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"It's Not Polite to Talk About Politics"

By January 17, 2008

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In all my years of jawing about local, regional, and national politics, I have yet to hear a man utter the above sentence. But I've heard plenty of women say these words and stop a conversation dead in its tracks.

  • It's been jokingly introduced at cocktail parties to prevent a heated conversation from turning into a shouting match.

  • It's been firmly proclaimed at tense holiday dinners when adult siblings who've grown politically apart start going at each other.

  • It's been loudly announced in a nasal 'Sunday School teacher voice' at girls night out when one woman tries to get serious and the rest just want to drink wine and have a few laughs.

  • Worst of all, it's been stated as fact by the mothers, grandmothers, aunts, and other female relatives who had a hand in raising us.
"It's not polite to talk about politics" is a variant of "Never discuss religion or politics," and what's left unsaid in both statements is the implication that if you choose to make your opinions known, you're rude, crude, boorish, overbearing, ill-bred, inconsiderate, and quite possibly a bitch.

What's wrong with wanting to know what other people think? What's wrong with discussing issues more substantive than the weather or the price of gas? Why must women maintain harmony and goodwill at the expense of their own political education and edification?

The reasons why we shouldn't talk about politics pale in comparison to the good that arises from women discussing politics.

It makes us more engaged citizens, better role models for future generations of women, and more self-actualized.

By talking politics, we express ownership of our opinions and we acknowledge their worth by sharing them.

We validate who we are and what we believe.

Would you really give all of that up for the sake of politeness?

Related Article: Politics in the Social Mix: Women Discussing Politics - Why Some Don't and Why We All Should


September 2, 2008 at 11:50 am
(1) Cindy says:

It’s not polite. There is a time and place and when people bring up issues like politics into a family gathering or any other group setting it can really be a downer. Not saying politics is all negative, but it tends to get people ticked at some point. Bottom line, there is a time and place for it just like everything. Some people just have poor judgement when it comes to bringing up certain things, and I tend to associate that with poor social skills. The end.

October 7, 2008 at 10:26 am
(2) Mara says:

“…the implication that if you choose to make your opinions known, you’re rude, crude, boorish, overbearing, ill-bred, inconsiderate, and quite possibly a bitch.”

Rediculous! The adage has nothing to do with making your opinions known. One doesn’t discuss religion and politics at social gatherings because for many of us, these are deeply felt, emotional topics and it’s very likely that our differences of opinion will end up causing anger, resentment, and arguments. It’s called “politeness” and even though it’s sadly lacking in many of today’s self-centered, arrogant, egotists…manners are what enables diverse groups to comingle and live together in a (relatively) peaceful society.

As “Cindy” says, there is a time and place for all things and out of simple respect for ones host/ess, you do NOT ruin the party by insulting or baiting the other guests. You adjourn to a coffee shop, or a bar, or some other venue and argue to your hearts content.

December 18, 2009 at 2:30 pm
(3) Jackie says:

Amen. I can defend my opinions and debate the rights and wrongs of a political topic when it’s the proper time, but this is trying to push women into a male model. Men may feel the need to defend their ground at the drop of a hat, and many become insulting or condescending. I believe that many women understand the need for diplomacy — keeping the peace with friends and family. So sometimes diplomacy means changing the topic or avoiding the discussion altogether. Especially in today’s political climate.

August 11, 2010 at 3:44 pm
(4) Kristine says:

I hear men say it as often as women. The phrase is said everywhere, there is no appropriate venue for the discussion of politics. Its just a way to get people to stop thinking about it so politicians can run the show with little to no argument. Its too bad its not as socially acceptable as it was before television. If someone would rather talk about entertainment over politics, I usually consider them a sheep.
I have decided to forget the social rules because, I want to talk about this stuff. Also, social etiquette is such bs anyway, it holds women down! I like to say my peace, if my discussion partner finds me offensive and walks away, that makes it all the easier for me to discern who I want to be around. They call that “keeping it real” right? :P Linda, thanks for your article.

October 24, 2011 at 1:14 am
(5) Barbra Zambrano says:

So my question is when is the right time to talk about politics and religion? because every time you meet with someone is a social gathering, unless you meet at work which is also considered a rude place to talk about politics and religion. I agree with Linda that is a phrase that has been introduce with a purpose to stop people for communicating and or understanding other sides or point of views. Avoiding to talk about politics and religion which is all around us is avoiding to talk about our history the history that we are creating. And maybe if we would talk a little bit more about the things that affect us directly like politics maybe we would not be making the same mistakes over and over. Maybe if we would be involved a little bit more we would not be in the freaking ditch were we are in. So please start TALKING about politics and religion anywhere you can. I am tired of this phrase too because every time I want to say something about politics I have the same reaction from people. I am actually creating a dance piece called three monkeys base on this phrase because how are we supposed to learn if we don’t see, listen or talk with people that think different from us. OHHH!! it is easy to agree with people that think like you, but the refusal to see hear or talk about specific problems have us acting like animals all around the world.

October 20, 2012 at 3:41 am
(6) Melinda says:

I feel the author missed the point of the phrase. There is a difference between saying “it’s not for polite conversation” and “it isn’t polite to talk about.” The former indicates there is a time for such debate, the latter implies that there is NEVER a time for such debate. You’ve equated the phrase with the latter, but it is more commonly stated as the former.

“Polite conversation” may be archaic, but it implies that is is a bad idea to drop into heavily divisive topics when:
1. You’re talking to someone you know relatively little, or in some kind of formal context (such as a business colleague).
2. You’re talking to a group of people, who may have hugely disparate opinions or don’t know EACH OTHER very well.
3. You are at an event where the tone is best kept lighthearted, such as over dinner during the holidays, weddings, birthdays, baby showers, what have you. Girls/guys night out can go either way depending on your group of friends — mine happen to like drunken political discussions, but it’s not everyone’s favourite weekend topic.
4. You are at an event or experiencing something where unity and cohesion between the members present is desirable or necessary. Bringing up divisive topics is obviously the antithesis to this. Your holiday dinner example is the perfect example of when it is inappropriate. If the siblings want to go off and have a debate on their own, then that is a-ok. The rest of the family shouldn’t be subjected to Knob1 and Knob2 criticizing each others’ political affiliations over the mashed potatoes.

My own experience was during the reception of my wedding. It almost ended in a fistfight between one of my husband’s uncles and one of my uncles. I shouldn’t have had to be picking up shards of punch-bowl thanks to a drunken debate about government funding of social programs, and its relative effect on the crime rate — despite the fact I would find that conversation hella interesting otherwise. This is what the phrase attempts to preclude.

January 14, 2013 at 12:18 pm
(7) Kelly says:

I think “religion and Politics” like “sex” have their own time and place in this world… if you are in ‘polite company’ for example mixed ages (ie children’s parties or among new invited guests) I personally believe it is not appropriate. If the group consists of ‘consenting adults’ that mutually agree the topic is okay to talk about (ie subject of discussion) then that’s fine. I personally was brought up to not talk about politics or religion, so I do have a problem if someone inadvertently or purposefully introduces those particular subjects of conversation without having a feel of the floor on how the topic will be received by others, or not caring how others will think about it.

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