Is there anything else I can get you, Master?
November 6, 2007 5:44 AM   Subscribe

A recent conversation with my boyfriend brought up some weird, unexpected, slightly misogyenistic feelings on his part and I don't really know how to respond.

We've been together about three years, but this will be the first year we're planning on spending the holidays with each others' families. We were talking about this last night, and eventually it came up that on Thanksgiving, in his family, the women all serve the men their plates before getting their own, and he expects me to do the same. I laughed when he told me that, before I realized he was being serious, because... what? Can't you get your own damn plate? Holiday meals with my family and every family I've been with have been much more of a "Hey! Food's on the table! Everyone dig in!" type of affair. I'm getting all rankled over the fact that I'm supposed to serve him as my womanly duty... that somehow that fact that I have a vagina means his needs supercede mine.

...but then again, am I just making a big deal out of nothing? If he had said 'hey, babe, can you fix me a plate?' I would have happily done it without a second thought. He comes from a very traditional Latin family, and his mother and sisters all prepare plates for their husbands at every meal, so I think this a deep-seated cultural thing that maybe I should just accept. For better or worse, my boyfriend is really concerned with other people's perceptions of him, and I don't want to cause him to lose face in front of his family like that... but then again, I sort of do. I have this mental image of a bunch of fat old men sitting around on their asses while the womenfolk are running around, preparing and cleaning and serving and everything, and it just makes me feel a little sick to my stomach. My mom would smack me upside the head if she knew I was with someone who expected me to serve their plate. Even in my uberconservative "the man is the head of the house" christian family, that shit just would not fly with anyone.

I know relationships involve a lot a compromise, but I don't know how to handle this one. He is kind and loving and thoughtful in almost all ways, but I'm afraid this might be a slippery slope, resulting in my becoming one of those horrible, bitter, put-upon women I can't stand (he's made noises about how he wants me to cook dinner when we eventually live together, but I've always brushed those off because I love cooking anyway, so whatever... but now it's making me a little nervous).

Is it worth standing my ground and making my bf feel disrespected in front of his family over a plate of turkey?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (148 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

Is it worth standing my ground and making my bf feel disrespected in front of his family over a plate of turkey?

I'd say yes, it is. His expectations re your behavior in front of his family shows more than a little lack of respect for you.
posted by overhauser at 5:51 AM on November 6, 2007 [4 favorites]

No, I don't think so. But I have a penis.
However, that being said, I do stuff for my wife all of the time like that and I think it's a lost argument. Tradition is - well, stupid - but I love my wife, and who gives a shit.

Maybe you could be a smartass or something and give him big ol' EAT ME smiles throughout the process - would that make you feel better? It might for me.

But you might want to make sure that you are both standing on the same page of the same chapter, you know?
posted by jimmyhutch at 5:52 AM on November 6, 2007

If you don't mind serving him for the rest of your relationship, go for it.

I find that the more I compromise, the less I love those who encourage me to do so.
posted by ewkpates at 5:54 AM on November 6, 2007 [47 favorites]

This kind of "performative" gesture really shouldn't make an impact on your actual day-to-day relationship, and if it does, that's when you should stand your ground.
posted by nicolas léonard sadi carnot at 5:54 AM on November 6, 2007 [5 favorites]

While he explained the "tradition" in his family, you don't say what his personal opinion of it is. It would seem that he has never expected such service before in your relationship, so I have to assume that, while it's not something he personally expects in your relationship, it would be a face-saving gesture for him if you were to go along with it just for this important family gathering.

I seriously suggest you two discuss it. Find out where he really stands on the subject. And then, it's up to you whether it's something you're willing to do. Afterall, unless something changes in his family, you will have to play-along whenever you get-together at his family's home.

What you guys do in your own home is your business, of course.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:57 AM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

Let me reframe that.

He is asking you not to make him look bad in front of family.

What counts is your day to day interaction. Having said that, family expectations are something that really are ingrained in us at an early age. If you carry thru and don't fix him a plate his whole family WILL be giving him crap about you.

(But I do understand where you are coming from. Almost thirty years ago I was visiting MY boyfriend's family in Iowa. THEIR tradition was that men and women sat AT DIFFERENT TABLES. I wasn't too happy about that. And I later wound up breaking my engagement with that particular fellow.
posted by konolia at 6:01 AM on November 6, 2007

Yes, it's worth standing your ground.
posted by dobbs at 6:01 AM on November 6, 2007

In my opinion the notion of women serving seated men their food relates to the fact that women make it while the man chat about baseball and have cigars or whatever. If you and other females are making the meal while the men sit around with the kids and socialise then it seems rational to serve them their meal before you get your own, but, again IMO, if you are all chipping in in the kitchen (as the modern ideal dictates) then it should be an "everyone dig in" affair at the table.

In the end it is not a huge deal, and as long as it is a "tradition" reserved only for holiday meals, and not something which he is planning to impose on a regular basis, then it isn't a huge problem is it? Holidays throw up all kinds of strange traditions and rituals - this seems one of the more non-intrusive variety.
posted by fire&wings at 6:03 AM on November 6, 2007

I would question whether or not it is REALLY a tradition, or just something that happens and he has taken as tradition. Maybe nobody would bat an eye if he got his own food. Maybe he has seen the more traditional members of his family acting this way and assumed that he and his mate are expected to act the same way, but really, they have no such expectations.
posted by ian1977 at 6:04 AM on November 6, 2007

Is it worth standing my ground and making my bf feel disrespected in front of his family over a plate of turkey?

No, it's not. Every family has it's traditions and this is theres and if this is your first Thanksgiving with them I think it's enormously disrespectful to essentlally say "Fuck you" while you're in their home, over a plate of frigging turkey.

I also think you're getting projecting your views of the situation without looking at the why of their tradition. As you mention it's a very traditional Latin family and it's probably seen as way of honoring the man of the house who is probably the main or even only breadwinner. They're giving thanks, in their own way, as sign of respect and love and the woman probably consider it an honor.

If you haven't already, I suggest you talk with your BF and some of the female relatives about this and see how they feel about it. As a guest in their home, part of your duty is not to judge and take part in their traditions as best as you can.

Perhaps on the second or third year you can suggest changes, but for the first go round, suck it up and do what you happily and readily do if he asked.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:05 AM on November 6, 2007 [8 favorites]

I think the answer here is that only you can know if it's worth standing your ground on this. All you're going to get from AskMe is a sense of how many other people wouldn't stand for this, and how many would. That's not going to help you decide whether this will make you angry in the present or future.
posted by Banky_Edwards at 6:06 AM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

That's sorta weird. In my family (and I think it's been passed from my mothers side, my dad's side are pretty much not discussed), the serving Male cuts the turkey, asks the female seated at the opposite head of the table (generally the matriarch) whether she wants dark meat or white meat, and then proceeds around the table generally serving women first in the same fashion, OR doing a closest to the matriarchs left hand, then right hand, then left hand, whatever. After you have your meat, the individual items--yams, potatoes, beans, etc. are passed around for each person to serve themselves. Nobody, and I mean NOBODY touches their food until the matriarch takes a bite. It's not because she's done all the work all day either, the men do the cooking on thanksgiving and christmas.

Regarding your decision, I say it's pretty simple. If it bothers you, say something about it. If it doesn't really, then don't.

Stand ready though---in my girlfriends family, the women absolutely cater to the men at any event, picnic, whatever. I cannot STAND it, and won't let her or anyone else wait on me. I'm a dick though, and don't mind saying "No, you sit here, and let me get you some more punch. My legs certainly work and you've already had a long day", while I glare at the fat overstuffed men.
posted by TomMelee at 6:06 AM on November 6, 2007 [4 favorites]

If I was in your position I think my reaction would depend on exactly how he said it. If, as Thorzdad says, it isn't a position he agrees with but something he asks you politely to do for the sake of his family tradition while acknowledging that it's ridiculous then it might be worth going along with it for one day. For me, it would be a bigger problem if I was told it was expected of me, without even discussing it. In that case I would be more inclined to stand my ground.
posted by Laura_J at 6:12 AM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

Absolutely discuss it with him, see if he sees anything biased in this serving arrangement, and if he does, ask if he'd be a willing accomplice in shaking things up just a little this year - maybe he could simply state that you are both tired from your respective careers, and thus choose to serve each other this time? If he in fact sees the 'serving the menfolk' thing as perfectly acceptable, I'd take that as a pretty clear warning sign that you might be in for trouble down the road as far as his expectations of the male-female relationship. You need to let him know your feelings on traditional roles, and let him know now and clearly.
posted by fish tick at 6:13 AM on November 6, 2007 [2 favorites]

I was all set after your first paragraph to tell you to tell him to get his own plate, does really depend on how he feels about these traditions and what your relationship is like otherwise.

This is what I would do if I were you. Agree to pitch in with the wimmens in fixing the plates. But in return, he agrees to fix dinner the next night or bring you breakfast or do some similar "even up" measure.
posted by desuetude at 6:13 AM on November 6, 2007

There's going to be discomfort. Either you are going to feel gross because you do this thing and don't act according to your principles, or he/they will feel offended because you DO act according to your principles. At least the latter way everyone knows where everybody stands.

posted by dirtdirt at 6:19 AM on November 6, 2007

Yes it is worth standing your ground. I very much doubt (Brandon Blatcher, I'm looking at you) that this "tradition" of women serving men at meals is limited only to thanksgiving as some special once-a-year appreciation for the male breadwinners in the family. His family may have very strong expectations about the domestic roles of men and women, and more importantly, your boyfriend may have these expectations also, whether or not he will admit it. I think the fact that he is trying, in advance of thanksgiving, to get you to agree to serve him in front of his family at this meal is in fact a fairly good indicator that he has these expectations. You can certainly go to his family meal and be gracious, helpful and considerate without making a big show of serving him while he sits on his ass.
posted by Ladysin at 6:20 AM on November 6, 2007 [2 favorites]

"I have this mental image of a bunch of fat old men sitting around on their asses while the womenfolk are running around, preparing and cleaning and serving and everything, and it just makes me feel a little sick to my stomach."

It sounds like you're pre-exaggerating the issue in your mind. I'm a guy... on my side of the family, we don't really have any kind of tradition in this sense, everyone just kind of goes at it, as you say. On my wife's side of the family, it's kind of an unspoken "rule" that the women serve the men, but it's not hard and fast. Even when that does happen, my male compadres and I don't sit around thinking, "We must not upset the balance... it's a good thing these women are in their place, serving us!"

There are things I have asked my wife to refrain from in from doing and/or talking about in front of my parents, and if it's something that would cause trouble, it's probably not much to ask.

Then again, I'm kind of with you on the whole notion of throwing everything off kilter just this once to see the reaction. I think if he sincerely does not want to rub anyone the wrong way, and if it would help both you and him make a better impression on his family, then it's something you're just going to have to deal with. You do like this guy, don't you? If so, you're attaching yourself to both him AND his family, and as much as you may disagree with "tradition," sometimes you have to bite the bullet and make things easier for everyone.
posted by joshrholloway at 6:28 AM on November 6, 2007

I see that many people can take compromise by reframing it as something palatable. For me, nothing would make it palatable, so I would simply refuse. I guess it depends on you.
posted by dame at 6:31 AM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

Uh oh, I had a response all written about how your day-to-day interaction is what counts etc, and then I went back and reread your question.

If you have concerns about this being a continuing trend in your relationship, T-Day with his family isn't the time to address them. He's asking you, as his family's guest, to conform to their custom. If you don't want to do that, then come up with a gracious excuse about why you regrettably cannot attend and then iron things out with your bf on a separate occasion.
posted by KAS at 6:31 AM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

and he expects me to do the same.

Did he say "I expect you to do this"

If so then stand your ground. There's more diplomatic ways of dealing with 'tradition', such as saying "honey, everyone in my family are freaks and they have this thing... would you mind playing along?"

