The burden of upholding Christmas traditions falls to women, even in 2020. At least, this is according to a SAGE report. The document outlines the insights into celebrating holidays including Halloween, Bonfire Night, and Christmas during covid-19.
Speaking about women at Christmas, the report said: “Women carry the burden of creating and maintaining family traditions and activities at Christmas.” It further stated: “Messaging should be supportive of women adapting traditions.”
There is the implication that adapting Christmas to a covid-19 world will also be the responsibility of women this year.
Are women really the driving force behind Christmas?
Westminster World spoke to members of the public to see how roles are divided or shared during Christmas. Whether women are the ones who take on the burden of Christmas traditions varies from households.
For many of the people we spoke to, gender roles were clearly defined when they were growing up. Annette, female, shared her experience during her childhood: ‘’My mum definitely did everything during Christmas, my dad probably just played the financial role.’’
Dean, male, told us: ‘’All the women (would) have been cooking during the day. All the men (would) go to the pub and come back at 3.’’
Some men we spoke to felt comfortable with just doing less and allowing the women to take on the role as the ‘homemakers’. This is the case for Farayi, male, who said: ‘’If she asks for help, I will do it, but I am not initiating anything.’’
For parents, creating the magic of Father Christmas is also a big part of the holiday. Yoga, male, shared: “In the middle of the night, I come down, take a nibble from the carrot and eat half the mince pies.’’ Fathers taking on this role is not really a surprise, after all Father Christmas is depicted as male.
Though the fictional Santa’s workshop is run by a man, when it comes to real life present buying it seems to be a joint effort. Lydia, female, voiced: “Presents wise, I think it is quite split, I tend to buy for my side of my family, and he will do his.’’
So, what about households that don’t have a female presence? Families are no longer just mother, father, children. There are many households with just men, either single fathers or same sex male partners.
Matt, male, voiced: ‘’I do the clothes washing, and mostly the rest of the cleaning and Dean does most of the cooking.’’ For this couple, the household work is shared throughout the year and during Christmas they play to their strengths.
For Joel and Harry, the responsibilities of Christmas are split. Joel shared: ‘’We do all the decorating together, so if we have to get any joint gifts for our friends and families, we do that together most of the time.’’
Where do gender roles come from?
Gender is believed to be a social construct depending on what sex you are. Dr Nigel Edley, Senior Lecturer in Social Psychology at Nottingham Trent University told Westminster World: “Some theorists believe that sex is more ‘real’ or concrete whereas gender is based on sex, others see ‘sex’ as just a sub-component of gender.”
Gender roles are thought to depend on our cultural environment. “That is, our bodies are, in part, shaped by culture and that male and female bodies, in turn, serve to inform culture.” He added.
Christmas is a very traditional time of year so do we refer back to ‘traditional’ gender roles? And if so, what are the stereotypical female roles in the household?
Dr. Nigel Edley told us: “I’d say that, insofar as the burden of shopping, cooking, and cleaning generally falls on women’s shoulders, then it is likely to do so at Christmas time too.”
The prospect of Christmas is thought to gravitate women back to the kitchen and to ensure they implement a festive environment for the rest of the family.
Sally Howard, author of The Home Stretch: Why It’s Time To Come Clean About Who Does the Dishes said: “Since the Victorian age, and its domestic cult, British women have been conceptually positioned as the ‘angels of the house’.”
As well as the cooking and cleaning, the burden of labour falls to the female of the household, who is thought to do the Christmas shopping as well.
What do gender roles look like now?
Upholding this traditionalist view at Christmas is dangerous to apply to every household universally.
A statement in The Stylist summarised that men are more likely to do Christmas shopping if they have egalitarian views on gender roles.
Dr Matt Connell, Senior Lecturer in the School of Arts and Humanities, also at Nottingham Trent University, told Westminster World: “Nowadays that is subject to a lot of change and criticism and a whole host of new patterns and roles will/do emerge.”
Dr Matt Connell told us in his household, he takes the lead role in the Christmas dinner, but his wife is the main mover when it comes to sorting out the present buying.
He added: “Well, in theory we do, but I am the main ‘breadwinner’ and sometimes that means my wife does end up doing more cleaning work. So, despite my wife’s feminism, and my ‘pro-feminism’, what we often find is that the power of dominant economic and cultural tradition is not actually that easy to change.”
There is a gradual change in gender roles as we move into modern times. A new family structure is emerging as well which may break away from these traditions. Especially for Dean and Matt, who we spoke to earlier, who implement a 50/50 divide for the Christmas housework.
This year has certainly forced us to look at the status quo and gender roles are no exception. It’s clear that there is some truth behind the notion that women take on the burden at Christmas. But in a year where we have been encouraged to support our community, perhaps we can start to really change this.