It’s a familiar scene: female relatives bustling in the kitchen while everyone else sits enjoying the holiday. This picture is so normal we tend not to notice its gender bias.
Under the umbrella of domestic labour, creating holiday magic often falls to women by default.
Rather than let their families down, women will overwork themselves. Although many women enjoy their roles as magic makers, they deserve to be recognized for their effort.
Of course, some of this over-burdening is self-inflicted. No matter how overwhelmed they are, women may have a hard time accepting help if they’ve been socialized to feel responsible for others’ comfort and enjoyment.
Fear of disappointing family members puts pressure on women to conserve traditions and deliver a perfect holiday season. Women still have a perceived responsibility to connect the extended family, even when they’re also breadwinners.
Men may feel increased financial pressure around the holidays for the same gender-stereotypical reasons that put pressure on women to create the perfect holiday. However, the days of the housewife-breadwinner dynamic are mostly gone, and many women in Canada earn as much or more than their partners yet still do most of the magic-making.
Many of the skills necessary to create holiday magic are perceived as feminine and therefore fewer men take the time to learn them. Their concern that their male partners would struggle to pick up the slack if women didn’t do most of the baking, cooking, and decorating might be valid.
It’s true no one forces women to take on so much, but there’s a concern nobody else will make the effort if they don’t. For a lot of people, holiday magic is important, and expectations are high.
Maybe it would take a year off for us to see the value of this invisible labour, since it’s only when the magic is absent that we really appreciate its value.
Being ignorant of the less-than-magical part of holiday magic is a privilege often reserved for men and young children. It can seem like presents just appear under the tree and all we have to do is show up and enjoy them.
The burden is even greater on low-income women with limited resources, but when you have children whose wonder you want to protect, getting creative is the only option.
The realization that women are burning themselves out with holiday tasks is an opportunity to re-evaluate our approach to celebrating. We could ease the pressure by striving to consume less and prioritizing spending time together.
Still, even the most modest of celebrations require hard work.
Of course, this domestic labour gap isn’t new or specific to the holiday season. It reflects a general pattern of unequal distribution of household tasks that sees women take on more—even when they earn higher salaries than their male counterparts.
It can be easy to dismiss the work that goes into the holidays—sometimes called ‘kinkeeping’—as frivolous. But coordinating schedules, constant cooking, dressing the kids, and shopping for everyone—sometimes on behalf of others—is no joke.
Closing the holiday gender gap starts with respecting and acknowledging the invisible labour that makes the holidays special. No one should be solely responsible for making the holidays magical for everyone else. We need to share the load.
—Journal Editorial Board
Christmas, gender gap, Holidays, household, Labour, women
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