But you should never "expect" anything from your partner, never.
posted by twistedonion at 6:32 AM on November 6, 2007

Do it for him, because you love him and don't want to embarrass him in front of his family. But, tell him beforehand that this is the reason you will do it. Not for his family, but for him.

If he then expects this 'tradition' to continue in your everyday lives, then it is time to stand your ground. And tell him where he can stick his plate.
posted by Elmore at 6:32 AM on November 6, 2007 [2 favorites]

You mention having been together for 3 years, yet this is your first whiff of this. I'd say that answers any doubts you have about him.

The question now is about his family interaction. If you want to embarass him and let that hang between you for the rest of your relationship, then yeah, stand up for feminazis everywhere. Else, get over yourself and try the latin flavor.
posted by eas98 at 6:34 AM on November 6, 2007

I agree with the posters who say that you are right to be concerned about this. These kinds of traditions and expectations can run very deep, even deeper than a person is aware of. You two have been together long enough to start really sorting through these issues.

The idea that doing this for him just to save face in for his family could be a loving thing to do may have some truth to it. But to me, it is even more true that

if, after *three years*, he doesn't care about you enough to commit to working on an egalitarian relationship (and it does take work because we *all* come with our baggage) even if it means some tension, or, horrors, affront to his manhood, with his family, then he's not serious about you or your future together as a family - or he's not serious about having an egalitarian relationship. And you should take that very seriously.
posted by Salamandrous at 6:37 AM on November 6, 2007 [6 favorites]

Making an effort to fit in with the rules of your boyfriend's family is reasonable, so long as he is appreciative. If he's coming over as thinking that you're obligated to do whatever it takes to keep his family comfortable without expecting any thanks, then I would be more worried.
posted by teleskiving at 6:38 AM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

b He is kind and loving and thoughtful in almost all ways, but I'm afraid this might be a slippery slope, resulting in my becoming one of those horrible, bitter, put-upon women I can't stand

Look, it's a plate of turkey. Serving him a plate of turkey is not some gateway drug to becoming a domestic servant.

I find it extremely odd that "he is kind and loving and thoughtful in almost all ways", but you're willing to see him embarrassed in front of his family, just because. That doesn't sound kind or loving or thoughtful on your part.

Talk with him and a few female relatives of his. Get their perspective on why they do what they do and I think you'll gain a better understanding of the situation.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:39 AM on November 6, 2007 [19 favorites]

I do see the point about your day-to-day interactions being more important, and I have myself been encouraging of accepting other families' traditions when you are their guest during a holiday.

But, seriously, what the fuck. Are you his guest? Because I think it's really shitty to invite someone to join your family for a holiday and heap expectations of work upon them. And his family should be embarrassed to think to treat a guest this way, if that is in fact their expectation.

There's a difference between tradition (e.g. saying grace, etc) and just being flat-out rude.

And honestly, if your boyfriend was raised that way, I would be very wary of his expectations should your relationship move further.

Also, I'm confused about ingrained Thanksgiving traditions in a traditional Latin family. I's a US holiday, right? So how deeply ingrained could those traditions even be? It's not like Christmas which is a religious holiday celebrated around the world by those who share their belief in it. Maybe it's ignorant of me, but I'm really curious about this. It sounds like an excuse for the guys to sit on their asses while the women cook.

Then again, take this with a grain of salt. I've declared that we can no longer go to my in-laws for Thanksgiving because I think it's demented that they refuse to eat turkey. I know this is me being a douchebag, but I guess I have my own traditions I feel are worth upholding, and not eating ham and not watching football are two of them.
posted by tastybrains at 6:40 AM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

Funny how split the advice is here. I might as well throw in.

No, your in-laws' house is NOT the place for you to make a statement, no matter how right-headed it might seem, feel, or even be. You really do not have the 'seniority' necessary to do that without looking haughty yourself. Refusing in that setting would just be grandstanding, and that won't help anyone, including you.

He says it's a family tradition, so take his word on that for now. Presumably this tradition predates you. So you shut up, do it, and then if you're worried about how he actually feels... explain how you feel about it later... with him. Privately. That way you show that you'll not embarrass him, but you also express yourself to the one person whose feelings matter to you here.

If at that point he says that he 'expects' that behavior from you all the time, THEN you make your stand.

Or take him to some annual event at your family's home later, like the BBQ where the newest boyfriend wears an apron all day.
posted by rokusan at 6:42 AM on November 6, 2007

Would he do it at your house if the gender roles were reversed?

I bet he would.
posted by milarepa at 6:42 AM on November 6, 2007 [2 favorites]

If a guy said to me, "please would you get me a plate", I'd be happy to do it.

If he demanded of me that I get him a plate, I'd fetch one, and then throw it at him.

"I obey the sound of no man's voice". You really need to read the rest of the series to get the whole idea, but it's basically saying that you should never make yourself subject to anyone.
posted by Solomon at 6:43 AM on November 6, 2007 [2 favorites]

Look, it's a plate of turkey. Serving him a plate of turkey is not some gateway drug to becoming a domestic servant.

How can I favorite something ten times over? Exactly.
posted by rokusan at 6:43 AM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

Talk to him about it, not us. Some answers here are assuming that your BF will expect this type of behaviour all the time, not just at Thanksgiving. I don't think they have enough information to make that assumption, so talk to him and ask him.
It sounds like the issue to him is one of saving face in front of his (male) relatives. This may be very important to him, so talk to him and find out how much it means to him, and if he's willing to do something nice for you in return.
posted by rocket88 at 6:43 AM on November 6, 2007

If it makes you feel subservient and you don't like feeling that way, don't do it. Nobody has the right to force you in this matter. If on the other hand it makes you feel like you're doing something nice for your partner by abiding by the custom of his family, do it.

"For better or worse, my boyfriend is really concerned with other people's perceptions of him."

That's his error, not yours. It's your choice if you want to buy into it or not based on how much you do or don't respect him for who he is, faults and all.

"every family I've been with have been much more of a "Hey! Food's on the table! Everyone dig in!" type"

Yeah, that's how things are in my family, too.

"I have this mental image of a bunch of fat old men sitting around on their asses while the womenfolk are running around..."

The idea of putting a plate of food in front of your boyfriend evokes this image? Seriously? Do you even like the guy?

If the tradition in my family were the other way around -- men fetching food for the women -- I wouldn't bat an eye at doing something like that to appease my partner's sense of tradition. Doing things for someone you care about is something that should feel good, not evoke fantasy images of stereotypes about your hang-ups.

"I think it's enormously disrespectful to essentlally say "Fuck you" while you're in their home, over a plate of frigging turkey."

A much milder version of this reflects my opinion, too, but then I'm not filled with revulsion to the point of nausea at the idea of fetching a plate of food for someone. Since you seem to be -- misguided as that appears to me as an outsider -- you get to have to decide for yourself what is more important to act on.

That's the beauty of feminism: you get to choose your actions. Personally I don't think it belittles you to follow his family's patterns of behavior in their home, but you're certainly not obligated to do so. There's no law against being a slightly ungracious guest, and if they've any respect for their kid's ability to select a partner, they'll accept that you behave differently from them.
posted by majick at 6:44 AM on November 6, 2007

I am really flabbergasted by all the posters here saying you should go ahead and participate in this tradition. I, personally, would never do it, and if it goes against your deeply held principles you shouldn't do it either. Your boyfriend has no right to ask you to do such a thing.

In your place, I'd probably just boycott Thanksgiving altogether. Otherwise, you're not going to be able to maintain civil relations with his family. Going to the meal but refusing to serve the men will not only piss of your b-f, but it may also be taken as an affront by the women of his family who think that you're implying that you're too good to do what they do.
posted by footnote at 6:48 AM on November 6, 2007 [3 favorites]

How'd he get his dinner before you?

If the young and unattached men serve themselves, would there be anything odd about him continuing to serve himself? If you didn't and his mom felt like she should, there'd be a whole new set of issues there.
posted by advicepig at 6:50 AM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

I think of this sort of like the conversations we have here about going to church. If his family went to church and you were an atheist, would you go? My feeling is if it's just getting someone a plate of food then you're good. If it's reflective of general gender divisions of holiday work and expectation [i.e. after the meal all the women go clean up and the guys go into the other room and watch the game] then I think it's okay for you to say that that's not your idea of a good time and you'd prefer to not have to spend the entire holiday doing the traditional female things because you want to spend the holiday with him.

That said, I'm a little more concerned about this line "he's made noises about how he wants me to cook dinner when we eventually live together" which seems to imply that his expectations of what domestic life with you will be may be seriously different from your own. Sure, you like to cook but how are you going to feel about being expected to cook, or about him feeling that he's not expected to cook?

I don't know either of you, so I have no idea if this is a simmering issue or not but it might be a worthwhile idea to have a chat about the idea of gender roles in your relationship in general using this particular Thanksgiving example as a jumping off poiunt. And I'd just serve him his food this time but make it clear that it's about the limits of what you're comfortable doing w/r/t this sort of thing.
posted by jessamyn at 6:52 AM on November 6, 2007 [8 favorites]

And here's another way to think about it: Imagine you get married and have a daughter with the guy. How would you feel about her watching you participate in this "tradition"?
posted by footnote at 6:52 AM on November 6, 2007 [6 favorites]

That said, I'm a little more concerned about this line "he's made noises about how he wants me to cook dinner when we eventually live together"

Oh, I didn't notice this. Major red flag. You need to have a serious conversation about gender roles stat.
posted by footnote at 6:54 AM on November 6, 2007

...but then again, am I just making a big deal out of nothing?

I think the answer to this question ultimately depends on how your boyfriend treats you outside of this holiday setting. Maybe you are making a big deal out of it because you have picked up on what you perceive to be misogynistic tendencies in other parts of your relationship. This would certainly be understandable.

On the other hand, you could indeed just be making a big deal about this. Family holiday get togethers are often a huge source of strife and needless anxiety, and maybe he is just trying to head off what he thinks would be a potentially stressful situation.
posted by chlorus at 6:54 AM on November 6, 2007

You're completely overreacting. He doesn't seem to have done anything to make you think he's misogynistic or expecting servitude from you aside from this family tradition where the female gets her male a plate.

It's worth considering if you see him start expecting you to be a servant in the future, but if getting him a plate of turkey on Thanksgiving is setting you off like that maybe you have bigger issues with the relationship.
posted by PFL at 6:54 AM on November 6, 2007

I want to nth those who have said that you really want to take a long, hard look at how traditions and expectations are going to play out in your everyday life. I'm assuming your relationship is intercultural. There is an excellent book, Mixed Matches by Dugan Romano, a guide for couples in intercultural relationships. Romano notes (and I agree in my own observations) that the most difficult relationships are when the man comes from a traditional, patriarchal culture and the woman from a more egalitarian one. If she takes for granted he wants a companionate, egalitarian marriage and his expectations are different - well, sparks fly, and not in a good way.

I'm not saying DTMFA. But do think about what "I expect you to conform to this patriarchal family tradition so I don't look like a pussywhipped doofus in front of my family, oh noez!" might mean down the road. Expectations regarding relationships can be deeply ingrained and mostly unconscious. You want to be sure that he DOES want a companionate, egalitarian marriage, deep down.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 6:55 AM on November 6, 2007 [14 favorites]

but I'm afraid this might be a slippery slope, resulting in my becoming one of those horrible, bitter, put-upon women I can't stand

I'd be careful with this line of reasoning. The slippery slope argument is a fancy way of refusing to compromise. Love is all about compromise.

(Mind you, I'm not saying you have to serve him dinner. I'm saying you have to talk to him and find a solution you can both live with. That conversation won't go so well if you're afraid to give him an inch. If he's really so pushy you can't give him an inch, dump him. If he's reasonable, trust him and start negotiating.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:56 AM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

I wish this weren't anonymous because I think more input from the OP could be helpful. I mean, do you think if he happens upon this question, he wouldn't know it's you? There are enough specific details to identify you as the OP.

