With Christmas and New Year’s fast approaching (and Thanksgiving and Hanukkah just passed), the time is right for a conversation I’ve been meaning to have for a long time. Because, although we love you — be you our boyfriends, husbands, fathers, sons, or otherwise — there is a phenomenon that seems to occur every year in every heteronormative relationship, or familial bond. The woman, usually in addition to her own, very demanding job, finds herself taking on a good 95 percent of all things holiday-organization-related. She makes the lists of all the gifts that need to be bought or made, and who they are going to. She makes the grocery lists and picks them up, taking time to fondle pears and debate with butchers to make sure she gets the best of everything. She buys tickets and finds the best routes, sending reminders to those concerned about when everyone needs to have their suitcases ready. She makes a trip to the post office to make sure the extended friends and family will receive their gifts on time.
She plans and plots, to make sure that the holidays go off without a hitch. And though the man may find himself doing one or two things that bring him joy on the holiday season (say, making his famous cocktail for when people come over, or breaking out his most corny seasonal sweater to make everyone laugh), most of what he’ll accomplish comes from a sustained period of reminders that verge on nagging. Whether it’s getting on a ladder to install lights, or picking up a few things at the liquor store that are absolutely essential, or remembering to take something out of the oven that has already been entirely made from scratch, the general routine ends up being “nag-nag-nag… activity completed.”
And this isn’t to say that they don’t enjoy the holiday season. Oh, men enjoy it. In fact, many will even be inclined to shower the women who made it all possible with praise and kisses (and gifts!) to show how appreciative they are. But at the end of the day, they are able to just kind of sit back and enjoy the holidays, for the most part. The things that happen — from the delicious food, to the well-wrapped gifts for extended family members, to intricate travel plans — just sort of seem to magically produce themselves. They are able to view the holidays as a time of, for the most part, family and enjoyment, because women have taken it upon themselves to perform the emotional labor of the season, in addition to their actual work.
This is, of course, the constant dilemma of womanhood. Do we do the things that make life so nice, even though they can make us feel exhausted and frustrated (particularly when they happen on top of a full work life), or do we forego them, even though if we don’t do them, no one will? The truth is that, for many of these events and occasions, we know that we are the people who think about it, who make sure the list is checked and re-checked. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t jump in, because even a small “What can I do to help you?” would feel like a priceless gift.
It’s time that men got their shit together, because generations of them are raising one another to sit on the couch, pour themselves an egg nog, and just kind of enjoy the holiday season as it rolls past (aside from, usually, getting their significant others a gift). Look what happens when a mixed-gender group enters a Christmas celebration: the patriarch pours the dudes a drink, and the women head into the kitchen, where they might not even do anything, but want to help if possible. (How many women’s holiday drinks are consumed in the kitchen? A lot, is my guess.)
Men are taught that women take pleasure and joy in doing everything themselves, despite them often having a lot better shit to do than stand in line at Walgreens at 2 AM to make sure there is enough wrapping paper and scotch tape to go around at the last minute. They are taught that “I have a lot of work to do” is a valid reason to not really participate in the holiday preparations, even though the women who are doing it often have just as much on their plates.
They are taught — you are taught — that emotional labor is something women do, especially when it comes to “non-essentials,” like making the holidays a lovely and organized experience.
So get your shit together, guys. Because I guarantee you there is at least one woman in your life, whether your mom, your sister (who is organizing all the gifts for the parents and extended family), or your significant other, who could desperately use some help with something. See what you can do, and don’t wait her for her to have to ask you… and ask you again. Because the greatest gift you can give someone on a holiday is making it a relaxing experience for them, too, instead of just a two month-long period where there is double the work to do.
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