It is now a known fact that women around the world already have a heavy burden to carry throughout the year in terms of unpaid labor. Despite the ostensible feminist gains of the last century, most women are still solely in charge of the housekeeping, childrearing and carer duties for the elderly, apart from their own jobs and careers, if they manage to have them.
December puts an even heavier burden on women. Not only will many of us still care for children and the house while working full-time jobs - we will also be in charge of most of the work related to the end of the year celebrations. Depending on the family’s arrangements, a woman might be taking care of sending Christmas cards, buying presents (and wrapping them, labeling them, ensuring they stay hidden), inviting relatives for dinner, decorating their homes, choosing the menu, organizing the house for the arrival of relatives who come to stay for a few days. And, sometimes, not only for their own homes. If they work at a company, they might be tasked with throwing the company’s end of the year party. Or the celebrations at their kids’ school.
The extra work, of course, comes on top of all the other activities women are tasked with anyway. A woman might be making a Christmas and New Year’s shopping list while she is helping her child with homework, or she could be organizing the company’s end of the year party while she is finishing the end of the month report. A woman could be making notes for her children’s school end of the year party - arranging costumes and thinking of a dish for her child to take to school, buying presents for her children to give as a Secret Santa to a classmate, while grocery shopping and buying extra stationery for their kid’s science school project.
Women could also be doing all of this - especially the party organizing at home - while on a budget. Women already earn less than men throughout the world, and every year, around November, experts calculate the day in which women work for free until the end of the year because of unequal pay. In 2022, it was November 20.
All of that, or course, with also having to be preoccupied with our looks. A woman might host a party, or attend one, and she has to look the part. Never mind how tired and overwhelmed she might feel. She must look as if none of the extra work actually exists. Only she knows all the effort that she has put into making the celebrations sparkly, spotless, fun and unforgettable. The word unforgettable holds special irony, since many women feel that they are not allowed to forget this work.
We asked three women who align with radical feminism to tell 4W how they experience the holidays.
“It has been the tradition of women to do this for so long, no one even sees the imbalance in it,” says Stella, a former British IT analyst. She told 4W that most of the holiday work in her household lands on her.
“I have to do all the wrapping and buying of everyone's Christmas gifts, put the trees up, and do the internal decorations, while my husband just gets to put the outside lights up. I help the kids write their letters to Santa, send them with them, organize all school activities, ensure kids have class lists for friends xmas cards, get them to write and send them. By the end of Christmas, I'm usually dead on my feet and an emotional wreck.”
For women with young children, the added workload feels like it rises tenfold, according to stay at home mother Danica Adams. “In our household, most of the organizing falls to me. Make sure my daughters have their outfits for things like nativity play, Christmas jumper day, Christmas day itself etc. I plan any visits to Santa’s grotto or similar outings.” According to her, even though her partner does share some of the load on the actual day, Danica says that she still works more than anyone else.
“I have to budget for, choose, buy and wrap all of the gifts for our children and all our family members… The Christmas cards - buying, writing, posting is all down to me. If we host extended family he thankfully does most of the cooking but I have to do the Christmas shop and make sure we have all the food and alcohol in, then I become the house servant and definitely spend more time running around after everyone, hosting and tidying than he does cooking - he sees it as his one job then as far as he’s concerned he’s done and is free to relax.”
Apart from all the actual physical work that women are unofficially tasked with, there is also another side to the extra emotional labor during the holidays: kin-keeping. The term refers to keeping the family, or co-workers, together - in this case, for the sake of the celebrations. In kin-keeping, women are expected to host a party and keep everybody happy, while handling complex emotions among the party goers. Expected to reach out to relatives to gather all under one roof and form memories for their kids.
Nay Macedo, a Brazilian therapist, agrees with Stella. She told 4W that even if a woman manages to outsource several tasks for the celebrations, there is the emotional burden of the planning, the kin-keeping, the maintenance of the emotional sphere of everybody else, which can be “even greater than the practical tasks themselves, which are plenty already.”
In politically divided households, the options for many of the women who spoke to 4W seem grim. It’s either simply to desist from organizing a gathering altogether, in order to avoid socializing with relatives who are not on speaking terms, or managing the conflict the best they can. For the women who opt for celebrating, despite the conflicts, many times for the sake of their children, they feel that it’s all up to them to manage other people’s emotions. “We walk on eggshells because we don't want to upset anyone at Christmas,” said Stella.
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