Anyway, without your input, it's hard to fully assess your entire relationship based on just the info you gave us here. But if this were me, I would probably do this one thing on this one day, but keep an eye on things in our day-to-day lives to make sure that sort of thing isn't going to become the norm. If you see hints of it cropping up, address them immediately and before you agree to anything that seems questionable. That's how you avoid a slippery slope, by nipping things in the bud.

Also it's apparent that the two of you need to do a lot more talking about his expectations. You mentioned that you don't know what me meant when he said he wants you to cook dinner when you move in together. Find out. If it's because he knows you like cooking and he loves your cooking, great, but if it's because you're the woman and it's your job, then that's obviously a giant red flag. Also find out his expectations in other areas where an old-school attitude might mean shitty gender stereotypes - housework, finances, etc. Do not move in with him before you've done this and can decide whether or not you want to progress to that next level.
posted by boomchicka at 6:57 AM on November 6, 2007


I strongly urge you to ignore every single piece of advice here, mine included, and ask several of your BF's female family memembers how they feel abou this tradition and why they continue to do and what, if anything, it means to them. All of here, me included, are seeing it through our own filters, just as you are doing, and all of us are projecting, to some degree.

Talk to the women who regularly do this. It's a huge chance to better understand his family and therefore him.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:04 AM on November 6, 2007 [8 favorites]

Also, I'm confused about ingrained Thanksgiving traditions in a traditional Latin family. I's a US holiday, right? So how deeply ingrained could those traditions even be?

They perhaps did not arrive to the United States yesterday? I'm boggled that this could be confusing.
posted by desuetude at 7:04 AM on November 6, 2007

Barring lawbreaking, other people's homes are other people's homes; they're allowed to have ridiculous anachronistic traditions and invite guests to share in them without having the guests get all righteous, however justifiably... Your freedom is in the option to decline the invitation, and you're not doing that.

Anyway it's a small thing.

he's made noises about how he wants me to cook dinner when we eventually live together

This is the bit that matters.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 7:05 AM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

Okay, wait wait wait. How on earth is it embarrassing for a guy not to be served by a woman and have to get his own food? I fail to see the potential for embarrassment here, unless this is less of a tradition and more of an exercise in all-out misogyny.

It obviously bothers you, so stand your ground. Yes, relationships involve compromise, but why should you be the one doing the compromising? But before that day comes, talk to him about it. If he's as great as you said he's been the past three years, you guys will find a way to make things work and have a great holiday. If he demands you serve him - bring a large mallet and tell him there's only one way you're serving him, and that's if both his knees are broken.
posted by sephira at 7:05 AM on November 6, 2007

Sorry, having a hard time staying away.

If you're a guest, then you're not there as his female partner, and you should be treated as a guest and served by him, or whoever serves guests. How do women not conjugally related to the family get food?

If you're there as his female partner, then you're there as family, and worthy of having your own sensibilities respected. Seniority doesn't come into this. You're family or your not. Seniority would come into this if you wanted to lay down a decree for how everybody else gets their food, which I don't see happening at all!

Also, we're not talking about one particularly patriarchal and partly senile great uncle here. We're talking about his immediate family with whom he (and you if you stay with him) will have at least a somewhat close relationship with for all of his life. It would be different if he weren't close to his family, if this were a once in a decade thing, etc.

At the very least, he should understand how much he is asking of you when he asks you to put aside your own values to participate in his family's traditions. You should also understand that this is an expression of his values - he values saving face in front of his relatives and peace with his immediate family more than he values having an egalitarian relationship with you. Ie - among his values relating to family interactions, egalitarianism ranks pretty damn low. How important is this shared value to *you* and the family you may be thinking about building with him?

It's not about turkey, it's about values.
posted by Salamandrous at 7:06 AM on November 6, 2007 [2 favorites]

I think you can't know the entire dynamic behind this 'tradition' until you've been there. Do the women in his family do this ironically? lovingly? dogmatically? without questioning? out of respect?

You need to separate this one dinner from any questions you have about your boyfriend or your relationship. I would probably choose to go along with it in front of his family, but I'd probably make faces at him or something.

But you clearly have questions about his expectations when you eventually live together, so that needs to be talked about. If you want him to lose face in front of his family, that signals a frustration and potential lack of respect that you need to deal with before it becomes bigger and uglier.
posted by bassjump at 7:06 AM on November 6, 2007

I've got to say, if this is what it's going to take to save face in front of his male family members, then that's a problem. Sure, we're all products of our cultural and familial experiences, but we're not slaves to them. I'm sure there are numerous other expectations that you and other posters here have grown up with which, having reached adulthood, you've rejected because they don't fit with the way you see yourselves. Just because you're the product of a macho culture doesn't mean that you've lost all capacity to appreciate the significance of small acts that are designed to keep women in their place, and to reject them as being incompatible with your own world view. Such small acts might not be gateways to domestic servitude, but they're important historical markers of how men have traditionally viewed and continue to view women and, as such, deserve very close scrutiny before we endorse them.

Besides, what's the face that's being saved here? That despite being a caring, loving, emancipated boyfriend to you in private, he can still order his woman around with the best of them in public?

Also, Brandon Bletcher, in my experience of Latino families, it's extremely unlikely that the men are the sole breadwinners in the household. Quite the contrary, in fact -- it's far more likely that all members of the family work hard and contribute to the running of the house.
posted by lassie at 7:09 AM on November 6, 2007 [6 favorites]

I wouldn't do it. I wouldn't go, either. That saves you both participating in this idiocy, and embarrassing your boyfriend (who ought to be standing up for you. I don't know how you manage to date someone who's so fixated on the opinions of others that he's willing to pressure you into going through with something you find ridiculous).

I've only dated one person whose family expected their son's American wives/girlfriends to conform to their family's cultural traditions (despite that they all had lived in American for thirty years). That relationship turned into an miserable failure as my boyfriend revealed more and more misogynistic crap he expected me to adhere to, and as members of his family treated me like an American whore stereotype.

At some point, I met an uncle who had very little contact with his family, because he had married a (lovely, sweet, gracious) American girl, and his family had group-decided that there was "something wrong" with this woman. They considered her to be stuck-up and standoffish, when I think she was just a quiet person, and had been overwhelmed by being thrust into a family situation in which people were already suspicious of her, already wanted her to fail, and couldn't abide by her great flaw of having been born a white, nonCatholic American female.

I think you ought to closely examine your relationship to see if there's really been no hint of this kind of thing before.
posted by Coatlicue at 7:09 AM on November 6, 2007 [3 favorites]

No, I don't think you should go along with it. Frankly, the whole thing would make me nauseous too. I draw the line at compromising my dignity for the sake of family harmony. There's a lot more going on here than a plate of turkey: it's his family's vision of the place of women in their world.

you really want to take a long, hard look at how traditions and expectations are going to play out in your everyday life

Good advice there.
posted by Flakypastry at 7:10 AM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

Sorry for misspelling your name, Brandon Blatcher
posted by lassie at 7:11 AM on November 6, 2007

the women all serve the men their plates before getting their own

what the fuck

posted by oaf at 7:17 AM on November 6, 2007 [4 favorites]

Slippery slopes are a logical fallacy, so you shouldn't worry about them much ;)

In all seriousness, it's better not to rock the boat in front of his family. All of our families have strange little quirks that we're not proud of, but part of accepting someone is learning to live with their family. Serve him, but make it clear that this is only for the sake of not rocking the boat. If he asks you to do it any other time, smack him upside the head and tell him to get his own damn plate.
posted by chrisamiller at 7:19 AM on November 6, 2007

in my experience of Latino families, it's extremely unlikely that the men are the sole breadwinners in the household.

The original poster described it as "a very traditional Latin family", not just a Lationo family, which implies more sterotypical male and female roles.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:21 AM on November 6, 2007

I would question whether or not it is REALLY a tradition, or just something that happens

That was my first thought. This happens in my wife's family. The women do all of the cooking, serving and cleaning. It's cultural but it's not really a tradition, it's just what always happened, until I showed up. I always try to help out. Not because I'm trying to defy their tradition or culture, but simply because it's what I would normally do. I never really thought about it much until just now. Nobody seems to think it's insulting or wrong. The women were amused at first. Now, I don't think they think much of it. Some of the other guys have started to help out it little ways too. This is just to say that maybe this isn't a tradition as much as it is the way things have always been and your BF wants it to be that way. Personally, if I was your boyfriend, I would defuse the situation by serving you the plate of food since you are my guest in my family home.
posted by probablysteve at 7:22 AM on November 6, 2007 [3 favorites]

he's made noises about how he wants me to cook dinner when we eventually live together

There's nothing wrong with following a family tradition once a year, even if it makes you feel a bit icky. You can't change the way his family thinks and following their traditions is a sign of respect to them. However, the above statement is what you really have to worry about. If he has internalized the tradition of female servitude and expects it from you outside of thanksgiving day, you need to run run run run run away fast from this relationship.
posted by sid at 7:26 AM on November 6, 2007

You say "his mother and sisters all prepare plates for their husbands at every meal."

So it's not a Thanksgiving tradition at all, right? I think the words "Thanksgiving" and "tradition" may be confusing things, putting people in mind of the silly things people do on special occasions like decorate trees in their living room and sing about figgy pudding. There's a big difference between "In my family, on Thanksgiving all the women wear pretty skirts" and "In my family, women don't wear pants because that's considered unfeminine." Especially if you're being asked to comply.

So I'd have two major concerns. First, is this food-serving thing just a vestigal throwback in an otherwise egalitarian household? I find it difficult to believe that once the menfolk get their plates, everyone goes back to being equals until the next meal. Are there things he's not telling you? Are you expected to clear his plate as well? Pour him after-dinner coffee? Not express strong political opinions?

The second, and even bigger concern, is how does he see it? Is it really just a Thanksgiving thing, one Thanksgiving thing, that he's asking for? Or is this shorthand for "when you're with my family, I want to you act like the women in my family do, in all ways, at all times?"

It seems to me these are things you'd want to know before making a decision.
posted by L. Fitzgerald Sjoberg at 7:29 AM on November 6, 2007 [3 favorites]

I'm with Brandon Blatcher, but frankly the person who writes:

somehow that fact that I have a vagina means his needs supercede mine.

is not going to be comfortable in a relationship with a "very traditional" (if by that we mean stereotyipcial) Latin man. End it. You'll both be happier.

And what's with "vagina" being the big word all of a sudden?
posted by The Bellman at 7:37 AM on November 6, 2007

On Thanksgiving day, in front of his family, just do it. Because if you don't, then you're bringing his family into your fight, which would probably be 1,000 times worse than the 5 minutes it'll take for you to throw his food on a plate.

As for the future, think long and hard about how you expect your relationship to play out, talk to him about how he expects your relationship to play out, and figure out a compromise you both can live with, or figure out that you're better off apart. All relationships deal with the expectations issue sooner or later- better to deal with this now than after you've moved in or, worse, gotten married.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:37 AM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

I find that the more I compromise, the less I love those who encourage me to do so.

Irrespective of the question in play, how do you maintain a successful relationship without compromises? The dom business must be booming.

As suggested above, this is difficult without more context. It's a shitty way to meet a family, but either go and put up with it while asking about it on the side as suggested above or do not compromise by not going: if it's not fair for a bunch of strangers to put you in this position, it's not fair for you to potentially ruin the holiday for a bunch of strangers either.
posted by yerfatma at 7:46 AM on November 6, 2007

I'm a guy. I'd be incredibly uncomfortable having my girlfriend being put in a position where she was obliged to serve me as part of some family ritual—and I can only imagine that if I were a woman, I'd be outraged at having that expectation put on me.

Suggest to him that on T-day, he pre-empt the whole awkward thing by getting his own plate. If anyone cocks an eyebrow at him or gives him flack, he can say "I'm a big boy. I can serve myself."

