How to Survive Family Conversations about Sexism Over the Holidays

With the holiday season ramping up, there’s a lot to look forward to! From parties to the New Year, this time of year is full of expectations. You’ve survived Thanksgiving, but you might not be past all the awkward family discussions yet to come. But don’t worry—we’ve got your back! Here’s your handy guide to responding to common misperceptions about gender and advocacy that might come up this season.

Your dad says: “We don’t even need Title IX anymore. Women get to play sports already. Plus, no one watches women’s sports anyway!”

First things first, let’s remind dear old dad that this summer’s Women’s World Cup final was the most-watched soccer game in U.S. history! Title IX, which has been credited with helping develop the Women’s National Team itself, plays a critical role in ensuring equity in school athletics. But it’s about so much more than that! The crucial law prevents discrimination in all areas of education, including admissions; recruitment; access to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields; campus sexual harassment and assault; tenure and more.

Your cousin says: “The gender pay gap doesn’t exist. Women are paid less because they take lower-paying jobs and take time off.”

We wish the gender pay gap didn’t exist! But the reality is that the pay gap is all math, not myth. Altogether, women working full time, year round in the United States in 2014 were paid only 79 percent of what men were paid. But that’s not the whole story: Mothers and women of color make even less. According to AAUW’s research, the pay gap occurs in nearly every occupation, including both low– and high-paying jobs. And it can’t be explained away by women’s choices. Our 2012 report found that women face a pay gap even after accounting for (are you ready for this?) college major, occupation, economic sector, hours worked, months unemployed since graduation, GPA, type of undergraduate institution, institution selectivity, age, geographical region and marital status. Phew!

Your grandpa says: “Science fields are male-dominated because women just don’t want to work in STEM.”

Actually, studies show that gender bias—including gender stereotypes that women just don’t “like” science—are a key reason for the lack of women in STEM fields. This is especially true in engineering and computing, the two STEM fields with the most and highest-paying job opportunities. Plus, once women are in the field, they often face hostile work environments that force them to leave. Women of color in STEM are even more underrepresented and face racial as well as gender bias.

Your sister says: “I wouldn’t vote for a woman president. They’re too sensitive!”

Whether it’s commenting on women leaders’ looks or likability or questioning their abilities, sexism is common when discussing women political candidates. Language matters. Calling assertive girls “bossy” or confident women “bitchy” reinforces negative stereotypes and biases about women’s leadership. Women are qualified to run for office. And when they do run, they win at the same rates as men. It’s critical to challenge gender bias and empower young women to run for office!

Your aunt says: “Millennials are so lazy. All they do is play on their phones.”

Sorry, auntie, but research suggests otherwise! According to one study, young adults throughout the United States are volunteering at higher levels than ever before. Student activists, including AAUW student leaders, are consistently taking action to challenge the status quo and lead the fight for social justice. From serving as U.N. youth representatives to (successfully) fighting to establish campus sexual assault crisis centers, young people across the country are making a difference.

If some feminist wisdom doesn’t help, we have your back if you literally can’t even. Sometimes, people just can’t be persuaded by the facts. In those moments, we recommend a strong dose of Adele.

Reprinted with permission from the American Association of University Women.


Regina Monge is AAUW's Elect Her intern