The Holidays and Gender Roles

Studying Sociology has become a double edged sword for me. Over the holiday season, my sense of gender roles and norms becomes heightened. Most of the time I have to keep my mouth shut and ‘go with the flow’, but sometimes I decide that I want to engage in a conversation that will hopefully lead to a better understanding for everyone concerned. This is how I know that I should probably be a professor, but that is for another post. This post is about how people can be one way in their day to day life and then the holidays come, we meet up with family and friends that we do not see daily and things go back to the way they previously were.

I am sure that everyone out there has a story about how the holidays bring out a different side of people. But, what if the side that it brings out is actually the regular, day to day, side and we only experience it at this time of year? When you rarely see an individual, you lose the feel for their personality. In some instances this can be good, but it is a shock to the system when you have to deal with each other for hours at a time. Thinking about this situation can bring up many things. Memories that have been washed of melancholy and are now shiny little examples of what we crave around the holidays. We forget the fighting and the strife and focus on the good. This may be good for the psyche, but in the long run it makes it more difficult to function year to year.

By letting the past stand as a beacon of what the holidays should be, we lose sight of what is real. We try to make everything perfect, to make it match up to our expectations of what can be based on what was. And in this, we fail to see the difficulty that falling back into our previous roles can cause. When gender roles are so tied up in the way that we function, in these situations, it makes things tense. In even the most enlightened family situations sometimes those gender norms sneak up and bite us.

When we interact with different divisions of our family, we may slide backwards when it comes to things we are willing to do to keep the peace. On a normal day, one might be a staunch feminist, but when faced with a holiday, feminism might be put on the back burner. This is a disservice to the holiday season! Better to make it a learning experience. After all, when are you going to get all these people together again? It really is a great platform for dispelling gender norms and for subverting the roles that we often fall into.

So, how do we do this? It may be difficult, but it has to be done. Sometimes there are gender norms already being subverted that you can point out as a starting place. In my family, my mother does the bulk of the planning, my parents go shopping together, my mom cooks the meal and my dad washes the dishes. Although there are still a few gender norms being practiced here, there are also a couple being subverted. 50 years ago (or yesterday, in some places) the mother in this scenario would have done everything listed above, while the dad merely poured drinks and sat in the living room enjoying family and friends. The ladies would have spent the majority of the time in the kitchen; cooking, cleaning and sometimes even eating, away from the family. Yes we have come a long way, but we cannot merely rest on our laurels. We need to continue talking, dispelling, subverting and fighting until there are no gender norms. On the day that we no longer hear the words “that is women’s work” or “this is a mans job” uttered we will finally be equal and free of the constraints that come with being cast in a mold of social and cultural making.

Until next time, good luck in your fight, fellow feminists! We can go further together than we ever could alone so keep it up!

Peace and happy subverting,

Chantale aka hippiegrrl

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