The Sandy Vagina

is it crabby in here?

My grandfather hates feminism


Feminism is the radical notion that women  are people.

Photo by Flickr user juliejordanscott.

My grandmother is going through chemotherapy for the second time right now. I live three hundred miles away so I try to give her a call at least once a week to check in. I gave her a call last Wednesday and my grandfather answered. He normally just passes the phone right to my grandmother and didn’t bother to talk much to me (which isn’t anything new) but this time he asked how things were going. I was actually quite pleased that he was really taking to me. Granted, he was more interested in how my husband was doing and less so in me… but I take what I can get.

A small part of my answer to “anything new?” was that I will presenting at a conference in April. Immediately after I said it I regretted it. My conservative, religious grandfather is not the kind of person with whom I want to discuss my graduate work. In the past few years he has become even more obnoxiously religious, racist, sexist, etc. and I was really not in the mood to get an earful. I often can’t share good news with some of my family because they twist it into a scolding or lecture, usually without really knowing what I was talking about in the first place. This situation was no exception.

*deep breath* So my grandfather of course latched on to the one thing I hoped he wouldn’t.
“Oh, a conference? What kind of conference?” he asked.

No point in lying. “Ah…uh, well, it’s a women’s studies conference. It’s part of the class I’m in right now. We are writing papers and each have to present our own at a roundtable during the conference.”

I cringed as he spat, “Women’s studies? What kind of class are you in?!”

Sigh. Here it comes. “My class is called Transnational Feminism, Female Bodies, and Social Change.”

“Well, that’s the stupidest thing I ever heard of.”

“Really? Why would you say that?” I managed through clenched teeth.

“Well, feminism is just stupid!”

“Feminism today isn’t the feminism you probably witnessed in the sixties and seventies. But either way, I disagree. I don’t think it’s stupid.”

“What’s your paper or presentation or whatever about?”

“Well, I’m not sure yet. I’ve decided on a broad topic but I think I’ll have to refine it as I do research -”

“Well I just think that all of that is ridiculous.”

Oh okay, so you didn’t actually care about my answer. I see.

He argued that feminism is stupid because women aren’t mistreated. And hey, the good Lord made them different, they aren’t supposed to be equal anyway. So, even if women aren’t treated equally, what’s the big deal?

I kept the conversation civil, though I trembled with rage. I gently pointed out that his experience as a man is much different than my experience as a woman. Because of this, I suggested that he should hear from women what their lives are like before assuming feminism is stupid. I tried giving him several examples of the way each gender may result in differing experiences. Before I could even finish my sentences my grandfather countered every example I gave of the blatant sexism I had experienced as just being “one person.” After all, “it’s not like that happens all the time,” he sputtered.

My voice became more forceful as I explained that it does happen all the time. It’s not just one person. And you know what, grandpa? I don’t appreciate the way you are choosing not to listen to the experience that I am sharing with you.

The last example I managed to give was when my husband and I graduated together with our Bachelor’s degrees my husband was always asked what he planned to do next and what graduate school he would be attending. I was asked if I planned to start a family or, worse, what I was going to do while my husband went to graduate school. My grandfather again tried the “just one person” tack. When that didn’t work he switched to, “Well, I’m sure it wasn’t EVERY person that said those things to you.” (Yeah, because it only matters if everyone is doing it – if one person out of everyone isn’t doing it then it can’t be sexism!) He continued to talk over me, forcing onto me his explanations of the treatment I had experienced. Mansplaining at its finest. He finally said something that pushed me too far: “Well, I mean, your family surely didn’t say that to you, so you can’t say everyone treated you that way!”

“Of course you didn’t say something like that to me – you knew I would have had something to say back that wouldn’t be very nice. You wouldn’t dare.”

“Well… uh… yeah, I guess… but… well, you called to talk to your grandmother. Let me go see if she’s awake.”

Figures. He talks over me, showing me in no uncertain terms that my voice didn’t matter – or at least that his mattered more – and then when he figures out that I won’t quiet down he bails. Maybe this is why he never wants to talk to me – I’m not a nice quiet woman who will agree with whatever he says.

He came back to the phone. My grandmother was asleep. “Now hon, I’ll let her know that you called, but I need to get to the store so I need to get going.”

“Okay,” I said, still reeling from our conversation. I was unable to force any additional words out.

