Upon arriving back to campus after Thanksgiving break, my friends and I sat around, whining and joking about radically conservative family members who had said some questionable things over creamed corn and Jell-O salad. We complained about grandmothers who support Ben Carson because they “heard that he prays twice a day” and great uncles who spat out the N word at every opportunity. We laughed at what we would’ve said but didn’t because, well, it was Thanksgiving and we didn’t want to get into a fight at the dinner table. As we sat in my dorm, giggling at Carson’s belief that the pyramids were built by a biblical figure for grain storage, I wished I had gotten into an argument over this break.
I spend a good amount of my time as an avid feminist preaching “choose your battles.” We don’t need to put out every fire and outshout every internet argument opponent to win the war against inequality. I tell my friends and colleagues who come to feminism club meetings that they are absolutely entitled to be passionate about whatever they want. But I also tell them that they can’t win every fight. They can’t champion every cause while still being a well-educated spokesperson. It’s just too much to ask of a college student.
I tell them to choose their battles and walk away from discussions that wouldn’t go anywhere. Most of the time — especially on the internet — the people who are arguing against feminism don’t want to change their minds. We can’t teach people who don’t want to learn. I talk about swallowing biting remarks and walking away from potential outbreaks, especially in family spheres because, more often than not, your Great Aunt Erma doesn’t have any intention of being swayed from her homophobia. I didn’t get into any arguments over this holiday break because I sucked down my “that’s not politically correct” and “you can’t say that” comment. I followed my own advice and maintained peace instead of progress and, now that I think about it, it’s bad advice.
There is no socio-political change to be found in polite conversation. There is no history-making progress buried within small talk. These things don’t come about on their own. We have to fight for the things we believe in if we want to see them come to fruition. So sitting by and biting our tongues won’t do anything but perpetuate the belief that nothing is wrong and nothing needs changing. No, fighting with Grandma about “the gays” while eating her apple pie isn’t the polite thing to do. No, calling out Grandpa on his blatant racism isn’t the “respect your elders” thing to do. But it’s the strong, progressive, passionate thing to do.
If we sit by, waiting for change to come about politely, we won’t see the change we want. If we don’t get into a few messy fights with our relatives, how will we ever see them learn and change with the socio-political climate? I am firm in my belief that I am on the right side of history and I want to see the people in my life on this side as well. I don’t want my family going down in history as the villains. I want people to think of the feminist movement of the 2000s as an effort led and supported by people of all generations.
Being polite and courteous won’t get us anywhere. Being well-educated and outspoken will move society out toward an age of equality. We don’t have to be unkind to teach tolerance and acceptance. We don’t have to be rude to change the minds of people who are “products of their time.” Being polite and courteous doesn’t hurt but saying nothing does. Sure, you catch more ants with honey than vinegar, but the squeaky wheel gets the grease.
Natalie Dulka is a sophomore English Writing and Theatre Art double major from Minneapolis, MN. She keeps herself occupied by holding the position of Chief Executive Officer of Feminism Club, being involved with the theater, and writing plays. Her passions include sarcasm, wool socks, and equality.