He should be able to see how this is a problem from your position (if he can't, you've got another problem), and frankly, he should be man enough to withstand whatever flack his family might give him. It's also possible he has inflated the importance of this ritual in his own mind, and nobody will think twice about it.

Relationships do involve compromise, but you shouldn't need to compromise your principles/ I see this as a compromise over principles, among other things.
posted by adamrice at 7:51 AM on November 6, 2007 [4 favorites]

This is purely a personal observation, but most of my female Latin-American friends abhor watching their mothers wait hand and foot on their fathers.

Having lived in Central America, I personally found it hard to stomach a lot of the machista bullshit.

Not to say your boyfriend is like that, but you probably should have a long talk about both of your expectations when it comes to gender roles.

However, in the case, it sounds like he just doesn't want to rock the boat. It's not like he would expect to be waited on by the women in your family if he were at your house (um, right?). At his family's house, you could go ahead and do as they do, but if you don't, it probably won't be taken as a massive insult. Worst case scenario- they think you're snobby and the men tease your husband about being whipped. More likely, they'll just think to themselves- oh, she doesn't do it that way because she's an anglo (or whatever) and her cultural traditions are different from ours. No biggie. Or, they will consider you a special guest, and wait on you, which might also make you feel uncomfortable.
posted by emd3737 at 7:59 AM on November 6, 2007

Some things are just offensive, whether people mean it to be, whether they want it to be, and whether you want to take offense to it.

This isn't the sort of thing I could do. Even though I'd understand that it was just the way things were done for his family, even though I would not want to embarrass him, and even though I would certainly not want to insult his family, I just could not do it. I have too much respect for myself to do that.

Saying no to this tradition should not be a big deal. And if it weren't a big deal for them, then it wouldn't really matter all that much (for the same reason that just getting a plate of food doesn't matter, but being required by tradition to do so does). Both your boyfriend and his family should be able to accept that you don't want to do it, for the same reasons we all accept that other people sometimes behave differently--it's the sort of thing that they should shrug off and not care about.

The problem is that it sounds like a big deal. It's something that will offend them, if you just behave the way you feel most comfortable. It's something that will make your boyfriend feel ashamed, if you act the way you think is most appropriate for a woman. And that is the scary part: this isn't just a tradition, it is an important tradition. It says something not just about how they've always behaved in the past, but how they are judging how you should act.

I don't understand all the people saying it's inappropriate to stand up for yourself. I don't get why they think that you behaving to fit their standards is more important than you behaving to fit your own. I would not do it, in your shoes, and I think that it is backwards for people to suggest you have some sort of obligation to do it.
posted by Ms. Saint at 8:00 AM on November 6, 2007 [5 favorites]

Rosie M. Banks is dead on about intercultural issues, and what lassie said is quite important:

Sure, we're all products of our cultural and familial experiences, but we're not slaves to them.

I usually don't go to my own extended family's big holiday gatherings, in part because of expectations similar to these, and a generally conservative world view that makes me feel bitter and uncharitable and the very opposite of thankful. But if I do, I find ways to respect the house without doing things that make me feel diminished as a person because I am a woman. That means helping out in the kitchen, complimenting the host on her efforts, and being gracious as a rule, because that's what a thoughtful guest does. That does not mean being servile to the men because they see it as their traditional due.

Too, in my husband's conservative family, it is traditional for women to cook at big gatherings and tend to domestic chores while the men take their ease. When we are at their house, I am in the kitchen helping. But so is he. No one in his family has ever criticized him about it, but then again he has been making his own choices about this sort of thing since he was old enough to see that he was not owed service simply because he was a man. For him, that was roughly high school.

My father thinks this behavior means I have him whipped and maybe his family thinks the same, but then again we are very happy in our relationship, while many of them are not. Separate from any gender issues, neither of us would ever expect or ask one another to do anything that made us feel small in the name of tradition. We love our families, but we can show them that love without diminishing ourselves to do it.
posted by melissa may at 8:01 AM on November 6, 2007 [4 favorites]

Asking this question is like a man asking what's the big deal with a man holding open a door for a woman (rather than vice versa) or why men typically are the ones to propose. These are things that implicitly take place in certain social settings and cultures and unless there's a true bigotry underlying the practice, it's not worth making a fuss about.
posted by wackybrit at 8:06 AM on November 6, 2007

In short: are you happy to serve your boyfriend? The answer appears to be, "no".

Therefore, discuss it with him and see if his reasons for wanting you to serve him are something you are happy with compromising on. Then decide.

And, on question of whether this is a slippery slope, I would say it is not. A Thanksgiving dinner is a very limited context, so I think it would be difficult for him to assume you will continue to act in a similar manner away from his family.
posted by maryrosecook at 8:12 AM on November 6, 2007

Oh hell no I wouldn't do this. I wouldn't go.

If 'his mother and sisters all prepare plates for their husbands at every meal' and he's telling you this before you go to Thanksgiving so you'll perform appropriately because he 'is very concerned with what people think of him' how is it going to play out if you live together and his family comes to visit? Are you going to be domestic servant the whole time to appease them?

And this
he's made noises about how he wants me to cook dinner when we eventually live together

in my opinion, is just an attempt to sneak the issue under the radar. He knows that what he would expect you to do in everyday life would be unacceptable - he's trying to prime you to think of it in advance the way he'd like you to think of it.

I would decline this invitation. To go and do as he has asked you to do sets a bad precedent - to go and not perform the role as expected would be rude.
posted by winna at 8:13 AM on November 6, 2007 [2 favorites]

Whatever you do, make sure he knows what is going to happen BEFORE being in front of his family, otherwise you'll humiliate him.
posted by blue_beetle at 8:13 AM on November 6, 2007 [2 favorites]

Just a thought, but maybe this has something to do with a sort of bonding ritual among the women in the family? Maybe they are interested in including you in their dynamic? And the boyfriend, who doesn't get to participate in this, only sees the part of it that benefits him. This may be an interesting social experiment on your part. Then again, I find the whole concept of "serving" other people kind of odious.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 8:14 AM on November 6, 2007

Argh. It irritates me when MetaFilter can't grasp something as simple as "Gee, women haven't always been the free, self-directed people they are today! Maybe that cultural memory is playing into how this particular woman is reacting to something that I, AS A MAN WHO HAS NO SUCH CULTURAL MEMORY, don't quite understand! Maybe I should pause and think about that before dismissing her concern as ridiculous!"

Maybe your boyfriend's desire to have a plate brought to him is just a family tradition that makes him feel warm and cozy, a kind of "When you're in a happy relationship, this is one of the ways your woman shows it!" thing. Maybe it's totally innocuous. Maybe you'll be happy to do it for him, because it makes him happy, and there are really no overtones of servitude and dominion.

Or maybe it indicates that his basic belief about marriage is that his wife serves him without question.

Because I grew up as a woman in Western culture, I understand why his revelation would make you stop and think. But as much fun as it is for us all to speculate, I think that what you'll have to do is ask him. The next time you're sitting around, say "Hey, I have to ask you... you know that plate-serving thing? I need to ask you about it."

In the meantime, I agree with those above who have said that a family holiday celebration isn't the place to make a stand. If you don't think it's possible to respectfully get out of the serving, and the overtones bother you, find a way to get out of visiting for the holiday.

Good luck. I understand why this would trouble you, and I hope you'll discover that there's no need to fret.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 8:19 AM on November 6, 2007 [13 favorites]

"he's made noises about how he wants me to cook dinner when we eventually live together, but I've always brushed those off because I love cooking anyway, so whatever... but now it's making me a little nervous"

This is the important part to me. What else does he make "noises" about you doing/not doing when you live together. Will you stop working? Will you have children, and if so is it day care, or will one of you stop working? Who will it be to stop working; will it be whoever is likely to contribute less financially, or will you use another method. How will house hold labor be divided? How will you two support/handle each other's family?

You've been seeing each other for 3 years; you need to work out the answers to these questions with your boyfriend. This specific instance of women serving men is a very small part of the big picture.
posted by nobeagle at 8:23 AM on November 6, 2007

my family is fairly egalitarian, but we have some pretty offensive - to some - intellectual "traditions." i asked my parents flat-out to respect my new girlfriend, who is of a very different stripe, and keep it to themselves.

if i were your boyfriend, i would tell my family that our traditions don't hold over you, that our relationship is based on equality and mutual respect, and that i would help prepare and serve the meal.

having said that, i'm a shitty cook, and when my girlfriend an i prepare dinner, i usually just get in the way. she does the food, and i try to make myself useful in other ways, often failing miserably...
posted by klanawa at 8:24 AM on November 6, 2007

I agree with those who say you should decline the invitation if you're going to be uncomfortable being a servant for the day (and I don't blame you!). Holidays are supposed to be a time to enjoy and celebrate, not be made to perform retarded and archaic traditions, and I certainly wouldn't stand for having those kind of expectations laid out on me before even attending the holiday dinner. As a guest, I'm sure you would be more than willing to offer help with prep & cleanup, since that's the nice-guest thing to do, but it's just really gross & rude to have someone state outright that you'll be given tasks to do.

I'd also be really uncomfortable about his implication that he expects like you to "cook for him" when you live together. He's got a lot of expectations that have nothing to do with your feelings, interests, or comfort-level.

I say if they can't treat you like a guest, and if your boyfriend is more concerned with saving face than making you comfortable while you spend time with his family during the holidays, that should be triggering some warning bells. Stay home, and let the boyfriend have the choice of spending the holiday with you - provided he helps out with the cooking and serving. Or go see your family and let him spend it with his.
posted by tastybrains at 8:27 AM on November 6, 2007

Would he do it at your house if the gender roles were reversed?

I bet he would

I'll bet he wouldn't, and I'd win. Boy, some people seem to have not the vaguest understanding of sexism, gender roles, traditional cultures, or anything beyond "Hey, it's just a plate of turkey!" No it's not, and "he's made noises about how he wants me to cook dinner when we eventually live together" is a huge red flag. It is very often the case that men act relatively civilized before the woman is "his," but once they're married, suddenly all those hidden childhood/cultural expectations come into play and the woman finds herself trapped.

anon, you should do what feels right to you, balancing the desire not to seem like an asshole to his family against the desire not to be a chattel servant (which is what a wife is in "traditional" cultures). I guess you could suck it up and do like the ladies of the house do this one time, then have a very serious conversation with the boyfriend in which either 1) he fully understands and accepts that you have no intention of "serving" him, or 2) you realize what you'll be letting yourself in for if you marry him. Trust me, whatever macho/patriarchal traits you may notice faint hints of now are only going to get worse.
posted by languagehat at 8:29 AM on November 6, 2007 [47 favorites]

Oh, also, I would be concerned about a partner who worries more about how his family judges him than he worries about making you feel at ease while spending the holidays with a different family than you're used to.
posted by tastybrains at 8:31 AM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

Don't do it. The request is stupid and degrading.

Disclosure: I have a penis.
posted by AwkwardPause at 8:38 AM on November 6, 2007

Mod note: a few comments removed, please stop with the knucke draggers derail and take it immediately to mefimail or metatalk
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:40 AM on November 6, 2007


I'd love to hear how this turns out, so if you're willing, please do a followup here in the thread. You can email one of the admins and have them post a comment for you.

Thank you.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:46 AM on November 6, 2007

This looks like a very difficult decision on your part, and I need to weigh in with my vote for not serving him.

I cook at home, and I usually fix a plate for my husband at home, but only because I want to, and he's always very appreciative. If you don't want to do it, then don't do it. Discuss it with him first, and if he insists, then ask him if he wants to participate in your family's tradition of the men cooking and serving while the women kick back and watch Sleepless in Seattle all day long.