“Hon, it was nice talking to you.”

Still drawing a blank. “..okay, bye-bye.”

I’ve spent the last three days with it gnawing at my brain. He didn’t even know what my paper topic was, just jumped onto his soapbox about feminism. My topic is reproductive health, by the way, focusing on the use of doulas and midwives compared to OB GYNs. Not really “feminism” in the way he assumed. Wouldn’t matter anyway, I would imagine.

My grandmother hasn’t called me back. I wonder if he even told her that I called. My husband suggested calling her yesterday and today but now I’m terrified that my grandfather will answer again and I’ll get sucked back into an argument. Nothing I say will change his mind, and I know that. I don’t want to try to change his mind – I just want to stay the hell away from him and his bullshit.

Update, 4/20/2014: I did call my grandmother and had a nice conversation.


155 thoughts on “My grandfather hates feminism

  1. You’re right. Nothing you say will change his mind. Sad but true. I’ve been listening to Jimmy Carter’s book entitled Our Endangered Values, and one of the things he discusses is the gender inequality in fundamentalist Christianity. What he said was SO GOOD and right on target. In a nutshell, the gist is that many (can’t say all of them) use selected verses in the Bible to subjugate women and “keep them in their place.” He, of course, is against all sorts of inequity and is still fighting the battle to eliminate it.

  2. I feel your pain. I recently had a shocking discussion with my nan about asylum seekers where she said many racist things and spoke just like your grandfather did to you. I cried when I got of the phone to her and I’m white. My mum said “shes just old” but i said “that doesnt make me feel any better, I’ll be old one day and I don’t want to be like that.” Must remember not to discuss feminism with her. Must also remember to listen and learn from others at all times as I get older.

    • My grandmother is just as bad. “those big scary black people come to norway and steal all our wealth”. Awful! Another older person I know once said “its good that you [my friend] are a Christian. All these damn Muslims are coming and secretly converting the country. They’re taking over our religion!” <— worst thing I've ever heard.

      • My granny is the same. Last time I was having a conversation with her, and it was going quite well (or so I thought), until she came out with this complete non sequitur: “I really hate those niggers!”
        Why do so many old people do this, I wonder? I think I know part of the answer. They are afraid. Not of black people or Muslims, or whoever the proclaimed target of their hatred or disdain may be. They are afraid of becoming irrelevant, of not being listened to, of being ignored. And if they drop a clanger like that into a conversation, people will take notice, that’s guaranteed. You will engage with them, even if the exchange is negative. After all, chances are that if they voice this kind of nonsense to a family member, their audience won’t just walk off, unlike a stranger at the bus stop. I mean, if a friend made a comment like that to me, we would no longer be friends. But no matter what my granny says, she’s still going to be my granny, and, on top of that, she gets what she wants: attention. Sigh.

  3. I have heard men say: “rape is biological.” As a feminist and a biology student, I am so offended. At least he didn’t use pseudo-science as a confirmation bias.

    • And biology has been historically used to keep all sorts of people “in their place,” from race to gender to disabilities, etc. Anyone who uses biology as an argument is an asshat.

      I got out of the field of biology because I didn’t feel like I belonged, and there were too many people who did suggest that biology determines everything. I’m now pursuing a Master’s in Sociology. I don’t miss biology at all.

  4. Fight with someone this phobia.
    Obsession with the problem is the problem.
    Let’s assume – you won!
    With whom you will begin to fight tomorrow?
    if you are a white woman – maybe you begin to fight the black woman ?
    If you are black woman – maybe you’ll be fighting with white woman ?
    Who’s next on your list?

  5. This topics sounds quiet familiar to me . Since past one week I am in regular arguments with my grandfather over the same issue “Patriarchy ” . However I try to explain , its difficult to change there mind set . The notion of men being superior to women , and women cannot handle anything without the support of men really makes me smile over of the ignorance of those people .
    All we can do is give them time to change . By forcing our point on them we cannot achieve anything , the realization should come from within there heart . Meanwhile we need to keep our work going without bothering about the external world .
    Good luck with your paper !

