Feminist Turkey Talk

This year, GLAAD is running an #AwkwardThanksgiving campaign with the catchphrase “I’m letting Aunt Betty feel awkward this Thanksgiving.” GLAAD’s website urges you, if you feel comfortable, to discuss your life and partners and LGBTQ issues at Thanksgiving this year, even if it may make some of your family members uncomfortable:

Talking about our lives with our loved ones and family members is vital to advancing equality. It doesn’t just put a human face to an otherwise politically charged issue. It puts YOUR face on the issue. And to people who care about you, that really matters.

As Feministing points out, this is not just true of LGBTQ issues. Feminism needs a human face, too. There are are enough people out there painting pictures of the hairy, scary, militant, man-hating (or -eating), abortion-party-throwing feminazi, but too few of us willing to say not only “I’m a feminist and I don’t resemble that ridiculous stereotype” but to go on to explain why we’re feminists. That we’re not fighting to make women too independent for motherhood (as some may fear), but to make motherhood independent from death. And we’re not fighting sexual harassment because we can’t take a joke, but because we can’t accept that one in three of us will be beaten, coerced into sex or abused in our lifetimes.

I know that it’s hard to have an honest conversation at Thanksgiving dinners. In my family, for instance, my neoconservative father who “jokingly” wants me to wear the Sarah Palin T-shirt he got me to my job at Ms. has to deal with a feminist-blogging, Queer Theory-loving, tattooed “like a sailor or a whore” daughter.  I love my father deeply, though, and don’t want to hurt, disappoint, offend or anger him.

And that is where family, and family gatherings, get difficult for some feminists–we don’t want to rock the decorum boat. Maybe your dad doesn’t keep an autographed photo of the Bush family (the kind you get for campaign donations) next to his bed, but maybe it’s your brother-in-law who won’t stop whining about what those pesky little rape and sexual abuse victims did to Joe Paterno. Or maybe it’s your grandmother who won’t stop saying disparaging things about “the blacks” (and also won’t stop calling them “the blacks”). Or your teenage cousins who keep answering their phones “hey whore” and “hey slut” while you’re watching football and eating cocktail shrimp.

You might not hesitate to rebut, taunt or lambast someone for such comments on your blog, but it can feel harder to do so at the family dinner table. After all, “Unpleasantness is not table talk.” If other family members are expected not to get too drunk before dinner, and not to put Coke cans on your mother’s beautifully set table, is it unfair for them to expect that you not bring up reproductive rights?

I have a year to think about this, because I won’t actually be home for Thanksgiving this year. In the meantime, I’ll review Planned Parenthood’s tips for discussing reproductive health and justice while the cranberry relish is being passed around. A little discomfort at the dinner table is a small price to pay for helping alleviate some of the persistent, heartbreaking and deadly discomfort felt by women the world over.

In the meantime, I would really love to know what you think! Did you honor the decorum of the holiday, or did you let Aunt Betty feel uncomfortable?

Photo of wild turkey by Flickr user Velo Steve under license from Creative Commons 2.0




  1. Umm.. the stepmom who already knew I have disabilities and that our dinner was hosted by somebody still working at a non-profit disability rights group, still went off about how her ‘retirement job’ of substitute teaching is tough because she has to deal with public school students with disabities.

    If she is publically acting like this (in spite of having been a ‘counselor’ who allegedly worked with special education meetings) I can see why the schools ‘never’ call her: They’ve already seen how she actually does interact with people with disabilities. She is not as ‘hot stuff’ as she thinks she is.

    Yes, I would have left if the area was public transit accessible. It was not, so I was trapped until they took me to my place.

  2. In my 40s and just becoming comfortable when others are not. Women are still expected to support with a smile and we often accept the unacceptable. Thanks for encouraging us to respect our own conscience and practice honesty. We can speak our minds and our hearts without being cruel and feel a lot better inside after the big dinner–even if we did eat a second plateful : )

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