Tis the season to, er, feel frazzled and run around like a crazy woman trying to get Christmas sorted. I use the term woman, not only because I am one, but because there’s something about the festive season that has sexism seemingly rewinding around half a century.
And it’s not just me sounding off about my own off-the-scale festive to-do list, science has the veritable proof that when it comes to Christmas men are metaphorically putting their feet up and leaving the stress, shopping and seasonal sorting out to their female other halves.
Research by Ipsos MORI for the Evening Standard found that there’s a marked divide between the sexes during the lead up to Christmas. While nearly six in 10 men nonchalantly say they’re “not stressed at all” by festive preparations, only 42 per cent of women could say the same.
“Christmas is meant to be a time for sharing – but our survey suggests the burden isn’t shared totally equally between men and women,” Gideon Skinner, head of political research at Ipsos MORI said of the findings.
And when it comes to the burden of Christmas shopping the gap between the sexes is even more pronounced. A recent poll by Feelunique.com revealed that the typical woman will buy presents for a total of 16 people this Christmas (although in my case it’s way, way higher). The men? Well they buy just three – for you, his dad and his office secret Santa.
It won’t come as any sort of surprise that the poll also found that women also have to take charge of wrapping the presents, sending out cards and decorating the house. Oh and sorting the Christmas dinner, too.
Now I have to hold my hands up at this point and admit I am no Nigella. My husband, on the other hand, could well give Jamie Oliver a run for his money in the chef stakes, so the task of cooking always falls to him and a blooming good job he makes of it too. But all the other Christmas trimmings, from the card-writing, present-wrapping, tree-decorating, nativity costume sorting and even family mediating, well, that’s my sparkly bag to take care of.
And it was my mum’s, too. In our house, Christmas happened because of one woman. She ran round like a blue-arsed fly, buying, wrapping, cooking, cleaning, making cracker and Christmas tree costumes and just generally sprinkling that little bit of magic over the proceedings.
Not that the stress of the whole thing didn’t sometimes get her down. I remember one particular Christmas the meal prep hadn’t gone according to plan and her screaming at my dad to switch off Top of the Pops, get up off the sofa and help her with the gravy. I actually thought she might lob the Christmas pud at his paper hat adorned head.
It’s not just the ‘doing’ side of Christmas woman are taking the reigns on either. The emotional labour – the pressure of pleasing everyone, of keeping everyone happy, of planning trips, doing festive things can be almost as exhausting as the physical buying, cooking, wrapping.The emotional labour women take on is rife in the workplace too. When it comes to the buying of leaving presents, charity collections it’s usually female colleagues who pick up the slack and Christmas is no different. If you work in an office environment, I bet you a spiced latte it’ll be down to the women to instigate the organisation of the secret Santa. And that office Christmas party? It was the likely female PA or office manager who took on that burden.
But as one friend points out, keeping all the balls in the air at Christmas can be a thankless task.“There’s no thanks just expectation and blame if anything goes wrong,” she says. “It’s not like we get any time off/respite from our other duties allocated based on having a uterus. Then the children reflect on what a wonderful Christmas they had with their parents when one did nothing and the other did everything!”
But is the weight of expectation something we’re placing on ourselves? Looking back on another family Christmas, I remember mum feeling disappointed that she’d dropped one of the metaphorical Christmas balls. She’d been so busy taking me and my sister to a candlelit Christmas carol concert one Christmas Eve that she forgot to tick buying extra wrapping paper off the to-do list. As a consequence we woke up to presents wrapped in kitchen roll and tin foil. We thought it was hilarious, but she was devastated.
It’s only now that I’m a proper grown up with my own little Christmas puddings to look after, that I realise the pressure mum was under to deliver a ‘perfect’ Christmas. A couple of years ago after foolishly leaving buying it until the last minute, I realised that the particular doll’s pram my daughter wanted had sold out. I spent a fruitless Christmas Eve running round every toy shop within the M25 trying to find it, with no joy. Later as I sobbed into the sprouts my husband pointed out that she had a billion other presents to open and would never even notice. He was right of course, the lack of pram amongst the unwrapped gifts never even registered. But I couldn’t help feeling like I’d ‘failed’ a bit at Christmas.
But that feeling was totally self-inflicted. So is the gender divide at Christmas really sexism or is it simply the pressure women pile on ourselves? Every year I tie myself in knots trying to find the ‘perfect’ tree (don’t get my husband started on this one) ‘perfect’ presents for everyone, with ‘perfect’ wrapping paper, all tied up in a ‘perfect’ little bow. My husband on the other hand rocks up with his one secret Santa gift (that I refuse to buy for him) ‘wrapped’ (I use this word loosely) in crumpled paper he bought from lord knows where but its definitely not Paperchase. There’s an air of ‘Oh that’ll do’ about the whole thing. And my goodness how I envy it.
So should women just let go of the Christmas reigns a little? One good friend of mine has decided to do just that this year.
“I think the Christmas spirit has been knocked out of me by years of trying to get my family to behave like the family in those perfect Christmas ads,” she explains. “They resolutely won’t. The kids are interested only in playing with their new toys. They don’t want to go for bracing walks through the frost. They want to watch gamers on YouTube instead of festive family movies all snuggled together on the sofa.”
So this year, she’s decided to let go of the pressure. “Over the past years no one has offered so much as to ping me a festive microwave meal,” she says. “By the time the day comes I will have run around like a festive fairy spending huge amounts of money I don’t have on presents for one and all, decorating the house, sending cards, attending nativity plays etc. I want a rest and a break. So this year that will mean as much alcohol as possible and a takeaway. I am not going to bother spending hours cooking a turkey and all the trimmings. I will be ordering a curry and grumpily cooking the kids their usual pesto pasta and cheap pizza. Maybe I will go mad and serve them on festive plastic plates.”
Maybe my friend has a point, and I admire the stand she’s making this year. But for me, there’s a little part of me that sort of enjoys the organisational chaos of it all. Besides though I’m sure my husband, and indeed other men, would be willing to take on more of the tasks, do I trust him to do it? For I definitely have a problem relinquishing control. My husband came home all pleased with himself the other day as he’d picked up a bargain basement wreath for the front door. ‘I thought it was nice,’ he said on noticing my wrinkled nose. ‘Traditional’. If anything it is proof that when he does try to get more involved I, spit the dummy, or the Christmas decorations.
Maybe women are just better at Christmas, or maybe we just need to give ourselves a break from the pressure of it. Because maybe we don’t need to be striving for the ‘perfect’ Christmas but just try to have a nice one.That’s why instead of going out and buying a new, much fancier wreath, I’ll be embracing my plastic wreath this year.
Happy Christmas ladies!
What do you think? Does the female take on most of the Christmas chores in your house? Let us know @YahooStyleUK