  6. This is perhaps the best piece I’ve read on wordpress so far. I understand how you feel… Every single time I argue with my brother and he is unable to come with convincing arguments he just says, “God, you’re such a feminist”, in a whiney and accusing voice. Why, in 2014, does the word “feminist” still have a negative connotation? Why is it used to insult someone? Mind you, I’ve heard it from a great deal more people than just my brother. It bothers me beyond compare that I am insulted for believing in female equality. Beyond compare!

    • I completely get where you are coming from and it is so aggravating! Feminism is used as an insult by those who wish to prevent challenges to the patriarchy. By turning feminism into a dirty word they are using it as a tactic to dismiss anything the movement has to say as ‘hysterical’ or ‘man-hating’ etc. It wouldn’t matter what you named the fight for gender equality, there will always be those who seek to turn it into an insult. This is unfortunate, but we can’t let misogynists speak for us and define what feminism means to people, we need to be proud of the term, make it our own, and communicate clearly what it really means.

      My general response is to tell someone that I think they are thinking of only a narrow perception of feminism and that it is actually a very broad and diverse movement, with its defining feature being the desire to obtain gender equality and mutual respect for all.

  7. Sounds like every one of my family get togethers for the past ten years….

  8. Thanks for the ‘share’. Reminds me of many frustrating and sad conversation with my dad. I finally learned ( years later) the wisdom of “choose your battles”. As people get old they either renew or get bitter and scared. He sounds like the latter – like you’re accusing him or something!
    Hang in there!

  9. The only way I can begin to understand someone like your grandfather is to figure that he feels threatened and is insecure deep within himself. A confident person can’t feel threatened by (non-aggressive) strength and power in another.

  10. One trick I’ve learnt for people who talk over you and attempt to bully you: dont say a word. Even when they stop their rant, expecting you to respond, just keep quiet (if you’re physically with them you can just look at them with a blank look) and let the silence sit there….Once the silence gets uncomfortable, leave it another second or two, then in a calm, quiet voice, get your point across. the shorter the better.
    It allows you to count to ten whilst driving them demented (and more likely to listen to you). I do this to an older family member and she’s twigged that when I do it, she’s p*ssed me off somehow.

  11. Hey,
    Your example reminds me of my experience living and working in Egypt. Men around me simply didn’t understand my complaints about sexual harassment. They would say smth like: “Well, it happens everywhere in the world. Why are you so mad about it? I think you’re exhaggerating.” I think it is important to bring these topics up in societies where people don’t talk about gender issues. Nonetheless, sometimes you just have to let it go, even if it hurts

  12. Reblogged this on ENLEVEMENT D'EPAVE ECOLO ET GRATUIT and commented:
    Thanks for your blog !! Luv from paris !!

  13. Haters gonna hate. That’s why it’s more important than ever for you to keep doing what you are doing.

  14. I wonder if he could learn to understand in very small bites. Maybe show him some benefits of equality–and bit by bit his mind may open. I wrote a little blog article today (well, I published some stats from CARE) that around the world girls finishing post secondary school can reduce the number of child marriages. He’d probably see that as a good thing. Either way–thanks for sharing your story. Keep up the good work with your studies and your blogging.

  15. Props for sticking up for yourself. I’ve only started doing that recently with my family, and they follow the same pattern of making excuses and then backing down when I make it clear that their comments are upsetting. It’s hard to continue fighting, but that’s really all we can do. Good luck with your studies!

  16. Keep being a feminist cunt and a man will never love you.

    • Oh, woe is me! A man will never love me! How will I ever survive on my own without the love of a man – especially such conditional love, only given when I’m quiet and subservient? I fear I will never feel whole, as only a man can complete me!

      You know, normally I wouldn’t approve such a comment simply on the basis of your inability to compose a decent argument. You’ll be blocked after this comment, but I would first like to point out two things:
      1) If you had even taken a cursory glance at my About page, you would know that I am happily married. My husband likes my feminist cunt, and it likes him. So much for your theory.
      2) If you have to resort to “scaring” me with the notion that I will never be loved by a man, it shows how very little you think of women… which ironically suggests that feminism is a very legitimate movement. Well done.

  17. Pingback: Thanks, Punkin! | The Sandy Vagina

  18. Sometimes religion dictate the male where a women place is. I believe that all male and female are equal and that’s my response to you.

