather you not use the term at all when you're talking about my character."

Comment #3: "How Can You Say Sexism Exists When You're So Successful?"

Parents often interpret the state of the world through how their children are faring. It's easier to think things are going OK if their daughter is doing pretty well in life and is happy and healthy. This can sometimes cloud their judgment and stop them from seeing how much sexism still lives on in our society. They find it hard to see the discrimination if it's not blatantly happening to people they care about. Think of this as a chance to help them see the bigger picture.

Your Short Answer: "Just because I'm doing well doesn't mean all women are. It also doesn't even mean that I'm being treated equally at work or in my personal life." Try to get them to see that just because there are a few exceptions to the rule, doesn't mean that the rest of the women in the world are given the same opportunities to get to the same place as you are in life.

Comment #4: "What Are You Complaining About? Other Women In The World Have It Way Worse"

In other words, stop complaining, because you have it pretty good. While it may be true that there are people out there have it worse than we do, this phrase is yet another way to silence us by diminishing our beliefs and feelings.

Your Short Answer: "Sexism is very real, and its consequences have a wide reach on women everywhere — particularly women of color. We're more likely to suffer from mental illness and be abused by our partners. Every year, 60,000 American women die from childbirth and pregnancy complications, which is actually a higher number than what it used to be. Clearly, women are not being taken care of by our society as well — and our health is suffering as a result."

Acknowledge that there are some horrible things that happen in the world, but that even though you may not be struggling to get by in a third world country, doesn't mean that you haven't been significantly impacted by the misogyny that rules our society. Your parents love you, so they'll probably be willing to hear about your personal experiences. Give them a few examples of how sexism affects the quality of your life. Be specific to help them see your point of view.

5. "Your Generation Has Become So Sensitive About These Things"

Millennials have been accused by our predecessors of being too politically correct. Even Jerry Seinfeld once publicly complained about this fact, claiming that his daughter and her peers have become hypersensitive. Apparently, when he and his wife insisted that their young daughter go to the city on the weekends to "see boys" he thought it was ridiculous that she responded with, "That's sexist." I've experienced the same kind of dismissal from our parents' generation when it comes to talk of feminism. They shut me down when I speak up against gendered phrases like "throw like a girl" or "man up," insisting that I'm just looking for something to fight about.

Your Short Answer: Calmly explain that being concerned with equality and how we treat each other in everyday life is not synonymous with being sensitive. And if they are dead set on calling it sensitive, then maybe suggest that everyone should become a little more sensitive, because the world might turn into a better place.

6. "Don't Talk About Feminism Too Much Or You'll Push Men Away"

I've heard old-fashioned moms say this to young women many times. They're scared that being outspoken and upfront about their beliefs will make their daughters less attractive to the opposite sex. It's an archaic, offensive way of thinking, but unfortunately, it's still pretty common to hear from our parents' generation. Part of the problem here is that they still think that finding a husband is a life goal we should all be aiming for, so seeing us do or say things that will, in their eyes, prevent us from succeeding in this arena makes them nervous.

Your Short Answer: "My biggest aspirations don't include finding a guy. Plus, whoever I date is going to be cool with my brand of feminism anyway. If they weren't, they wouldn't have even caught my eye in the first place."

7. "Just Make Sure He Can Take Care Of You In The Long Run"

This obviously only applies to daughters in heterosexual relationships, and although it may not sound anti-feminist right off the bat, don't be mistaken: it's as sexist of a phrase as they come. Parents mean well when they say it and it comes from a place of love, twisted though it may be. But it's in alignment with the notion that women need taking care of, and that we should look for a man who will look after us like a father. Yuck, and no thank you.

Your Short Answer: Kindly tell them that you don't need taking care of, and that if you choose to settle down with a partner, it won't have anything to do with how well they watch over you. Give them examples of how you've done just fine on your own in your career and personal life thus far. They should be proud of how independent you are — not wishing for a husband to pamper you for the rest of your life.

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