Up Front by Emma Hart

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Up Front: It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Shitmas

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  • Carol Stewart,

    Wonderful post Emma. Thank you so much.
    I remember a Minhinnick cartoon back in the day, that went along the lines of:
    "Mother bought the presents, Mother made the cake
    Mother made the Christmas punch, mother baked the ham
    Mother filled the stockings, Mother dressed the tree
    ‘Oh look Mum, FATHER Christmas came, look what he brought for me!’"

    And Mother doing her best to look delighted.

    Wellington • Since Jul 2008 • 820 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart, in reply to Carol Stewart,

    Cheers Carol. I remember, but cannot find, an old Bogor cartoon with a bunch of female hedgehogs taking their kids to see Hedgehog Santa. One of them asks why they do all of this, and the other says it's so they can bring it all crashing down when they tell the kids their beloved Father Christmas isn't real.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4644 posts Report Reply

  • Soon Lee,

    Our Christmas tradition (now that my family is in Australia), involves going to the in-laws for brunch/lunch. We deliberately have this get-together be a potluck affair, with different members delegated/volunteering to bring different dishes.

    We don't give gifts to the adults either, just to the children. It's supposed to be a fun time for all, not a fun time for everyone except for the one person doing all the cooking & stressing out.

    Auckland • Since Apr 2013 • 141 posts Report Reply

  • Kiwiiano,

    It seems to me we're waaay overdue to pull back from the whole northern hemisphere mid-winter Saturnalia festivities thing and settle for a celebration more appropriate for our southern summer. If it can't easily be cooked on a BBQ, forget it! What we save on buying hams and turkeys can be diverted to supermarket cold salads, Xmas mince pies, pavlova and ice cream. The Xmas tree and the lights can be a lot of fun for the littlies but keep them small and symbolic.
    And strike the whole manger palaver, if it happened at all it wouldn't be in December. There's no way shepherds would be washing their sox by night in the middle of a Palestinian winter.
    Now if we could just tone down the retail excesses, especially now we've had the hideous 'mercan Black Friday/Cyber Monday abomination foisted on us. Bah HUMBUG i say!!

    ChCh • Since Nov 2006 • 46 posts Report Reply

  • Carol Stewart,

    With you, Kiwiiano, except that having a big baked ham is not too hard to organise and is a basis for meals for days afterwards. Turkey = not happening.
    With you as well Soon Lee about no, or very minimal, gifts for adults. If I'm going to give anything as gifts it will a batch of mince pies. If I may say so, my mince pies are far better than any bought ones, and have been known to convert lifelong mince-pie doubters. When I get home later on I'll double check the sweet short crust pastry recipe that I use, from the hippie classic cookbook The Vegetarian Epicure, by Anna Thomas, and share recipe here.

    Wellington • Since Jul 2008 • 820 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart,

    I agree that it's well possible to change this situation, of course it is, but the FIRST step is to acknowledge that the imbalance exists, and that the social pressures around it are real. THEN work out, together, with discussion, how your particular family is going to navigate it. And don't be all, "Well, you want me to help more? Just ask. Just tell me what to do." Because that is entirely missing the point.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4644 posts Report Reply

  • Rosemary McDonald,

    Don't. Do. Christmas.

    Just don't.

    The most difficult thing about not doing Christmas is having to explain to others why it is that one is immune to this temporary insanity.

    Hope you all get better soon.

    Waikato, or on the road • Since Apr 2014 • 1327 posts Report Reply

  • Moz, in reply to Rosemary McDonald,

    Don't. Do. Christmas.

    With you on that. Being in Australia has helped a huge amount with the "family xmas" pressure. The in-laws here are more buddhist than christian and helps a lot - christmas is much more obviously about the under-fives and the rest of us just hang out and do drugs. Or watch others do that, whatever.

    Also, if you think supermarkets and toy shops go overboard with xmas, the drug dealers make them look tame. My "no junk mail" letterbox in a muslim-majority area is already getting christmas alcohol spam. WTF?