    • Religion dictates nothing except your personal beliefs. If you personally believe male and female are equal, may I ask what religion you follow? I ask because most are very clear that women are not equal to men.
      If you believed in your heart that men and women are equal but your religion stated otherwise, what would you do? I abandoned my religion because I find more value in other people than in what I believe to be a fictional deity.

  19. I just lost my father last month and I think in some ways he was your grandfather. Dad was a progressive, for one born in 1929. We shared many beliefs but I am a former Catholic while he was practicing, I endorse equal rights and treatment for HLTG while he knew that such activity was sinful. Dad was a great man with whom I disagreed on many important topics. (I know I caught his attention when I wrote a paper “Why DOMA must go,” he must have felt that his youngest son had “turned gay: I hadn’t.) I do not know your grandfather but I do know that age brings pain in many ways and that among these is fear of change and fear of loss. My body aches and my head spins and I am likely the generation between you and he. Sometimes we lash out in fear. I urge you to keep pushing for what you know is right but to always look for the why in the reasons people disappoint or fight you, he is probably scared, scarred and lonely. Thanks for sharing!

  20. Every time a woman is afraid to walk to her car alone at night, that’s sexism. Every time we’re told to “be careful” because the world is a more dangerous place for women – that’s sexism. Some people are too thick to understand the rest, but everyone agrees that the world is different for a woman when it comes to personal safety. When talking with people who just don’t get it, I like to focus on the things they will get. Even genderist Grandpas want you safe.

  21. Reblogged this on DICKSON SOKORO.

  22. Great post xxx 🙂

  23. I can understand how difficult it is to love and respect someone who generates so much negativity. In many cases, people “hate” these subjects when they have no idea what they mean. They essentially shut their ears and say “La la la, I can’t hear you!”
    Sometimes, as hard as it is, some people aren’t worth being in your life. Even if you are related. You’re awesome for standing up against him.

  24. I can definitely (unfortunately) relate – but my experience has not been so much with my family hating feminism. Instead I get to deal with very similar dialogue with the majority of the French on a weekly if not daily basis. And not just from men! Would you believe that the women here in Paris don’t have a very good understanding of what the word or the movement (back in the 60’s or now) means? It’s excruciatingly frustrating. But over the nearly 5 years I’ve lived here I’ve learned that there’s no sense in getting angry. I think the key is to focus on understanding *why* people hold the positions they believe in, and not putting so much focus on what their position actually preaches. that might sound counter intuitive but in my experience it has allows for a calmer discussion and it certainly helps me understand this crazy culture (even if I obviously still don’t agree with their shunning feminism).

  25. Reblogged this on Womanism. .

  26. I’m findings that male friends of mine are responding in a similar fashion especially as an art major, I am using art mediums to convey feminist topics. I’ve been accused of being scorned, and angry. I’m not, but yeah if a man clearly insults me or degrades me in conversation I’m going to quickly respond that I will not be spoken to like that. But I digress, but mainly yes it appears to be the older generation who has a hard time accepting this idea of empowered women. I hope in time he might open up to it. Might take a bit but keep on the path you’re on! I’m taking my first women’s studies class in August! I can’t wait!

  27. Great stuff – I enjoyed reading about your calm but determined conversation with your grandfather and also seeing your excellent replies to some of the more unenlightened posts you got in response to the article! You articulate the case well and I admire your candour. Some people may have been raised in a different era or culture but it doesn’t make condescending (or worse, oppressive) attitudes to women any less wrong.

  28. Grandfathers are rigid like that. They think they’re always right.
    But you got the point across so im sure he’d be thinking about it

  29. I hesitate to respond to this blog, because I am more the age (I suspect) of your grandfather, and less those of the majority of your readers (I also suspect).

    As a callow youth, I was educated in an all boy’s school, and watched girls – from a safe distance, not just arm’s length, but even further afield…They walked down glass lined corridors, like specimens that scientists keep in glass cases – just out of reach… Look but don’t touch appeared to be the motto.

    As a young man, and a manager at a major retailers, I was dismayed to learn that women were obliged to wear skirts/dresses, while men were obliged to wear trousers.

    This was before the Sex Discrimination Act (1975) and the Race Relations Act (1976), but subsequent to, the Equal Pay Act (1970) and a slew of other pieces of legislation that changed the society in which we live.