You don't have to flaunt the fact that you're not serving him in front of his entire family, but you don't have to serve him either, no matter what his family does on their own. The two of you should have your own dynamic, and it can be different from his family's. I think that you both need to come to an agreement that you and he should be equals regardless of where you are. I agree that nothing should be expected of you in a relationship, except honesty, an open mind to your partner's concerns and a willingness to understand your partner's point of view.

I hope you make the right decision for the both of you - I do think that this issue is more serious than it seems at first glance.
posted by mitzyjalapeno at 8:54 AM on November 6, 2007

I am Hispanic, and so obviously come from a Hispanic family. It was an unspoken thing that the women get the men a plate of food when I was a kid. It's never explicitly said to someone, that they must do this, but it's just how they did it. As my generation has grown up, that has kind of fallen by the wayside. Clearly, that isn't the case in your BF's family.

He is mentioning this ahead of time, I would assume, to "warn" you that this is how his family relates to each other. And if he's expecting you to follow suit, my money is on him not wanting to be embarassed later by his family ribbing him. Because if he's never exhibited the kind of behavior that would lead you to believe that he expects you to serve him all the time, then I'm guessing it's not really a slippery slope. He's likely bridging two cultures, and take it from me, sometimes that's hard.

It's not for anyone else to decide whether or not it's worth it for you to stand your ground -- that is your decision. All I would add is, you are now aware of what it will be like to spend a holiday with his family. Are their family traditions and expectations something you can live with? This is something every couple that comes from different cultural backgrounds has to ask themselves. And they really need to talk about it openly. Also, if you do decide to stand your ground, I'd hope it was in a discreet way, so as not to draw attention to the situation. And your BF would definitely have to have your back on this. It may be uncomfortable for him, but you standing your ground while he gets angry at you ain't gonna work. On the other hand, you serving his plate while seething on the inside, knowing that your BF "expects" this and takes it for granted, won't work either. Whatever you guys decide, make sure you discuss it beforehand and make arrangements to make things up to each other later. I find compromises work best when both parties realize that each one has compromised, and thank each other for it somehow.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 8:58 AM on November 6, 2007 [2 favorites]

I just noticed this: (he's made noises about how he wants me to cook dinner when we eventually live together, but I've always brushed those off because I love cooking anyway, so whatever... but now it's making me a little nervous).

I'd say it should make you nervous. He's dating someone who does nto share his cultural background but is expecting her to adhere to it. That's not fair. And "making noises" makes me think he's easing you in into what he expects of you. I'd have a talk about this with him, honestly. He shoudl lay out what he thinks is a man's role vs a woman's role in a relationship. His answers may be enlightening.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 9:02 AM on November 6, 2007 [4 favorites]

I'll bet he wouldn't, and I'd win. Boy, some people seem to have not the vaguest understanding of sexism, gender roles, traditional cultures.

Oh, I bow down to the glorious knowledge of languagehat. Frankly, you don't know. How could you? I was throwing it out there as a question to widen anon's frame of reference, and tagged my opinion on it, maybe against my better judgment.

The fact is, so-called cross cultural relationships have sticky areas of expectations that aren't even fully conscious, and that goes for the oh-so-enlightened Western European cultures as well, not just the "traditional cultures," whatever the hell that means.

I asked the question to help anon think about how Mr. Anon might be making some compromises for her "culture" or how he might be very willing to do so. I said I bet he would make them, or is making them, because otherwise the relationship wouldn't have lasted 3 years. Feel free to disagree, but don't act like you have some sort of high and spiritual connection to the truth.
posted by milarepa at 9:04 AM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

If he's such a man (and that's what it comes down to, really) he should have the balls to serve you first.

(grain of salt: I'm the only person who doesn't take communion at family weddings, i.e. I'm of the opinion that stirring the pot at family functions is an inherent good)
posted by notsnot at 9:09 AM on November 6, 2007

Anon, I was you once upon a time. My ex came from a very traditional latin family with very traditional gender roles. He talked a good "enlightened sensitive guy" game, however, and presented himself as evolved from all that. He'd agree how stupid the machista mindset was.

I should have known what I was getting into when I was first introduced to his family. We were already engaged at that point, and his mother looked me up and down, turned back to him and said "she will give you beautiful children." (In retrospect, I wanted to run back up the gangway and fly back home right at that moment, and I should have.)

The Enlightened Sensitive Guy thing continued until we got married, when serious backsliding began. I called him on it, and he acknowledged it; he knew that I wouldn't have married a machista asshole in million years, but he wanted me, so he played the game until after we were married, when he figured he had me.

DrGirlfriend gives very good advice for talking to him **now** about his expectations of gender roles. Hopefully your boyfriend will be a bit more forthcoming than mine was. Keep in mind that how we was raised is what is "normal" for him, and if his default assumptions vary much from that, be sure he has clearly thought out WHY he wants things different, if he actually does.

As an aside, I will note that my ex's family always treated me as an honored guest, particularly before we got married, and would not have expected me to serve anyone. I would try to help out and they would always shoo me out of the kitchen, fwiw.
posted by ambrosia at 9:15 AM on November 6, 2007 [3 favorites]

Whatever you decide to do (you serve him, he serves you, you sit as a guest and his mother serves both of you, etc), decide it together as a united front. Acting unilaterally is a recipe to make you (and by extension him) look bad in front of his family (just as him surprising you with a demand to be served might make you family look unfavorably on your taste in partners). Acting together, you can go along with the "tradition," rolling your eyes at each other as needed, or subvert or change the tradition. But whatever you do, do it as a partnership, not as a loose cannon.

Cross-cultural relationships can be really hard sometimes, and family events are one of the places it can be trickiest. That's fine, as long as you communicate, support each other, and find ways that both of you compromise, without compromising either of your values too much.

I do think you should talk with his sister, cousin, sister-in-law, etc -- a woman more or less of your age, who has been attending these dinners for years, about what is "normal," what is expected, and how she feels about it. Maybe it's all feminist, or maybe it's the opposite -- you simply don't know enough yet, and are working from stereotypes rather than experience.
posted by Forktine at 9:24 AM on November 6, 2007

Is it worth standing my ground and making my bf feel disrespected in front of his family over a plate of turkey?

I was all set to say no until I read this part: (he's made noises about how he wants me to cook dinner when we eventually live together, but I've always brushed those off because I love cooking anyway, so whatever... but now it's making me a little nervous). Now I'm going to say no, but...

At the beginning of your post, I just assumed that he wanted you to do it while at his family's house so that you wouldn't make waves and so that he wouldn't have to explain/defend/whatever. By refusing to get him a plate of food at his family's house, you aren't just standing your ground and making a statement about your beliefs, you are making a statement about what you think of the females in his family, and you run the risk of offending or alienating them, and they will probably assume you are looking down at them as they rush around to serve their men. I think the practice is pretty silly, but to me, it wouldn't be worth it to make my point if it meant making a statement about their culture and offending them in the process. I'd be happy to serve him at their functions as long as he made it clear that it wasn't his expectation or view of how women should treat men, but his desire to keep peace in the family and not cause his family to be offended, snub you or mock/look down on him.

BUT, if that is how he expects to be treated in general, whether the function is at your house, their house , your parent's house or a friend's house, that's another story. Talk to him about your feelings and his expectations to find out whether he believes you should run for him like a great big subservient chicken with its head cut off, or if he just wants to keep peace the in his family. If it is the latter, put your issues aside when you're having meals at his family's place. If it is the former, and wants you to serve him because he also expects you to model your behavior after the women in his family when you two start living together, and you do want to fight that batter, stand your ground and don't get him the plate. He might as well start accepting it now.
posted by necessitas at 9:49 AM on November 6, 2007

*fight that battLE makes much more sense.
posted by necessitas at 9:55 AM on November 6, 2007

i say suck it up with the family, but tell him in no uncertain terms will this transpire in your own home if you ever share one. not even if they come to visit. his mom can serve everyone of she wants to, but all you'll do is pass the salt.

if he can't handle it, then you've run into a dealbreaker.
posted by thinkingwoman at 9:55 AM on November 6, 2007 [2 favorites]

This issue isn't about food: You have a cultural disconnect with the guy you're in a relationship with. It's manifesting itself in this way now, but will show up in many other ways down the road.

The question is how you settle issues of different cultural values over time. Serving a plate of turkey in that cultural context isn't considered degrading; In your context it is. Trying to say "my culture is right, and his is wrong!" is only going to lead to you both resenting each other.

Long term, the only way to understanding what parts of a culture you want to respect or even adopt, and what parts you want to ignore or even reject, requires truly understanding that culture. Right now, you're being an ugly American, saying "through my lens, this is always bad, so...", without even spending the time to understand where and why this behavior started in the first place. Once you've spent the time to do that, you can still feel "this is bad!" but you'll at least have enough context to justify your opinion, instead of a gut reaction based on an unwillingness to find out more about the people who raised and shaped a person you, presumably, love.
posted by anildash at 9:59 AM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

The question now is about his family interaction. If you want to embarass him and let that hang between you for the rest of your relationship, then yeah, stand up for feminazis everywhere. Else, get over yourself and try the latin flavor.

I think this entirely misses the point. In the modern day and age shouldn't he be the one who is pretty fucking embarrased?

To the OP: He should be the one jumping up to get his plate and yours too, and preferably explaining to his family that treating the women in his family like slaves is a bit déclassé.
posted by tonylord at 10:04 AM on November 6, 2007 [2 favorites]

Holidays at my house are very similar to what you're describing at your boyfriend's.

Having said that, I don't think this is the time/place to stand your ground.

In the three years that you've been together, you've eaten dinner together, correct? How has he acted? Does he have the same expectations then?

If you simply have to go above and beyond what you're used to when you join his family for dinner - so what? If it really is only a night or two a year, I say pick your battles.

Either way, talk to him! Set the expectations before you go to dinner, and of course, before you move in together. If you can't come to an agreement on this, it sounds like a deal breaker.
posted by LittleLisi at 10:05 AM on November 6, 2007

Can't somebody honor the one they love with a plate of food that says "I thank you" without it becoming a symbol for women's oppression?

This question makes me angry. You sound petulant and ungrateful. If I was invited into somebody's home on a day of blessing I would drop my insecurities and fears about potentially misogynistic traditions at the door. Or at least until I have valid reason to worry.

These people raised the man you love. They must've done something right. Give thanks to that.

Can you give them the benefit of the least till after you've ate your damn turkey?

As somebody whose spent nearly every holiday alone, year after year (and been mostly fine with it), I look around at the tithers people get all worked up about...who do I visit, how do I afford a present for so and so, what will they think if I don't want to go to holiday dinner, why am I obligated to go here, etc.?

I start to think I have it really good. Then I get outraged. It's only November 6th and I feel it coming on early. People blame Hallmark or decorations for the pre-holiday dread. For me, it's stuff like this.

Please, go to the dinner, take the positive in people and traditions, and enjoy the blessings you have been given.
posted by iamkimiam at 10:08 AM on November 6, 2007 [3 favorites]

Also, I can only imagine the amount of stress this dilemma could be adding (for BOTH of you) to an already tense situation (meeting of families on holidays). Whatever you do, please don't show your boyfriend this thread.
posted by iamkimiam at 10:12 AM on November 6, 2007

I would also be uncomfortable with this and side with those who suggest it is a good time to talk about your expectations for gender roles in the relationship. It sounds as though you have one vision of how partnership is going to work, and he has another. You are also being introduced to some rather heavy familial expectations about that, and being encouraged to see those as 'no big deal.' Those expectations are a big deal, and can be very difficult to negotiate in a long-term relationship.

One exercise you may find helpful is to create an alternate vision of how things could go and communicate that. Don't base it on your own family's casual traditions, or on his family's more gendered traditions. Instead, describe how you would like the event to go, if you could script it, ideally. For me it might look something like:

"When your mother and your sisters stand up to make their husbands' plates, we both stay seated, and wait to get up until everyone else has gone. If anyone gives us a funny look, you just say "We'll go up to the buffet together, thanks. We always eat together." OR "You get up with the women and prepare my plate, and when you get the funny look, you say something like 'Girlfriend is my guest and I'd like to serve her first, rather than the other way around.'

