As Sean Braswell recently pointed out at Quartz, combatting sexism during the holidays is no easy feat. It's no easy feat any time of year, but Thanksgiving and the winter holidays are a hotbed for gender roles, with the assumption being that women will slave away in the kitchen while men drink or watch football. As nostalgia for white Christmases and cold days spent around fires with family blasts from our radio speakers, we also appear to become nostalgic for 1950s homes, temporarily erasing the progress recently made in balancing out household divisions of labor.
Due to my age, the expectation for women to assume the role of homemaker during the holidays has not been placed on me personally, but I certainly have observed female relatives take on disproportionate amounts of work in this domain. Looking back, I can see how I could have been a bigger help and how others might as well if they want to combat holiday sexism.
It's not just about division of labor, though. The holidays also present opportunities to buy gendered products, body-shame people, and ask relatives (especially women) nosey questions about their lives. So, here's a guide on how to avoid this particular brand of sexism and shut it down if given the opportunity.
1. Offer To Help With Whatever Preparations Are Needed
Since cooking and other holiday preparations often fall on women, offer to help your mom, aunt, grandma, or whoever is in charge cut the vegetables or peel the potatoes. Even if the head chef is not a woman, it's still nice to keep them company in the kitchen and ensure that the entire day's responsibilities do not fall on them. Or, if there's help needed elsewhere — whether it's setting up the tree to picking up relatives from the airport — lend a hand. Help will always be appreciated, no matter where it's coming from or what it's for.
2. Tell People What to Bring To Your Party
If you're the one in charge of this year's get-together, try to spread out the division of labor by telling your guests to each bring something, regardless of their gender. You'll not only save yourself work but also prevent a gender imbalance in who brings what, since, in my experience, it's usually women who arrive at the door with fresh-baked cookies in hand. Your guy friend could have a lot of fun icing snowflake cookies, too — and so could anyone else, for that matter.
3. Join The Celebration
If you're the host, you may also need to stand up for your right to take a break from cooking and planning and putting up decorations to join in the game everyone's playing or the movie everyone's watching. It's OK if that means asking someone else to monitor the oven for a bit.
4. Make Household Chores Into Group Activities
Putting ornaments on a tree, hanging up decorations, and baking cookies can actually be fun for a lot of people. To save yourself work and bring people together, why not make them into activities that everyone can enjoy?
5. Buy Gender-Neutral Gifts
If you're shopping for kids and want to avoid contributing to their socialization into gender roles, there are plenty of gender-neutral toys and clothes out there. If you're shopping for adults you don't know well, books could make suitable gifts. Of course, there's nothing wrong with getting someone a gendered item if it's on their wish list, but if in doubt, it's best not to make assumptions about what interests others based on their gender.
6. Discuss Topics Unrelated To Appearance
When you see your relatives for the first time in a while, don't greet them with an appearance-based compliment; instead, ask about what they've been up to and what's been on your minds. Women hear enough about their appearance daily anyway, and everyone will benefit from the focus being on what everyone has been doing, rather than what they do or don't look like.
7. Avoid Asking Women If They're Dating Anyone/Getting Married/Having Kids Yet
Although men might also be asked questions like this, women tend to bear the brunt of it; because it's still considered a failure for a woman to not get married or have children by a certain age, nosey relatives often direct all their "Are you meeting any nice boys?" or (more subtly) "Are there any men in your spinning class?" or "Do you think he'll put a ring on it?" or "When do you plan on having kids?" questions at women. These questions encourage women to view themselves as failures if their lives are lacking these supposed requirements, but they shouldn't. They can be parts of our lives if we want them to, but they don't have to be if we don't want them to.
8. Make Body-Positive New Year's Resolutions
If you're not feeling good about your body, resolve to practice body positivity by reciting affirmations to yourself, treating yourself to baths, movie nights, or whatever makes you happy, and doing what makes you feel both good and healthy — whatever that may be. You're the one who gets to decide — no one else.