Thursday, December 22, 2011

What if men ran the holidays?

I'm getting on a flight this evening to head to Tampa, Florida, which is where my parents live. My mom called me yesterday to wish me a happy second night of Hanukkah, to make sure I had my boarding passes ready to go, and, most importantly, to consult me about the menu for Christmas dinner. Side note: my family is Jewish, but my mom loves everything Christmas (minus the Jesus part of it), so our house has both a huge, decked out Christmas tree and a menorah made out of ceramic cats...

Anyway, my mom will be making some sort of delicious hors d'oeuvres, a standing rib roast, roasted potatoes, a vegetable medley, pies, cookies, pumpkin bread, etc. She also decided to have a Christmas day brunch for the family, and she's making what my sister and I call the "Jew Feast" which includes matzah ball soup, potato latkes, brisket, and kugel. She was consulting me about the menu for these meals because she calls me her "co-chef." Now, my parents are still married, and my dad is one of those dads who does all of the handy-work around the house; he is the model Mr. Fix-it. But I'm pretty sure he knows how to cook one thing: spaghetti sauce. In the twenty-five years I've  been alive, I think he's made it twice. So, I'm delegated to helping  my mom cook while my dad fixes a toilet somewhere.

As my mom was talking about all of the food we're going to make and showing me the newly-decorated house via Face-Time, I realized that my mom runs the holidays. She cooks, she cleans, she does all of the gift shopping and wrapping, and she decorates the entire house and Christmas tree. The only things my dad does are get up on a ladder to put some lights on the exterior of the house, strap the Christmas tree on the car, and bring the tree into the house (and these things are at the instruction of my mom). If my mom decided not to cook, clean, decorate, shop, and wrap, we wouldn't celebrate the holidays. I suspect this isn't something that holds true in only my household.

Women have historically and traditionally been relegated to domestic labor and childcare while men work outside of the home and provide financially for the family. Over the past few decades, women have increasingly entered the outside labor market, yet still bear the brunt of household chores and childcare, resulting in the "second shift:" women come home from their job only to go to work as a mother and, essentially, a maid.

Is this part of the reason why it's the women who "put on" the holidays? They cook, they clean, they shop, they wrap. Is it that women feel more comfortable than taking time off from their day jobs to act accordingly with their traditional gender roles?

A survey of women conducted in October 2011  found that they consider Christmas, Thanksgiving, New Year's, and Halloween to be the messiest holidays (in that order). These holidays can triple the weekly cleaning time spent by women, adding nearly four hours to the "normal" two hours per week of cleaning that women already do. What I found most interesting about this is that many women claim that cleaning makes them feel good. Not because they actually enjoy they act of cleaning, but because they "feel most judged by how clean their homes are." Domesticity really is that entrenched. That said, two-thirds of women said they'd like assistance with cleaning, while only 11.6% said they'd like help with cooking, and even smaller percentages want help with child care, laundry, ironing, and pet care. However, only one third of women are actually receiving assistance with household tasks. Half receive it from their spouse, and 17% receive it from their children. 

Women also do 56% of the household gift shopping while men do 36%, and while half of women buy gifts for their significant others, one third of men do. Where the male percentage exceeded the female was in buying gifts for themselves: 47% of men compared with 35% of women. 

A recent survey of men revealed that a third of men think that women make too much fuss and stress too much over Christmas. Further, a majority think that they could run Christmas better than women - it would be less stressful, less expensive, and less rushed. If men ran Christmas, this is how it would look:

1.  No Christmas cards. 
2.  Food = take-out.
3.  Get gifts gift-wrapped at the store.
4.  No visiting in-laws.
5.  Put kids to work in the kitchen (rather than them helping out in the kitchen).

I must say, though men pitching in more during the holidays might go a ways toward breaking down the traditional female domestic stereotype, I'd rather eat a standing rib roast and Jew feast than some Chinese take-out. 

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