I don't suggest you actually act that script out unless you want to, but I am sure that envisioning this event as you would prefer it to go, and communicating that vision to your boyfriend, will help you begin to articulate your expectations for how your partnership will work and how it will be presented to your family.
posted by Miko at 10:13 AM on November 6, 2007

Holy Sufferin’ Moses! Stand your ground? Are we talking about one of the most important family social events you can have? Or throwing slop in a bucket and ringin’ out “Come ‘n get it!!”
It seems that people have missed what it means to prepare and serve a meal, particularly at a time such as Thanksgiving, and especially to family. You have been invited to your boyfriend’s family home to celebrate Thanksgiving, and they have given you the honour of helping in serving the meal. Yes, honour. No “come and get it” here; no paper plates, the finest dishes only, decorated table, the best food. Love and care in preparing the food, not just to be eaten for fuel, but to be savoured and praised. A meal that says, “I love you, I care for you, and I want you to be happy”. So what if it’s the women serving the men, it’s a time to drink in the satisfaction of showing an outward expression of love. How often do you have the opportunity to do this? And, yes, clean up, help out, and offer to do as much as you can. I know you can do it!
Having prepared many meals at holidays like this one, and having cooked every one of my own family’s meals for the last 20 or so years, I can honestly tell you…don’t let this opportunity pass you by. The rest of the year, do whatever works for you, but on this day, serve and serve with pride and love. And I’m a man, man.
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza at 10:14 AM on November 6, 2007 [2 favorites]

Serving a plate of turkey in that cultural context isn't considered degrading

I think this conclusion depends on which member of that culture you're asking. As a female member of a culture that expects women to fulfill certain traditional roles, I would have told you that my unwilling compliance with such roles notwithstanding, I found it extremely degrading to me. If asked, my brother would have probably told you something else.
posted by lassie at 10:16 AM on November 6, 2007 [7 favorites]

Traditional families rarely have only one kink. This is one, I am sure they expect you to do other things you disagree. Give in now, give in for ever.

My opinion (I come from a very traditional family) is to discuss with the bf and build a *common* and *consistent* behavior. But do not press hard, don't be impolite. Form a unit with your bf. In this particular case, both stand up together and go fix your plates. If they say something, smile and let the bf say that he likes to make his own plate. When the men are watching football, go sit with them for a little and mention that this particular fumble was atrocious, that the running back is lazy today etc. Then go to the kitchen and help the ladies. And so on.
Make your point but do not cause a scene. Not this first time, not ever. I am sure there will be members in the family who will be sympathetic to your situation, even if they will not show it.
posted by carmina at 10:31 AM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

Unless it's really a once-a-year problem max (as in, you're flying to Puerto Rico from Seattle to eat with the family) I'd decline the invitation.

And I'd be grateful I found out while we were only still dating that's my bf's too big of a pussy to stand up for me against his family.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:38 AM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

Personal anecdote: when my sister brought her boyfriend at home to meet the parents, he stood up after dinner and collected the dishes together with my mom and my sister. My dad almost fell off his chair and said in a very concerned (though not offensive) tone that "Men don't do that in Greece". Sister's boyfriend smiled and said "I am just in a hurry to get the desert". He became a husband. My point is you cannot change those people, so be polite to them and respectful for their traditions and don't confront them. But also don't pretend and don't change your ways.
posted by carmina at 10:38 AM on November 6, 2007 [2 favorites]

The problem here isn't the tradition itself; it's someone else's house and it would be polite if it doesn't bother you too much to just go with it. However, as many have pointed out, the real thing you need to do is have a talk and see how he feels and if he is willing to take your position above his family. He HAS to put you first and back you if this tradition is seriously yucky to you, but if it isn't that big of a deal then it's worth compromising to stay on his family's good side. He has to be willing to stand up to his family for you though. I don't know if you ever intend to marry, but just think what will happen if he won't intervene when his relatives start dictating what traditions you want to use in the ceremony. What if you have kids and they try to tell you how to raise them? On the small stuff, compromise, but make sure he's going to put your opinion first when it counts.
posted by slow graffiti at 10:46 AM on November 6, 2007

I was throwing it out there as a question to widen anon's frame of reference, and tagged my opinion on it, maybe against my better judgment.

OK, sorry I got snippy with you. You're obviously not one of the "some people" I was complaining about. But look around and you'll see there sure are a lot of them. Here's a prize specimen:

...serve with pride and love. And I’m a man, man.

Gee, I never would have guessed. It never ceases to amaze me how many people just don't get it (and probably never will). Listen to ambrosia and the other people who seem to actually know what they're talking about, and don't let anyone tell you you're being selfish for not wanting to fit right in to a snug, cozy, woman-oppressing tradition. "Feminazis" my ass.
posted by languagehat at 10:52 AM on November 6, 2007 [2 favorites]

Mod note: STOP. This needs to go to Metatalk if you want to call people names, roll your eyes at people's suggestions and generally act like there is one right answer. If there was one right answer, the OP would not be asking. Any further snark can go to metatalk or email please. Thank you.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 11:07 AM on November 6, 2007

I do think you have to look at this as a real relationship tester. I don't uniformly think it would be a terrible thing to serve in a traditional role. I'm bothered by your description of your stance as "expecting" you to follow this tradition, as opposed to a more reasonable stance like "contritely begged me to hold my nose and participate in his family's stone age rituals, just so that Gramma wouldn't cry at Thanksgiving, and he totally understood I was an independent, empowered woman despite his desire to not rock the boat at dinner, no matter how stupid and unreasonable it might be." Which is the kind of line I would be trotting out if I wanted my wife to play act a questionable role like this.

Because what others have stated is correct: this is a precedent, and how he presents it and reacts to your absolutely reasonable reservations is going to establish boundaries in your future relationship. Whether to pay enough lip service to the family traditionalism is something lots and lots of people go through, and you just have to take it as it comes and pick your battles: if his expectations of your role and frankly attitude is that this is normal and you should embrace it, well, that's another thing altogether and should make you seriously contemplate the relationship as a whole.
posted by nanojath at 11:21 AM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

(Just whatever you do don't spring a surprise revolt against tradition on him AT dinner. That's a sure recipe for multilevel disaster. Make sure you both understand and agree on what's going to happen in this context).
posted by nanojath at 11:24 AM on November 6, 2007

There is another implication which you might want to consider, anon. If you comply and act all dutiful and servile now and change your ways later on, you *will* be considered double-faced and that you tried to be nice until you "get" the guy. This is a serious insult in the "traditional circles" and certainly not something you want your bf to think of you.
posted by carmina at 11:36 AM on November 6, 2007 [2 favorites]

If I were you? "That's cool, baby. Serve you on Thanksgiving? No problem! Thing is -- and I've been kinda shielding you from this until now, on account of I wasn't sure how you'd feel about it, but while we're being all traditional and all -- thing is, in MY family, we have a day after Thanksgiving tradition. And that is, we all wake up at five AM to hit the Black Friday sales at the mall, right? And while the women shop -- with the men's credit cards, generally, but we can waive that part this time -- the guys get to walk around the mall carrying their purses. All. Day. Long." [insert thousand-watt grin here] "How 'bout it?"
posted by kittens for breakfast at 11:37 AM on November 6, 2007 [5 favorites]

The problem is that we don't have the crucial information to completely understand this problem. If the boyfriend is a co-conspirator in helping you to navigate the cultural minefield of expectations in a big family dynamic and he is working WITH you to find a path that builds more acceptance in the family for you and is crystal clear that this is not setting an expectation of future behavior and gender roles, then the two of you could form a gameplan in advance that works together to get there. Only then could the real spirit of compromise take place. Setting aside the baggage of archaic gender expectations, compromise where you do things you'd rather not and he presumably does the same when called on is the root of many solutions to interpersonal problems.

However, there seems to be a lot of doubt as to whether or not this might reflect his true feelings about your role in the relationship. There is absolutely zero chance you can agree to do this for the sake of making him look good unless you can feel good about this point. The other problem is that it doesn't appear clear to me that this will be a single isolated instance of an odd custom they have. If it was a once a year meal issue only, I'd be more inclined to try to reach compromise. If there are going to be 1,000 more issues like this, it seems to me much better to establish that the two of you follow a new model from day one.

The advice that the two of you reach a clear understanding of how you will handle it in advance is crucial. Refusing to do Thanksgiving or mocking their traditions or making the situation more embarrassing for him than it has to be is a bad idea if you want to make your relationship work. In the end, it is a kind of a test. Making you feel confident that he supports you and your view of the world more than he worries about looking less than macho in front of his family is a critical indicator of how hard he is willing to try to make things work.

The entire discussion has been fascinating to me. As a proud penis-owner who tries very hard to be a feminist, it is always interesting to hear different viewpoints and to try to understand how the same situation can be seen so differently by so many people.
posted by Lame_username at 12:02 PM on November 6, 2007

You don't seem happy about this "tradition" and don't really want to serve him.

That's it really, tell him in advance and ask him to stick up for you. Serve each other. If he's that thin-skinned and stubborn, then this might be a big issue in your relationship. Don't merely avoid the holiday over this or you'll always be forced to bite your tongue and grit your teeth EVERY holiday with his family.

Or better yet, what adamrice said.

My experience is different because even my grandfather in Puerto Rico cooks and serves food. Both of them did, and one was Italian.
posted by cmgonzalez at 12:10 PM on November 6, 2007

The way it's being presented is that your refusing to serve your boyfriend his dinner is going to be preceded by tense music and a big close-up on you before you make your stunning refusal. Really? Probably not. Just don't serve him, and don't make a big deal of it. Go to the bathroom when the meals start getting served and make sure your boy knows that that's the signal for him to serve himself. This way it doesn't become a Scene and you don't end up degrading yourself. Bit of a weasel move, but such is the way of diplomacy. Artful dodging has kept my relationship good with my wife's conservative family.

Honestly, you are obviously coming from a different culture, and his family will likely foresee some weirdness there. The polite thing to do here is for both parties to look the other way when there's some friction between traditions. Your man decided to date someone outside what his family sees as the norm and that was his decision and thus his mess to smooth over. He should be sticking up for you as best he can and not trying to mold you into something you're not. I mean, be polite as you can, but don't sully yourself because he might get some ribbing or tutting from his relations. Boohoo for him.
posted by picea at 12:43 PM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

Here is what I would do. You mention that you'd have no problem getting him a plate if he asked you to nicely, right? I would ask him now if he would be willing to ask you nicely, in front of the family, on Thanksgiving. If he is, then he probably understands where you're coming from to the extent that you two will likely be able to work out any surfacing gender-role issues in your future. And if he's not, then that tells you something important, too.
posted by zadermatermorts at 1:37 PM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

Here is what I would do: Throw a little expectation judo move by having him either:

(a) say, "Hey, I think it's time to change this tradition around--it's time for the men to take charge of the plates. Come on guys, grab a plate. Ladies, sit, relax!" This gets you out of having to make a statement and reverses the polarity of the situation. It also sets up a precedent for future Thanksgiving dinners.

(b) just grab a plate for himself while the women are preparing plates for the men, not addressing it or making any kind of comment on it at all. If he's casual about it and doesn't turn it into a scene, it might well go unnoticed.

But no matter what you choose, I think you both need to have a good conversation about your expectations for the future.
posted by yellowcandy at 2:18 PM on November 6, 2007

he's made noises about how he wants me to cook dinner when we eventually live together

I keep going back and forth on this in the context of this question - does it mean he wants you to cook dinner every night when you live together or does it mean he wants you to cook dinner for this occasion when you live together? My inner feminazi assumes the first but contextually it could be either.

