Something Crazy Happens to Women At Christmastime

Yesterday, my dad did his requisite one day of Christmas shopping with my mom. When they returned, they had ample shopping bags...and a four-foot tall table made out of a tree stump. This seems to have been my dad's reward for enduring the day-long shopping trip, and it made me laugh. It also nicely illustrates the expectations placed on men versus women at Christmastime.

In a week or so, exhausted women across America will be damn glad this holiday season is over. Because while men get to pick and choose the holiday festivities and traditions they partake in, women face much more stringent expectations come Christmastime. Shopping, baking, sending out Christmas cards, wrapping presents (nicely), remembering gifts for distant relatives — the bulk of these holiday tasks fall on women, especially in married couples.

Unsurprisingly, a survey from the American Psychological Association found more women than men feel stressed at Christmas. The “'second shift' of housework and child care ... is alive and well in the 21st century," writes author Brigid Schulte in the Washington Post . "And holidays such as Christmas send that unequal division of labor into overdrive, creating a 'third shift.'"

Sure, nobody's forcing women to bake nine different kinds of cookies and hand-roll 300 chocolate truffles like the women Schulte describes. But the social pressure on women to do these kinds of things is greater, both in real life in the media. For instance, no man I know of has ever gotten invited to a Christmas cookie exchange.

Even for couples committed to smashing traditional gender roles, Christmastime can be a trap because of societal meddling. Schulte advises women and couples to really think about which traditions are meaningful, which can be skipped, and who does what. For women, that might involve getting comfortable with letting some things go. You can't force the world to want men to make exquisite gingerbread men, but you can refuse to believe it's something you need to care about, either.