26 2 / 2013


Where do you draw the line? Do you bring up every seemingly offhand comment that a family member makes about a woman’s outward appearance when it starts to make you uncomfortable? Do you devote your energy to convincing your brother that you’re not exaggerating the extent of rape culture and street harassment, even though you know repeatedly having the same argument frustrates him? When do you bite your tongue in the hopes of not alienating your family members that otherwise you love and get along with, and when do you speak up, even though you know your words will inevitably lead to an argument that you will be blamed for? Do you correct your twelve-year-old stepbrother every time he makes a sexist or racist comment because he does not yet understand why it’s wrong?

I recognize that my situation is pretty good if the worst thing I have to worry about is getting into fights with my family. The worst outcome so far came when I walked out of dinner after some inappropriate and vile comments were spoken to me as I explained why specific derogatory gendered words are offensive to me. And while I was furious at the time for having to put up with that sort of behavior within my own family, in hindsight it’s something manageable. Every family situation is different, and not everyone would be safe to act the way I do in their home environment. You might be thinking of coming out, you might be coming forward about a sexual assault and fear the reaction, you might be pregnant and fear being disowned, or you might just be the radical liberal in your old-fashioned, conservative family. I cannot tell you how to approach a given situation when you’re risking more than just an argument by speaking up. Your safety is more important than anything in the world. It’s up to you to determine whether or not being vocal is worth the risk when remaining silent will keep you safe.

But there is no taking off the Social Justice hat once you put it on. There’s no on/off switch; once your eyes are opened, you cannot close them again and pretend these things are not happening.


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