My opinion is that, unlike hollywood movies, relationships are a million interactions and tradeoffs, not long stretches with little of note and big Momentous Moments. If you have a good partnership 364 days of the year that means a lot.

At the same time, if this is an idea that rankles you so much that it's going to ruin the whole holiday season for you, that means something too.

So overall I think the big picture matters more than anything else, but it is important how the two of you are going to negotiate things when the outside world makes demands or expectations on you as a couple. It doesn't really matter whether you carry that plate or not, it matters how the two of you together come to the decision whether you're going to carry the plate or not.
posted by phearlez at 2:24 PM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

Hi, anon. I only skimmed the 100+ comments, so forgive me if I'm repeating anyone else. I just wanted to chime in with a Latino guy's perspective.

First let me talk a bit about one of the few comments I did read, Ambrosia's. I really am sorry for her unpleasant (to say the least) experience. I believe, or at least hope, that not all Latinos are as misleading; at least the ones I consider my friends aren't. But I do understand where she's coming from: the gender roles expectation thing. And truly, in most of Latin America the gender roles are certainly different than they are in the US.. but not all LatAm countries/regions are the same in that regard. My POV is that of a Central American, fwiw.

I have to be honest in that it wasn't really clear to me from your question just what went on in that conversation with your bf. I don't know if he "demanded", as some have suggested, that you were his servant. Or maybe he just explained how things traditionally go that one night, and that he'd like you to partake. I just can't know. But, from my humble point of view, it doesn't seem very serious. What is more serious, I think, is what he'll expect after you guys have settled down to live together.

The dinner thing seems to me like no big deal because, well, that's the way those dinners generally go in Latin America (again, I don't know where exactly he's from, so I wouldn't like to generalize). The women serve, and the guys sit around. If any guys try to help, they're shushed away; just like a woman would be shushed away if she wandered over to check under the hood to see what's wrong with the car. That's how it usually is, good or bad. I think it is partly because in these parts, cooking is traditionally a woman's playing field, the place where she has the power. Also consider that most Latinos, at least when they're in their native country, like to talk big about how they're the boss, the big man of the house, but in reality the woman is the one with most of the power in a given relationship.. and IMO that's the source of most machismo, a desperate way for men to regain a little control of the situation. But that's another discussion, for another day..

So I feel the dinner thing (and related situations) are actually ways for women to show their power, to "baby" their helpless men who'd starve to death the minute they were gone. It's something of a motherly act. You mentioned a "mental image", of "fat old men sitting around on their asses while the womenfolk are running around, preparing and cleaning and serving and everything." There's some truth to that in that yes, men will sit around and women will pamper them; but every time I've been in one of those situations it has always felt to me like the women are the ones running the show, the ones in complete control, and that the men are little more than the "intended audience".

So my advice re: the dinner would be, don't overthink it. It's only once, and it would be mostly about being empowered, not the other way around. Now, re: what he expects from you once you're settled down, that's a whole different issue.

In my experience (again), most if not all Latinos are completely dependent upon a woman for their meals. Or they just eat out/takeout. Sure, there are some guys who do learn how to cook at home and then do it in their marriage, but they're definitely a minority. Most guys just expect their mom to feed them, and then in a relationship they will expect their SO to cook for them. That's what they were raised to expect, so if we want to point fingers, we should look at society too. But let's not point fingers, ok?

Rather, like Ambrosia said, it's time to sit down and talk about this. The once-yearly dinner thing isn't the real issue; the issue is, once living together, will he expect you to cook his meals? To keep the place tidy? To do the laundry and dishes? I can say that, at least in this part of Latin America, the overwhelming majority of guys expect just that.. which means that it's probably what your guy will expect too. And only you can decide if that's a deal-breaker, but I've seen couples break up for less than that.

Of course, many Latinos have great things going for them, too: they're very warm and loving, and like to show their affection, and are usually very thoughtful and love to spoil their SOs. But many also expect the woman to run the household. Certainly, every case is different, as each individual is his own and may or may not exhibit the traits found in the majority of his peers... but still, it's not unreasonable to expect the statistically most likely outcome, is it?

Good luck, I hope your heart-to-heart goes well, and if you'd like to correspond MeFi Mail is just a click away.
posted by papafrita at 4:05 PM on November 6, 2007 [8 favorites]

Why is so much social-political discourse in the west centred about rights, and obligations are so shunned?

Yeah, you have the right to be served by the men, to eat at the same time as them, whatever, but can't you see that this is probably a one-off event? A kooky family tradition? What about an obligation to not rock the boat, just for this one occasion? A bit of doublethinky lip-service, if you will?

Your overthinking-plates-of-turkeys crusade here reminds me strongly of certain kinds of westerners who feel that it's perfectly ok to get around in hotpants & singlet tops in Islamic countries, because it's all about their right to dress however the hell they want, and that this right supersedes any obligation to respect local cultural sensibilities (no matter how much they might differ from one's own).

Family gatherings, like trips to other cultures, should not be about making personal political statements. Grin & bear what you have to, pay lip service, be thankful that you probably only have to meet the wider family once every year, and don't worry that it's some kind of slippery slope to eternal patriarchal subjugation. Most likely just a silly tradition like opening doors for women, or the pagan rape suggested by kissing under mistletoe. Fight against it & you may be tilting against windmills & looking like a bit of a dick in the process.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:21 PM on November 6, 2007 [3 favorites]

Seriously, my gut reaction to this centres around storms in teacups, mountains out of molehills, tilting at windmills (again), and seems to exude an inappropriate self-righteousness, given the context. If you were vegetarian, would you make a big song & dance about how wrong it is to kill turkeys? If you were muslim, would you refuse to eat at a table where alcohol was served? Maybe you would, in some contexts, but you're talking here about an apparent tradition belonging to a family who you seem to be more-or-less a part of now & into the indefinite future. A bit of humility & a sense of humour can go a long way in a situation like this, as opposed to unnecessarily rocking the boat. It just all seems so very sophomoric, compared with any of the more serious feminist battles out there to fight...
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:39 PM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm sure somebody's said this already, but why don't you serve his plate when you're at his family's house, but only if he agrees to serve your plate at your family's house? Everybody wins!
posted by number9dream at 5:21 PM on November 6, 2007

I'm sure somebody's said this already, but why don't you serve his plate when you're at his family's house, but only if he agrees to serve your plate at your family's house? Everybody wins!

No, because in that scenario she still does the very thing at his family's house that she doesn't want to do, and the gesture at her family's house would be meaningless because it bucks nothing and she doesn't get to feel like a respected woman at his family's gathering.
posted by cmgonzalez at 6:35 PM on November 6, 2007

This is tough, but valid. If I were you, I suppose I would behave according to my values (within reason, and with humility) and hope he defends me.

After all, he didn't choose his family but he did choose you--surely his ego could handle the backlash from his family. There's a reason he's with you, maybe it's because you're a strong, independent woman, and you wouldn't be you if you allowed yourself to be dominated by someone else's values.

Otherwise, if he continues to be bothered by your unwillingness to "submit" to him as the man, remind him that you're not married Yet, and be wary if he tries to get you to compromise more than you're willing for the sake of his machismo. And no matter what you decide, Seek Couples Counseling.
posted by mynameismandab at 6:44 PM on November 6, 2007

But being married means doing a whole lot of things you probably don't really want to do, but you do them anyway in the interests of the marriage.

The problem here (and in many, many anonymous questions) is that we don't have enough info to give a great answer and the OP is anon and so probably won't respond. If this is just a kooky tradition that has lasted as a weird throwback then it isn't worth going to the mat over. Grit your teeth and do it. If it's part and parcel of an entire misogynistic worldview then going through with it would be putting yourself on a slippery slope.

So only anon has the information to make this decision. OP: talk to your boyfriend. You say you get "hints" about expectations in the future. Is there some reason you guys can't have a heart to heart about his view on gender equality and such? Why are you asking random internet people what they think before talking to your boyfriend about these things?
posted by Justinian at 6:45 PM on November 6, 2007

Family gatherings, like trips to other cultures, should not be about making personal political statements.

But they should be about setting precedent for how you would like your partner and your family to treat one another.
posted by Miko at 6:58 PM on November 6, 2007 [4 favorites]

D'oh! I read this as a kooky, one-night-of-the-year family tradition, and not as precedent for anything. I completely missed the bit about all the women in his family doing this all the time.

Still, if it hasn't extended to the OP's relationship yet in three years to date, and assuming that she spends so incredibly little time with the extended family as to apparently *never* have dined with them in all that time, there's no great reason to assume that it's a slippery slope thing.

Out of laziness, I'm gonna paste part of what I wrote in a mefi mail earlier about this thread:

on reflection, i wouldn't be very interested in dating anybody who would take a patriarchal tradition like that lying down, but nor would i be interested in somebody who made a great song & dance about it. "this could be a slippery slope to..." oh, puhleaze!

the ability to recognise something for what it is, then shrug one's shoulders & ignore it as pretty much irrelevant, is a wonderful talent, imho. as opposed to the crusader mentality, which is almost always a pain in the ass, in any situation.

"hey, check this out! i'm serving you like the lowly woman i am! *wink*" is about the most that the thanksgiving thingy should elicit from any mature person.

posted by UbuRoivas at 7:36 PM on November 6, 2007

“No, your in-laws' house is NOT the place for you to make a statement, no matter how right-headed it might seem, feel, or even be. You really do not have the 'seniority' necessary to do that without looking haughty yourself. Refusing in that setting would just be grandstanding, and that won't help anyone, including you.”

Oh, bull. It's an offensive tradition to her and she's right to be offended. You're never under an obligation to participate in your own oppression. If it's better not to make a scene, then they ought to find an excuse not to attend.

And one never has to “make a scene” when one refuses to acquiesce to an offensive cultural/familial tradition. Just quietly refuse to conform to it. If someone tries to make a big deal about it, gently and non-confrontationally shrug it off. People underestimate the practicality of quietly going one's own way—if you aren't confrontational and don't make what you're doing into a “statement”, usually people will just quietly ignore that you're not going with the flow.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 8:07 PM on November 6, 2007 [6 favorites]

Well, when you are in a relationship, ending it is a very difficult thing do, very painful. On the other hand, telling someone you don't know to dump someone else you don't know is almost cost free.

But, and I'm a guy, but if I was a woman in your position I would dump the guy immediately. I'd advise my friends to dump the guy, or at least stand firm. If you want, you can put your foot down and refuse to do it and see how he responds. If he's OK with it, then OK. If he's not, then dump his ass.

It's just that I've know girls who have dated jerks and it's somewhat of a sore issue with me. rrr.
posted by delmoi at 8:15 PM on November 6, 2007

One should not marry someone who asks you to serve them.

One should marry someone who will serve you in all things, and who you will serve in all things, with your whole heart, gladly. And you both should ignore what anyone else thinks or says about your mutual, loving service.

It's not all that complicated, people.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:29 PM on November 6, 2007 [5 favorites]

And to be explicit, I'm being deliberately gender-neutral, there.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:29 PM on November 6, 2007

If you don't want to do it, don't go. If you go and refuse, you're creating unneeded difficulty for yourself and him.

Whenever I'm invited to someone else's house for dinner, I always offer to help in some way. Given my cooking skills, few take me up on that offer. But I at least clear the table.
posted by spaltavian at 9:14 PM on November 6, 2007

I think most of the responses here are taking a far too limited view of the situation. This isn't one dinner, or even one special dinner - this is possibly (or probably) the beginning of many years' worth of special holiday dinners. And it is the first dinner - that's significant.

I would have a talk with your BF now, BEFORE Thanksgiving. Assuage his anxieties - which are probably extreme - about how things are likely to go on this particular occasion. Let him know that you'll go along with the way they do things THIS time. But make it clear that this is a one-time "I'm being polite to your family and supportive of you on our first visit to your family" is just that - a one-time deal.

I would also take the opportunity to make sure he knows how you want to run your house with him both now and in the future, and that you expect him (once you've presumably been accepted in the family) to have this discussion with his family, and try to sort it out for next time.

