We shine a light on the unpaid work women do at Christmas time
This Christmas, you’ll see drinks at work, good food on the table and presents under the tree. We don’t typically ask who puts in the hours to make the Christmas cheer happen and it’s probably because you already know the answer. The majority of unpaid Christmas chores are taken on by women in your life.
Gender inequality at Christmas is a bizarre tradition that’s continued to this day. Women are expected to get on with the unpaid tasks of Christmas so that everyone else can have a great time. However, this isn’t the 1930s and as women, we’re now taking on these unpaid tasks in addition to both our day jobs and the disproportionate number of domestic chores we already take on.
This year, to save me from tears, I wanted things to be different. My partner does the cooking at Christmas because he is much better at it. But our household does not reflect society and after seeing yet another all-female unpaid staff Christmas party planning committee this year and then being asked to do my job whilst babysitting small kids whose parents seem expect free childcare from the women in their office, I’ve had enough.
So what unpaid tasks are women taking on at Christmas?
- We’re the ones organising the Christmas party when “encouraged” to do so by our boss, despite the fact that Todd in middle management never seems to be asked to help.
- We’re the ones who put together the Christmas lunch menu for the family and cook a bit of everything to keep everyone happy and being expected to smile sweetly when people bring home last minute plus ones, when all we really want to do is throw cooking utensils in their general direction.
- We’re the ones who will hunt for the perfect Christmas gift for our loved ones and then share the glory with our partner. Anyone who has received a gift ‘from mum and dad’, when dad clearly has no idea what the gift is knows exactly what I mean.
To achieve real progress, it’s not just women who need to alter behaviours. We need women, men and third parties like family members or employers to come to the table and take action to better distribute the unpaid work involved at Christmas.
Here’s how you can help give the gift of gender equality this Christmas.
1. Work Christmas parties
This is the one event that will steadily sneak up on you each year. The work Christmas party doesn’t just happen and in November, managers will be circling those in their office who would voluntarily give up their time to organise the office Christmas party in addition to excelling in their day job.
If you’re in an office environment, here are some actions you could consider to ensure that Christmas is a time of great gender equality:
- Women: Consider why you’re considering volunteering before you do so. Is this something you actually want to do? And if you do put up your hand to organise this year’s celebration, how do you expect this to pay off literally or in your career growth?
- Men: If you can see that those organising the Christmas party are mainly female, don’t just mumble something or criticise their approach – actually help. Todd gets a special mention this year for his sideline coaching: not only criticising the all-female Christmas party organisers but also critiquing their office fridge clear-out technique while still failing to actually help or even offer to help carry out either task.
- Employers: If you think the Christmas party celebrations are important then either pay your people to do this work alongside their day job or make achieving a logistically-sound and professional organised event something that can be measured and recognised in their end of year review.
2. Christmas lunch at home
This is something we rarely think about but it takes an incredible number of hours to decorate the tree and house, prepare lunch and organise entertainment.
Before you sit down for Christmas lunch, consider what you can do to equalise the workload:
- Women: If you’ve found yourself in the driving seat for this Christmas lunch then accept help or pull in volunteers to help you. You also don’t need to martyr yourself so consider nominating someone else to lead the cooking next year.
- Men: If your partner or mother is putting together Christmas lunch, offer to buy the ingredients, to help with food preparation and clear away the plates so that the head chef can relax for the rest of the day.
- Family members: If you’re being invited to Christmas lunch, bring something with you, particularly big-ticket items like the Christmas ham which are resource-intensive to prepare and expensive.
3. Gift giving
This is something we rarely think about but is one of the biggest time-sucks of Christmas. Gifts not only cost money but finding that right gift for each person requires time to identify, source and perfectly wrap before putting them under the tree for your loved ones to enjoy.
Here’s how we can start to put equity into that process:
- Women: Make a list of who you actually want to give a gift to and then delegate that process with your partner, including wrapping presents. Even if they make a mess of wrapping, let them do it this year because they’ll learn by doing it.
- Men: Take an interest in the gift process so that it doesn’t happen without you. Whether that’s buying gifts throughout the year or taking on wrapping yourself this year, it’s time we broke the stereotype of dads being just as surprised as the kids when they open their gifts on Christmas Day.
- Family members: Talk about what you would like for Christmas to take the guesswork out of it and ask your parents what they would like so that they receive things they actually want. Help organise a system that makes gift giving easier this year and consider supporting women in broader society by buying gifts from social enterprises that work to improve the lives of women and those they love.
This list is no exhaustive and there is a special place in hell for schools who require school mums to sew an elaborate costume each year for the Christmas play. By focusing on the broader role that women, men and others play when it comes to core Christmas tasks, we can work to reduce the unpaid tasks that women undertake at Christmas time. Give the gift of gender equality this Christmas so that can we all have a wonderful Christmas time.