While Santa is busy making appearances at local shopping centres and posing for photos with children, women are fastidiously working behind the scenes to make Christmas-time special for their loved ones, often at the cost of their own sanity.
Referred to as the ‘silly season’, Christmas is a ridiculously silly time of year for women.
Undertaking necessary but un-fun chores reflects the reality of many women’s ‘holiday’ period, and while people may thank them for cooking the glazed ham or pav, how many really stop to consider the additional coordination and effort involved in pulling the whole thing off?
There’s organising budgets, present ideas and making grocery lists; managing guest lists and dietary requirements; writing cards to loved ones and making ‘thank you’ gifts for children’s teachers; making travel arrangements and preparing spare bedrooms; grocery and present shopping; scheduling time to visit various groups of family and friends; decorating the Christmas tree, wrapping presents, researching seasonal and unsuitably elaborate recipes to cook and on, and on, and on.
Meanwhile, this British poll found that up to 62 percent of men actively plan to ‘seek time away’ from family during Christmas gatherings. A further 18 percent of men desperately try to avoid washing up while 15 percent try to avoid ‘any sort of tidying up’ altogether.
There’s nothing like Christmas to amplify the division of labour and differing expectations of gender when it comes to domestic life.
As writer Jessica Valenti points out, performing Christmas demands the time of women in particular:
‘The holidays bring on a whole new set of gendered expectations that make the season less about simply enjoying fun and family and more about enduring consumerism, chores and resentment so that everyone else can enjoy rockin’ around the Christmas tree.’
‘Emotional labour’ or the invisible ‘repeated, taxing and under-acknowledged acts of gendered performance’ weighs heavily on women.
The term, however, originally coined by academic Arlie Hochschild in her book, The Managed Heart, refers to emotional labour in a professional context in which employees must ‘evoke or supress feelings’ to do their job.
Hochschild elaborates on the original definition in an interview for The Atlantic:
“Emotional labour, as I introduced the term in The Managed Heart, is the work, for which you’re paid, which centrally involves trying to feel the right feeling for the job… From the flight attendant whose job it is to be nicer than natural to the bill collector whose job it is to be, if necessary, harsher than natural, there are a variety of jobs that call for this,” she explains.
“The point is that while you may also be doing physical labour and mental labour, you are crucially being hired and monitored for your capacity to manage and produce a feeling.”
Most recently, the term has been appropriated into our cultural lexicon to refer to the implicit but invisible work associated with performing unpaid labour, like child-rearing and domestic chores.
For example, planning meals, researching recipes and organising shopping lists when it comes to cooking, or learning your children’s friends’ and parents’ names, dietary requirements and tax file numbers to host a play date.
This now infamous article illustrates the sociological implications of emotional labour on women:
“I find myself worrying about how the mental load bore almost exclusively by women translates into a deep gender inequality that is hard to shake on the personal level. It is difficult to model an egalitarian household for my children when it is clear that I am the household manager, tasked with delegating any and all household responsibilities, or taking on the full load myself.”
Statistics show that women undertake 72 percent of all unpaid labour in Australia.
Australian women are performing considerably more unpaid labour than their counterparts in New Zealand, the UK, America, Canada, Denmark and Sweden, while a higher proportion of women in these other countries are participating in paid work.
This does not necessarily equate to a more even distribution of unpaid labour between men and women, however, but rather a positive correlation between women’s participation in paid work and more accessible childcare services.
To all the women busily making final Christmas preparations, we salute you.
For now, it may take asking our family and partners to pitch in and assist to get the job done.