I love my family. I am fortunate enough to have grown up in an environment where my opinions mattered. I was encouraged to go off and do great things. Right now, I’m going to school in New York with the hopes to become a comedy writer. I’m debating moving to Chicago once I graduate. Despite my lofty goals of becoming what will more than likely result in becoming a waiter for the majority of my young adulthood, my parents and extended family all pat me on the back and say things like, “Remember us when you’re famous,” or “All of the comedies on TV right now aren’t funny; you should do something about that” (which I disagree with entirely, but that’s another conversation).
Even if we come from a loving family, however, I’ve noticed that there is always room for them to learn. We’re all learning, every day, it seems, what the new normal is. As a comedy writer, this can be tricky territory. Having to decide what’s worth joking about can be difficult. Recently, Amy Schumer came under fire for a racist joke she made back when she was first starting out as a stand-up. It is very important always, but especially in today’s society, to make sure you’re respecting everyone (yes, everyone) around you, whether or not they’re in the room.
But what happens when the people breaking this golden rule are your parents?
I’ll use a personal story of mine for example. My mother (who we’ll just call Mom) is one of the strongest women I know. In the words of one of the great feminists of our time, Leslie Knope, she’s a beautiful, tropical fish. She’s always worked a high-stress media job and managed to come home to my sister and I with hugs and dinner and words of advice that hopefully, I’ll be able to pass on to my own daughters one day. She doesn’t take no for an answer, and she’s always looking for a way to help others. I’m very lucky to have had such a strong woman to look up to during my formative years.
However, sometimes, Mom and I don’t see eye to eye.
One of our bigger hot button topics is the issue of consent.
If a story comes on the news about the latest sexual assault case to plague my state’s university campus, Mom will say something like “You always need to make sure you’re walking with a friend.” Before my sister or I go out, sometimes she’ll take a look at our outfits and say something along the lines of “You don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea.” Her warnings are coming from a place of love, but it’s difficult to listen to. How do I take Mom by the shoulders and gently shake her into the 21st century?
1. Take a deep breath.
While it can be very easy to snap at your parents for their snafu, remember that what you’re about to serve up for them may be brand new information. Don’t become a Tumblr activist and belittle anyone who doesn’t share the same opinion you do. Have you ever had someone jump down your throat because you don’t have the same set of beliefs? Remember what that felt like, and how gross you felt afterwards, and don’t wish that upon your worst enemy, especially your parents. This is a good rule of thumb any time you feel yourself getting ready for an argument. Watch some Law & Order and brush up on how to be civil while getting your point across. It’s a great skill to have!
2. Remember where they’re coming from.
Remember the first time you learned how to tie your shoes? Once you finally figured out that the bunny goes around the tree and into the hole, you found it kind of hard to believe that tying your shoes was a difficult thing for you to do at one point in time. Well, the same thing goes for your parents – or anyone else trying to navigate the sometimes-confusing waters of sexual assault, awareness, and consent. Chances are, you’ve had to unlearn some of society’s harshest double-standards towards victims of assault. Your parents are the same way. Keep in mind that they were raised in a different environment than you were. Society has changed a lot in the past 50+ years. It’s hard enough for adults to keep up with the latest pop stars, let alone what’s politically correct and what’s not. Look at your grandparents. They’ve gone through so many changes socially, politically, technologically, and they’re all racking up the years in age. They’re at a bit of a learning curve. Patience isn’t just their friend, it’s yours too.
3. Explain yourself with calmness and clarity.
You are a strong individual with your heart in the right place. Therefore, speak like one. Present the facts and opinions that you have, and give your parents time to process them. Use anecdotes you’ve seen online, or think of examples from TV shows, or movies. If you feel ready and safe enough to do so, share a personal story of a time you were sexually harassed or felt uncomfortable in a sexual situation where your “saying no” wasn’t acknowledged. Always explain why consent is necessary and important. Explain why a low-cut shirt doesn’t translate to “yes.” Never throw something to the wall without elaborating and expect to have it stick. You have the floor, so you get to explain yourself.
Just as you probably had questions about consent when you were unlearning the misogynistic “rules” of society, your parents will too. Always remember that whenever someone is learning, there is no question too simple. Answer everything to your best ability with an open heart and mind. Be ready to answer questions with informed answers – and if you don’t know the answer? “I don’t know, but now that you mention it, it’s worth looking into.” Always be open to learning new things – and let your parents know that you are. It makes you look and sound like the intelligent young person that they know you are.
Remember that we are all still learning – even your parents. People say things they don’t really mean because they may not understand what they’re saying. Always foster a learning environment when it comes to issues of consent. Also, always be willing to take things at a slow pace. It can be difficult to change the mind of someone who’s been thinking a certain way for decades. Above all, be kind. You’re a passionate, intelligent person who can support your point. Teach your parents about why consent is important, and encourage them to teach others.