Also - not a bad idea to HOST the dinner next time, cause while it's in your house, your rules should apply. Bottom line - your bf has to work with his family to make this work in the long run - but I think you can safely let him put that discussion off for a little while.

(Point of fact - my mother had this situation when we first started family dinners at her husband's - my step-father's - family's house. I was a teenager then and we all laughed about it on the way home, and everything changed pretty quickly following the first one or two such dinners - and without any big problems)
posted by mikel at 9:38 PM on November 6, 2007

FYI Meta.
posted by dersins at 10:29 PM on November 6, 2007

Seems to me the fundamental difficulty here is a question of choice in action. The OP seems to have indicated that she would have no trouble serving a plate of food to her BF if it was left up to her to decide, but when that decision is usurped and made for her then it is an obligation to rings of traditional gender expectations which have traditionally been that women are servile. So, no, this question isn't the same as comparing it to asking about opening doors, because that is a situational choice not a absolute expectation. And if people can't grasp why she is having difficulty with this ... I really don't know what to say.

I would recommend either
1) The both of you fixing your own plates
2) Offer to fix his plate if he helps with the cooking (I know, unlikely)
3) Not going into the kitchen at all and see what happens.
4) Not going to Thanksgiving at this place
posted by edgeways at 11:25 PM on November 6, 2007

op here

Thank you everyone for your responses! All the opinions here have been very helpful (even if I was secretly hoping for a magical, definitive yes/no answer so I wouldn't have to think about it). We talked this evening and he said he wouldn't want me to do it if I really didn't want to, but it would mean a lot to him... so we've decided that he'll ask me nicely, and I will happily serve him, on the condition that, come dinner at my family's house, he'll be in the kitchen getting his hands dirty. I really think this is more about him needing his parent's approval and wanting them to sign off on our relationship instead of dismissing me as some crazy gringa.

I know the cultural differences are going to be hard to manage sometimes (and thanks for the book suggestion upthread!). In our day to day interactions, he's never made me feel as if I should be subservient to him... the things that caused me worry--like expecting me to cook dinner-- were from jokey, silly conversations between us, but I always thought there might be some hidden truth in there for him. I suspect he does have some unexamined, misogynistic ideas he was raised with, but we do plan on seeing a relationship counselor for a while before moving in, and I'm pretty sure we'll be able to work through things.
posted by kerfuffled at 12:02 AM on November 7, 2007

good to hear. i have a strange preconception that, come the day, it will actually be a hoot, and you'll have a blast connecting with your female quasi-relatives :)
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:54 AM on November 7, 2007

If his family is your potential in-laws, you should compromise visibly but very politely in their household. That's very important. I think, since you are worried about a step-by-step progression into a traditional role that isn't your choice, you want to make a small stand early on and show his family that you and he choose more egalitarian roles-- together. Especially since you are not from their cultural background, you need to be polite, but so do they. Just as you are accepting what they consider normal, they need to accept the same for you. There is a respectful way to do it in their household. If the women do the cooking and the washing up after the meal, you might make a plan where he asks you to fix his plate, you make the plate, then when it's time to do dishes, you volunteer and ask him to help, and you both wash them.

And be absolutely resolute that the shooing away by his female relatives who say, "no, cleaning up is our work, go talk to your dad/brother/whoever, it's a holiday," will be politely but firmly ignored by him. If he caves, the mission fails. It is equally important that he refuse to play the role of the man who expects his partner to take on roles she doesn't want. He is an adult and he needs to recognize that your treatment as his equal is more important than what his family thinks about whether or not you make his plate. And you can challenge their expectations very politely. I suspect it will be hard, especially for him since he's concerned with what they think of him, so you and he need to have a plan beforehand. He knows his family best-- he is a good accomplice in this. He knows what reasoning will work.

"No, Mrs. MomofBoyfriend, please let us wash the dishes! Boyfriend and I like to wash them together! No, we really do insist, you cooked all this, it's the least we can do!"

"Really Mom, you deserve a break! I know all that cooking is hard work. We'll do the dishes!"

I really do think a compromise that his family doesn't see isn't a real change, and his concern with how your relationship looks is what concerns me most.
posted by Tehanu at 3:52 AM on November 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

OP, I'm very glad to hear your update. It sounds like things will be mostly fine, and that he's willing to work on the parts that aren't. It's nice to have a SO that will admit to his faults and work on them. Good luck!
posted by boomchicka at 6:31 AM on November 7, 2007

Thanks for your comment, kerfuffled. I feel better about your situation now. The fact that you both want to do the counseling is a great sign.
posted by languagehat at 7:51 AM on November 7, 2007

Maybe you can switch off: you lovingly serve him at one meal and he lovingly serves you at the next. Or you serve his first helping and then he serves your "seconds." That way you're honoring the original tradition, with which there would after all be nothing wrong if it applied to both genders equally: one lovingly serves one's dearest at table--it's nice!

It might go over relatively well with his family if you go first. That way you sortof gently segue into the new, hip way by showing it's based on the old way, it's just been slightly revised and brightened up for the current millennium.

Maybe that way they'll think, "What the- ! Fifteen minutes ago she got him his plate as is right and proper but he just now got up and went to the kitchen to get her some mashed potatoes and he handed her the plate and kissed her on the cheek! These whacky kids, always innovating! Aw, look how in love they are." Whereas if you just toe the line they will think, "Thank God our boy found the one woman in this country who knows her place; we will put her to work in the scullery first chance we get." And further whereas if you do it straight up 21st century, they're all going to think, "Our dear son has burdened himself with a hard, mean, unloving person who will abuse him and turn him against us."
posted by Don Pepino at 9:27 AM on November 7, 2007

What does macho mean, really, anyway? To me it says the man sees himself as superior because of his maleness.

Glad to hear from the OP, good luck!
posted by agregoli at 10:38 AM on November 7, 2007

Mod note: few comments removed - the fact that this is in MetaTalk means that if you're doing anything but responding to the OP, you should be heading over there.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 12:48 PM on November 7, 2007

kerfluffled, my wife is Cuban, and my family and I are classic Northern European folks who think nothing of flying across the country over the holidays to sit in a room together reading quietly (I only know this because my wife wanted to know if we were mad at each other the first time she spent Christmas with my parents).

While no tradition such as the one you cite dominates my Cuban relations' holiday get-togethers, a Latin emphasis on showing respect (or wittily showing disrespect as need be) is a fundamental family dynamic behind the gatherings' hubbub. Your BF is testing the waters to see if you like his family and can enjoy them as they are, and vice versa. Give the plate thing a try and if you hate it, let him know, afterward.

In my case, I couldn't be happier than having added my wife's family to the one I grew up with - they have made my life richer in countless ways and I love them dearly, even if I don't agree with all their political opinions or family customs (everyone talking at once is one I'll never adjust to, but it is what it is).
posted by mwhybark at 1:53 PM on November 7, 2007

Speaking as a man who once had reason to believe he was intentionally poisoned, no way I'd ever again allow someone who I even imagined might have reason to resent me to prepare food for me, out of my sight. I wouldn't make an issue of it, but I'd be sure to get my own plate in a buffet style service, if I was the OP's SO, and discovered in advance that the OP might resent being included in such a family ritual.

Whatever explanations such behavior might call for, I'd let her field, as she would. Come hell or high water, I wouldn't comment to anyone about why I was in the chow line, myself, or enter into any discussion about it, either. In the hundreds of buffet style social dinners where I've gotten my own plate, and only my own plate, and not said a word about it, I've only been questioned persistently, to the point of having to provide a verbal explanation for my behavior once or twice. To which I replied with something along the lines of "I'm picky." or something equally non-committal.
posted by paulsc at 6:15 PM on November 7, 2007

The obvious solution is to go vegetarian and avoid turkey.

On a personal note, my wife's family are quite traditional USian mid-westerners of non-Latino central European descent. A large part of their social ritual seems to consist of the women preparing and serving the men food. This does not seem confined to their family and I have noticed it in others of that culture when I have visited them. Attempting to usurp the social order and prepare/serve myself is met at best with disdain and opprobrium, and at worst with derision. It's quite a strongly normative ritual. I dislike it but I usually take the path of least resistance in the interest of sociality. Then again, I am getting fed first so that's a strong allure. Were I being fed last, I'd probably kick up a fuss.
posted by meehawl at 6:16 PM on November 7, 2007

I might have missed someone else pointing this out, so sorry if so ...

The fact is, you have been with him for quite a while -- You are attracted to this deeply ingrained aspect of his personality and culture. He may not have had the playing field (ie, family dinner) to roll it out previously but it's been there all along and on some level, it's been known to you.

Also, 3 years? Thanksgiving? Trying to show his family you'd fit in? He's evaluating a future with you.
posted by thinkpiece at 6:11 AM on November 8, 2007

I just wanna know when notsnot is going to start serving me, then!

If he's really considering a future with her, he should be worried about how the family treats her instead of the other way around.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 8:32 AM on November 8, 2007

You're not likely to change his family's cultural ideas, but you could suggest a compromise. For example, you would choose another holiday that you spend with your family or both of your friends and insist that while you sit at the table, he has to fix a plate of food for you, or whatever you find equivalent to your experience at his house. Then you and he would be able to to explain to your friends or your family that you are expected to do this at his house over the holidays and that he must do this for you in a similar situation. If you suggest this to him, hopefully he sees how ridiculous his expectations are and that he would be embarrassed to say in front of your family or your friends what he expects from you.

This obviously has to be done with some tact. I'm not suggesting that you intend to humiliate him, only to show him that his expectation of you is unreasonable.
posted by battlecj at 2:48 PM on November 8, 2007

Somethings have nothing to do with you and everything to do with someone else. This is one of those things. It isn't misogynistic, to him it is the way things are done. The first time you meet with his family on Thanksgiving isn't the time to work this out. Don't give up on dealing with what is bothering you, just give it a break unitl past the holidays.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:08 PM on November 8, 2007

Whaaa? They've been together three years and this is the first real solid inkling she has that he may be grooming her to fit in with a family whose traditions are anathema and you want her to give it a break? Naw. Something must be done. Strike now while the plates are hot!

Of course I like my solution better (for it is excellent in every way) but battlecj's works, too, as long as the two experiences are really equivalent: equal and balanced suffering on both sides. (See, mine's better because, at least to me, it sounds more like everyone would have fun than that everyone would suffer.)

Anything where the compromise is mostly on her side is risky. As trivial as this dilemma sounds to so many people, it's obviously not trivial--not to the OP and not to the hoards commenting day after day here and in the other thread. So it's crucial that the solution should feel fair. I think the making ammends at her house plan is going to feel less than fair, just because at his house it's Tradition borne of centuries yadda and at her house it's going to be some cobbled together consolation prizey stunt. (To put it in a totally neutral way...) Does anyone at her house in particular care whether he does some dishes or no? Is anything riding on his behavior? Will everyone be looking at him and making mental notes? It's not the same at all. And if it feels like a cop out then she's liable to resent it. Resentment is dangerous to relationships. That's more the problem than that she's going to end up in a burka. I'm with everybody who's relieved they're going to counseling, but they could easily get a counselor who doesn't "get it" any more than 1/2 the people commenting.

Lookit here, OP, if you don't like it then don't you do it, no matter what anybody says. Because if you don't like it and you do it anyway, somewhere down the line you'll both pay for it.
posted by Don Pepino at 10:49 AM on November 9, 2007

My mother engendered the ire of my dad's mother because she was honest about her plans to continue her career after marriage and she kept her own name. The two of them had a very bitter relationship. I will always admire my mom for standing her ground and being herself, even though it didn't make for smooth family gatherings.

If it were me, I would never go along with this. It's not a big thing, but it symbolizes something big - women being in servitude to men.
posted by mai at 7:22 PM on November 11, 2007

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