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1131 posts Report Reply

  • mark taslov, in reply to Emma Hart,

    I thought this paragraph nailed something:

    And yeah, I know, women do some of this to ourselves. My mother was a freaking saint, but she still raised me by example to believe that men were utterly useless, and therefore excused. It was only after she died that I realised the reason she always got peas in pods for Christmas was so she could send the small kids and the men outside to shell them, so they didn’t get underfoot.

    to the extent I’m incredibly familiar with the premise that by virtue of my assigned sex by some quarters I was/am automatically depicted as ‘utterly useless’, which gets more bizarre when transitioning and suddenly – based on what are largely superficial changes – being seen as useful. So wrt your brother it’s easy to understand how being seen – implicitly or otherwise – as utterly useless gets modelled and internalised – at least at a young age – not making excuses for him as an adult mind because I strongly agree that this discussion around the gendered nature of invisible labour is invaluable and which I’m very much here for.

    There is the sense – as intimated above – of their being something of a self-fulfilling prophecy at play which requires intervention, as you suggest:

    THEN work out, together, with discussion, how your particular family is going to navigate it.

    Obviously coming from a queer perspective it’s difficult to ignore that the heteronormative discussion is largely irrelevant to gay and lesbian couplings etc, but more so that it conforms perfectly to an observation as to the cyclical nature of these types of contemporary discourse i.e. that when the queers assert themselves it is invariably closely followed by a resetting of the discourse back to a (generally speaking exclusionary) gender binary normality.

    So it’s difficult to ignore the inherent binarism in the framing of these types of discussions and the extent to which they assist in the perpetuation of academised stereotypes on an issue which is – as indicated by the diversity of opinion above – largely intra-familial – and as you pointed out – intrinsically predicated on the negotiation of boundaries with significant others.

    : a mode of thought predicated on stable oppositions (such as good and evil or male and female) that is seen in post-structuralist analysis as an inadequate approach to areas of difference also

    : a specific dichotomy subscribed to or reinforced in such thought

    Refrencing an earlier discussion; i.e. am I a bicycle? Am I a car? A skateboard? The median strip? the gutter? Who is excluded by that metaphor?

    Which is a longwinded way of declaring I’m onboard but that there have been clear framing issues in the premise to the discussion, namely the abhorrent cissexism by Baker etc – which in and of itself should have been cause for dismissal though I’ve not seen a word written about it:

    "you can’t have a Santa with boobs"

    which in its way is absolutely fuel for dysphoria, as in:

    My younger son socially transitioned about a year ago. He desperately wants top surgery, not so much because of dysphoria but to lessen his chances of being outed.

    And that goes both ways in the community – both in terms of trans men requiring chest reconstruction to be read as male and trans women requiring interventions to be read as female – and even beyond the community in the way it feeds anxiety and interventions driven by essentialised notions of body image. This essentialism taken to infantile lengths by Howick Local Board chairman David Collings whose comment in the above article I’ll not quote because it’s 100% shit house. Vote that fucker out Howick!

    Anyway, just some peripheral observations which I hope aren’t too much of a derail. To reiterate – very much in favour of serious discussion on the unequal division of labour, but pretty meh on framing that within discussions about the gender of mythological characters and outright disgusted by Baker etc’s cissexism.

    Te Ika-a-Māui • Since Mar 2008 • 2268 posts Report Reply

  • mark taslov,

    oops: this was the Herald article I meant to link to re: Baker, Collings etc

    Te Ika-a-Māui • Since Mar 2008 • 2268 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart,

    Yeah, I was very aware when I was writing this column how heterocentric it was. One of the people I was talking about this to early on on Twitter was Scout, and they were saying how their family-of-birth still, when it comes to stuff like this, codes them as female, even though they've been really supportive of Scout. It's just ingrained. For myself, I am pleased to find that my expectations of my sons are both the same, even though I raised one of them as female. (But those expectations are also... really low. I mean, they're "Yes I will help but you have to ask me to do stuff.") And I also know that some of it is me being all "Look, just stay out of my way so I can this properly".

