I am listening to the radio. I’m not normally a radio person, but one of the cats had stood on the TV remote and somehow flipped it over to BFBS Radio, a station I don’t know. The music’s not overly offensive, and I’m trying to work up the energy to get back to some analysis I’ve been working on, so I leave it. As I stare into space, mildly amused by the antics of my two cats, the presenter introduces today’s phone-in: what annoys me most about Christmas. The first message read out is from a man who hates the Christmas shopping. So far, so interchangeable with The Grumpies’ Guide to Christmas. The second message read out says, “I never know what to get my girlfriend”.
One this point the presenter is very helpful. “What about an iron?” he says, barely able to conceal the glee and chuckles at his own cleverness. He proceeds with a few more domestic implements that any girlfriend would be delighted to unwrap for Christmas – some of them would even make quite a good impression when used to smack said boyfriend over the head! His parting suggestion (he’s now snorting, and I can picture his eyes watering at just how funny he is) is “a broom”.
Yes, I know. I’m suffering from my feminist humour bypass again. Bloody grumpy feminists. Can’t they take a joke?
The problem, I think, comes from my own basic understanding of a joke. Isn’t it supposed to be funny?
The shopping-gender divide seems to be something of a theme this Christmas. Perhaps it’s because all the adverts have gone into sentimentality overload. They aren’t showing the usual endless clips of harassed but cheerful looking women battling through the shops, frantically wrapping presents and preparing a Christmas dinner so big that even the poor starving Cratchetts would be sick or turkey by mid-January. So the enforcement of the festive female stereotype has to be done somewhere. But it seems to be happening everywhere.
I was watching the BBC news a few days ago, and they too were doing a piece on how irritating shopping can be at this time of year. They interviewed a man and a woman. The woman had been shopping for herself, not Christmas shopping – and had enjoyed herself. The man had been attempting (and failing) at Christmas shopping and having a horrible time. From this the (male) reporter drew the conclusion that women are better at Christmas shopping than men. The (male) studio anchor chipped in, saying women “just enjoy these things more”.
Standard Male Privilege Response ™ will be, “What does it matter? It’s not hurting anyone to draw such blatantly sexist conclusions and broadcast them on national media. Where’s the harm?” Normally at this point I would start in on statistics to do with how these messages affect women growing up, or discourage women, or result in an insidious removal of women from positions of power. Not this time. Because it’s Christmas. And at Christmas I’m allowed to be petulant.
Enforcing gender stereotypes with militant persistence at Christmas matters because It’s Just Not Fair!! It encourages a latent laziness in everyone who has a penis. It encourages every man to not bother to think of those around them, to try and shunt the touchy-feely loving emotional part – one of the few that still exist in this commercialised capitalist festive world – over onto the women. Because they’re no good at knowing what would make other people happy. The women can do that. They *like* giving a fuck about other people.
Yes, shopping at this time of year is an absolute ballache. I hate shopping at the best of times, but we all know that elbowing your way to the last remaining copy of Elf in HMV, while it blasts Slade at you through tinny speakers, is a particular circle in Dante’s hell. But the whole point of it is that it’s supposed to be worth it. Because you KNOW someone who answers the phone, “What’s your favourite colour?” and it’s just plain WRONG they’ve never seen this film.* Having a penis does not excuse you from understanding your fellow human beings, the people who tolerate, and possibly even love you the whole year round. The ones who make you smile. The ones, God forbid, who may even clean up your snotty tissues when you have a cold. Or make you a cup of tea when you’ve had a really miserable day. Or picked the lock on that chest in Skyrim with the Really Awesome Weapon in it, because you have no patience with locks.
This is why it’s not OK to joke about getting your girlfriend – or any important woman in your life – a clichéd domestic appliance for Christmas. It’s the season of goodwill. In my mind, the time of year when a woman should be able to be appreciated for herself in all her individual glory, safely cosied away from the evils of misogyny.
Merry Christmas, ladies. May you all have the power tools and video games you’ve been longing for all year!
* Apologies to all who didn’t get this reference. You really should watch Elf. It’s a very good film.