It’s that time of year once again. But, even as we enjoy apple cider, crackling fires, and time with our loved ones, we should remember that we are called to live out the equality of men and women on every occasion, including Christmas. Here’s a few tips to help you live out that truth this season.
1. Tell Her Story
What’s Christmas about? If you answered, “Jesus,” then you get a gold star. It is, indeed, about the baby in the manger. But it’s also about someone else who doesn’t get a lot of screen time: Mary. Jesus is the reason for the season, but I don’t think he minds sharing the spotlight with an unknown hero from Nazareth.
People talk about how frightened Mary must have been, how trusting she was, and how utterly driven by her faith she had to have been. But they don’t often talk about how plain gutsy she was.
I've never heard a sermon on Mary the warrior. We don't talk about Mary the social rebel, willing to brave public condemnation and social stigma in order to take part in God's redemptive work. Instead, she's portrayed primarily as the submissive supporting character in a much bigger and grander Christmas narrative.
When I recall the thousands of times I’ve read, heard, or talked about Mary, I mostly remember thinking she seemed vulnerable and scared. I thought of her as a vessel, not a person and definitely not a leader.
But Mary was far more than a vessel. Her strength is another thing we get to celebrate this season. Not in place of our savior, but as one shade of God’s subversive work here on earth.
Let Mary’s persistence into your Christmas narrative. Make her courage a part of the story you tell. In doing so, you invite the women in your life to live the story themselves, to see themselves and their female bodies in the miracle of Jesus’ birth.
2. Give Gifts Beyond Gender Stereotypes
Tis the season of Barbie dolls, tiaras, and makeup kits. Or, if you’re a parent of boys, it’s the season of foam footballs, G.I. Joe dolls, and Legos—as long as they aren’t pink.
Girls like pink and boys like sports. Little girls like all that is fuzzy, sparkly, and bright. Little boys go in for anything as long as they can cover it in mud. Except when you give hyper-gendered gifts by default, you don’t have to think about who people actually are.
When you buy a gift for a boy or girl or man or woman because its “girly” or because its “macho,” you fall back on assumptions and bias. You don’t have to venture any deeper into that person’s heart, because culture can tell you what he or she will certainly like. Or, some even argue, nature itself can tell you whether a child will reach for a baby doll or an action figure.
When you buy a gift, you say something with it. You make an educated guess about another person. In doing so, you tell that child or adult person two things:
- Who you believe they are
- What they should (even must) like
This is particularly true for children. When little girls are surrounded every day by dolls and pink clothing, they come to associate those things with girlhood. And the same is true for boys with our gifts of Hot Wheels and Transformers. We condition our children to understand their identities as boys and girls through a specific (and narrow) cultural lens. And we set them up to live within sexist limitations as adults.
We should tread carefully in giving gifts, lest we reinforce stereotypes that quickly turn into boxes and limitations.
There’s a better way. Give gifts with intentionality. Make space in your Christmas gift-giving practices for girls who’d like a football and boys who want a play cooking set. Don’t be afraid to challenge the gender assumptions that are set and reinforced by patriarchal and consumer culture.
Boys might choose “macho” toys and girls might pick out “girly” stuff, but without unspoken expectations and pressure from us, they might not. We must remember that it’s not our job to tell girls and boys what toys they should play with; it’s our job to ensure that they're able to be who God made them.
3. Split Holiday Labor Equally
House cleaning. Cooking. Post-meal cleanup. These are the dreaded tasks many of us love to duck out of. The holidays are a time of celebration, but they also bring stress and lots of work. As they approach, we should stop to think about who is putting in overtime to make sure everyone enjoys themselves. Women tend to be the default holiday supervisors, ensuring that everyone but them is relaxed and joyful.
Many of us are familiar with “the second shift.” It's the labor women perform in the home in addition to work in the private sector. When women come home from a day at the office (or wherever), they’re expected to keep the house in order, put dinner on the table, do the laundry, etc., often with little to no help from their husbands.
And this can also happen to stay-at-home wives and moms. A wife or mom will work all day in the home or with the children and then, when her husband returns, she's still expected to do the remaining labor alone.
And then there's the “holiday shift.”
Holiday labor has historically been “women’s work.” With iron fists and wooden spoons, women rule the kitchen on Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter. The days of preparation, the hours of cooking over a hot stove on sore feet, and the mountain of dishes waiting to be washed at the end—these duties have all been traditionally performed by (and left to) women.
When the table is empty and bellies are full, the woman of the house is expected to cheerfully pull herself out of her chair to start the cleanup. Many times, she does so alone or with the help of other women. Men will remain seated, chatting over coffee and pie, unaware of how heavy a burden the holidays can be on mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters. Under the holiday's sexual division of labor, women are seen as the hosts, responsible for all work related to “hosting.”
The "holiday shift" has to stop. Men and women are functionally equal and the division of labor during the holidays should reflect that God-ordained truth. Christmastime gives us an opportunity to live out that conviction. We do that by getting our hands dirty and becoming a part of a team that makes the holidays fun for everyone—including women. With our friends and family (kids especially) close at hand, we can model gender equality by dividing work equally among men and women.
Women, you can use the holidays this year to lovingly present new expectations for the men your life. Men, the holidays provide you with a chance to show that you are willing to actually change something about how you do life (and how you do Christmas).
Gender equality is a year-round commitment. So, the next time you enjoy a holiday meal, take a moment and think about whose hands made it and whose hands will be expected to clean it up. Approach the holidays with a desire to serve, not an expectation of being served by women.
Merry Christmas, brothers and sisters. May you love each other well this season.