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4644 posts Report Reply

  • mark taslov, in reply to Emma Hart,

    For myself, I am pleased to find that my expectations of my sons are both the same

    Totally feeling that, I’ve no idea what that must feel like as a parent – at this juncture you’re doing a heck of a lot better than my folks. I was particularly impressed at the way this section mixed things around and challenged assumptions while not displacing some home truths:

    It is my younger son’s job to dry the dishes. He does this. But about three times a week, including tonight, it is apparently my job to remind him to dry the dishes. On the other hand, in the run-up to Christmas last year, my older son came and asked me if there was anything he could do to help. My younger son saw a basket full of clean laundry and just sorted and folded it. One of these things requires me to do invisible work. The other saves me a job.

    Te Ika-a-Māui • Since Mar 2008 • 2268 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Young,

    Some wiccan families I know have a green clad Solstice Witch for this time of year. Sounds more geographically appropriate, and apparently the prezzies are nonsexist and ecologically sound.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 486 posts Report Reply

  • Moz, in reply to Craig Young,

    green clad Solstice Witch

    :) I'm reminded of my favourite christmas song:

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1131 posts Report Reply

  • mark taslov, in reply to Rosemary McDonald,

    Don’t. Do. Christmas.

    Yeah, if anything’s going to meaningfully address the gendered labour imbalance ingrained in our society, cancelling a festival is likely to be. that. silver. bullet. smh.

    Te Ika-a-Māui • Since Mar 2008 • 2268 posts Report Reply

  • Moz, in reply to mark taslov,

    I think it's more that if you work a bit on making a less dramatic event you will find it easier to get through. Maybe think of 'don't do christmas" as the aspirational slogan and take small steps in that direction when you can?

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1131 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart, in reply to Moz,

    I think it's more that if you work a bit on making a less dramatic event you will find it easier to get through. Maybe think of 'don't do christmas" as the aspirational slogan and take small steps in that direction when you can?

    I think when the suggestion is "maybe men could pull their weight and help out a bit more", the reply of "Well let's just not do it at all" is... unhelpful. Why? Why is it somehow more reasonable to Destroy Christmas than to spread the load?

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4644 posts Report Reply

  • Hilary Stace,

    My daughter and I usually host the wider whanau for Christmas. That means a midday meal, other events over several days, and one or two out-of-towners staying. Although everybody contributes food and drink, the actual planning starts a couple of months earlier and includes - as well as the process for agreeing on what everyone will bring, secret santa etc - household maintenance, gardening, cleaning windows, hiring the rug doctor for carpet cleaning, and ensuring there are enough acceptable chairs, cutlery, plates and everything else that could be possibly needed. Weather contingencies mean various scenarios. This year we have even bought a new dishwasher and oven as they will be in constant use. All this planning and preparing ensures the one time in the year that we all catch up runs more or less smoothly.

    So I was bemused when a certain male suggested, "You don't need to worry about Christmas, it just happens".

    Wgtn • Since Jun 2008 • 3169 posts Report Reply

  • Moz, in reply to Emma Hart,

    From my point of view, it's because I loathe christmas and only participate under duress. I am way too familiar with the "I am doing so much work, you could at least help" argument being made in the context of "to make you miserable" and the reasonable answer of "how about you just stop trying to make me miserable" is met with further unpleasantness.

    That might not have been your intention, and it's certainly not your expressed point of view, but I do think it's worth questioning whether the people you're asking to help you actually share your goal. I assume you sat down with your immediate family and discussed it and agreed on a plan, but I'm not entirely convinced that everyone you're complaining about was included in that.

    To me this is very much like "we are hosting a swingers convention and you must attend". Saying "but it's your family" isn't a positive...

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1131 posts Report Reply

  • TracyMac, in reply to Moz,

    You're eliding "willing participation" and "being asked to help".

    If you're not a willing participant, then I'd suggest not participating at all. It seems better to me than being an unwilling participant and going on passive-aggressive strike when asked to share the labour.

    And I say this as someone who dislikes most of these ceremonial events and who has seen plenty of unnecessary and martyred behaviour around them.

    A gracious thing to do when recusing yourself from them is to offer some kind of alternative to the host (if you're actually invested in maintaining a connection, and these events are important to them). "Sorry, I don't think I will come to Christmas lunch this year, but can I drop off the kids' presents the week before and take you to dinner/lunch sometime instead?"