    The TV and other media outlets, have over the last 40+ years, all rammed home the equality message – other pieces of legislation have added to this utopian ideal – the Equality Act wrapped up the others into one new piece, divorce laws, family laws, child protection laws, all seeking to enshrine into law, that we’re all equal and deserve protection.

    And so we should, in the eyes of the law… (I was a Business Law lecturer many years ago) – the law should be blind – but patently isn’t… and not always in favour of men. Quite the reverse in some cases.

    And as an older man (white and middle-aged – is that what the papers chastise us with these days?) I am now on the receiving end of that discrimination.

    Try getting a proper well-paid position that requires you to actually solve some problems, that we white middle-aged men are more than capable of doing, but which are given to a less experienced, person, who has big ideas, and no or little experience, and who fxxxs up by failing the staff beneath them, or by doing what so many managers seem to do these days, move on before the SHTF.

    Experience comes with age – as does wisdom, (and yes perhaps a few wrinkles, and prejudices that are borne of experience)

    But I’ve also read more on the differences between men and women than perhaps 60% of the population – male or female. My 20yr old daughter a bio-chemistry student will talk at length about how evolution has produced this di-morphic species called “Man”.
    (I know, we had to have just one word, and all those years ago, we got rid of the womb bit, and just tagged her onto the species name – a bit like we call “Lions” Lions, and the females “Lionesses”, but there you go, it’s just how our English language evolved.

    Men and Women, are creatures of 3million years of evolution, while sociology is barely a 100yrs old, and feminism even less..

    You – YES YOU… are the product of 3million years of ape-like evolution, (never mind this Bible crap) No matter what your colour, ethnicity, cultural background, religious background or anything.

    At your heart you are, your chromosomes, genes, hormones, experiences and GENDER.

    Whether you are male or female, your biology dictates who you are, and what you are good at, better at, or worse at.

    Men are on average 3″ taller, than women of the same cultural background, have less body fat, are stronger, and their brains are wired differently.

    Men have more brain area devoted to Visual Spatial reasoning, and women have two language centres… Sociology can’t change that.

    Men are more object centred. (in the main) Women are more subject centred. (In the main)

    That does not mean that all men are the same (we’re not)

    There are those testosterone rich men – those hirsute ape-like creatures who inhabit the rugby and football fields of the world.

    There are men like me, whose testosterone level is slightly less – (and perhaps more Oestrogen rich) giving me greater emotional range, and more linguistic dexterity.

    Then there are those who are slightly effete, and those who are gay.

    If you read as much as I do, then you’ll know WHY… Hormones.

    You can no more choose who you are, than you can choose to avoid oxygen just because it oxidizes you.

    Your hormones colour your thinking, they colour your emotions, they colour your interests, and those affect who you are and who you aspire to be.

    Accepting who you are (and who I am) is part of growing up, and I respect anyone (male or female) who reaches the top. They got there generally because they deserve to be (though some are just better bull-shitters than the rest of us)

    BUT to blame all the world’s feminist issues on Men, is just too much. We can’t help being more aggressive, more assertive, more willing to ask for what we want, more willing to work longer hours, week-ends, and networking at every opportunity. After all, many of you women look for a man who can take care of you when you’re pregnant, and can no longer work, or when you just want to spend time with the kids while they are young, and we men want to be needed, and to get (sorry girls) the best looking, most intelligent, most stable emotionally, best paid woman, that we can find to be the mother of our kids and our selection methods are built into us via that 3million year story; and a tip – NEVER sleep with a guy on a first date, IF you’re looking for a relationship – It’s a TEST, and if you sleep with the guy – you FAILED it.

    I accept that you can’t change your hormones – it’s part of who you are. But blaming a manager who wants the thirty something bloke manager with ten year’s experience rather than the same aged person but who took three years off to raise kids, and who will need 400 hours of hand-holding to bring her up-to-speed, and who will at the drop of a hat run off home to cater to little Johnny’s skinned knee or go visit Jane’s piano recital rather than work on that sales strategy is just stupid.

    We live in a world where business is pretty hard-nosed. There’s little room for emotion.

    And whilst I resent being “put out to grass” or forced to take jobs that my much younger self did, your lifetime ago, it still wrankles even if we did perhaps have some advantages all those years’ ago.

    But, is it discrimination when you get a job that your older middle-aged white guy could do better? Of course it is.


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