    An alternative strategy is to propose it's done a different way. Some people have the whole thing at a restaurant. We have a potluck in the park.

    Personally, I've decided that pitching in once a year isn't too bad in the greater scheme of things, since (frankly) it's less labour than trying to maintain connections individually. It also helps I don't outright detest any family members and our gatherings are more awkward than drama-filled.

    Canberra, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 700 posts Report Reply

  • Moz, in reply to TracyMac,

    f you're not a willing participant, then I'd suggest not participating at all. It seems better to me than being an unwilling participant and going on passive-aggressive strike when asked to share the labour.

    That was exactly what I suggested in the first place, and Emma objected on the basis that participation is not optional. I don't "passive aggressive" this one, hence the "how about you stop trying to make me miserable" response. The effort I make is in the direction of not telling people to fuck off. If I don't make it people notice.

    I've decided that pitching in once a year isn't too bad in the greater scheme of things

    Which is your decision, and I respect that. A little respect back in the direction of people who want very much not to participate wouldn't go amiss. Just try to imagine for a second that what you're reading isn't a declaration of sulking and passive-aggression, say.

    My suggestion that people doing the organising try to unwind a little and focus less on making every christmas the biggest, bestest christmas ever is genuine. I have seen it help other people.

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1131 posts Report Reply

  • Moz,

    FWIW I've told my family that I'm going back to Aotearoa for some funerals and possibly when I retire. Anything else comes under the heading of "I think catastrophic global warming is a problem we should avoid. We all have to stop flying ASAP".

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1131 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart, in reply to Moz,

    Emma objected on the basis that participation is not optional

    I absolutely did not say that. What I said, before you even entered the thread, was;

    I agree that it's well possible to change this situation, of course it is, but the FIRST step is to acknowledge that the imbalance exists, and that the social pressures around it are real. THEN work out, together, with discussion, how your particular family is going to navigate it.

    This shit started, for me, when I was ten and considered more capable of helping with Christmas than any of my brothers, who were in their 20s. Oddly enough, I did not have the capacity to sit them all down and talk about it then. Our last Big Family Christmas, my mother was dying. We took her out of hospice for the day so she could have Christmas with all her children and grandchildren, and it was... actually, it was awful. Ever since her death, on the 3rd of January, Christmas has been Extremely Complex for me, emotionally.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4644 posts Report Reply

  • Moz, in reply to Emma Hart,

    Emma, I'm sorry. I was trying to avoid derailing but felt that TracyMac needed a response. I'm not going to engage with you, our experiences around this time are both very stressful, but also different to the point of being opposed. My "don't participate" is your "destroy christmas".

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1131 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    My attempts to streamline Christmas down, because it can be stressful as fuck even for the lazy dudes not pulling their weight, did not get far. It's a group event, so not only my call, really. My agnosticism is mostly irrelevant as an excuse and I do my best even though it's way, way, way less meaningful to me than it is to my Catholic wife. But to her it's not really about worshipping zombie Jesus anyway, it's just a really, really important social event that dominates the calendar for most people in predominantly Christian countries.

    Suggesting that perhaps the countless details that must be just-so could be just-different or just-omitted meets pretty strong resistance. It's "for the children", so obviously I can't not think of the children, even though I don't personally think the children care for that much about it beyond the treats and presents. So I've gradually got with the program of not being a dick about Christmas and put myself to the tasks around it that I think make for a nice occasion, if only to also be putting in and making an effort to celebrate one of the few times such large groups of my family periodically gather together.

    Those tasks don't have to be the things Emma is talking about, as long as the suffering is somewhat equitable. I tend to prefer hunting rather than gathering on the presents, so the major children's gifts get a lot of thought and planning, and the other 50 odd "magically" materialize. Responsibility for some clearly defined task on the day like running the BBQ or cleaning up is preferable over general management of the entire occasion. As always, I have to be the sober driver.

    Also, despite agnosticism, I can't see any reason not to get with such parts of the spirit of Christmas as I generally agree with. Being happy, friendly, charitable, sociable, peaceful. I do my best to be like that as much as possible anyway, but why not make a special effort when everyone else is too?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10579 posts Report Reply

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