However, as I stressed in the comments on my previous post, this is not a bad thing. It just means I have to redefine what Snopes is in my head.
Today, we have a story about an urban legend involving a woman who forgot to actually enclose the money she intended to send with her Christmas cards. It’s a funny joke. In the discussion, we get this bit of feminist deconstruction:
One further element of the tale deserves comment: the sex of the transgressor. Traditionally, during the holidays, our culture stresses activities which are still seen as more a woman’s province than a man’s. Cooking, decorating, baking, shopping, card and letter-writing, entertaining, and concern for others are at the forefront of the season, and whereas a man who fails to do well with any of these barely provokes comment, a woman is seen as having fallen from grace much more ingloriously if she comes up short with any of them. The busy executive in the story thus has to be a woman for the transgression to be perceived as utterly embarrassing because a man who failed to enclose the checks wouldn’t make for nearly as horrifying a tale. Moreover, the story contains an element of punishment for women leaving traditional duties behind in favor of competing in the business world. Working outside the home may cause them to have less time for family and friends, thus legends like this serve to warn women against taking up such lives by pointing out what could be lost or compromised.
I found this really interesting. It is definitely true that men are not the backbone of holidays. For example, I don’t expect Christmas cards from my single male friends. The few exceptions (thanks, Mr. J! thanks, Uncle Steve!) really just underline how odd it is in our culture for a man to think about things like that. My husband would be perfectly happy if we never celebrated a single holiday ever again, birthdays included. Back home, if something was going to happen for a holiday, like a dinner or a group present, it was almost always the girls who had to coordinate it. And of course, you don’t see too many guys baking Christmas cookies.
The unanswerable question here is, would guys be into holiday stuff if the culture placed the responsibility for holiday merriment on their shoulders? Or is there something ingrained, genetic, that causes men not to care about this sort of thing? Do men find holidays tiresome because they are not in control? Are they bamboozled by the idea of a deluge of “woman stuff”?
A related question: if women simply stopped doing holiday stuff, would men get bored eventually and start up some traditions of their own?
The World May Never Know, but it’s interesting to think about. In the past, as I recall (I was never much of a student of history while in school, much to my later dismay), men were far more involved in social activities–in fact, social activities were male dominated. When and how things changed is interesting to me. Was it the women’s movement that eventually wrested social power into the hands of women? Was there something else going on?
Regardless of the cause, I think that women are still learning how to manage social affairs. My husband has a very simple, honorable approach to his dealings with friends. He helps without expecting anything in return. He takes care of his friends when they need him. And he’s very matter-of-fact about it; to him it’s clear-cut when he should do something and when he should stay out of it.
Meanwhile, I find myself constantly confused by relations with other women, wondering what to do when. I, like all of us, think in a conniving way, rather than a straightforward one, when considering my objectives. There are layers and layers of complexity added to each relationship that somehow make sense in my head but are not easily reproducible. In the past I’ve wondered if this complexity was simply part of how the female brain works, but now I think it’s more a matter of what we are taught growing up. There haven’t been that many generations between now and suffrage. Before that, women didn’t know how to control social situations because they didn’t control them. They had no frame of reference. All they did know was how to manipulate from behind the scenes to get what they wanted. That is what women specialized in, and that is what they taught their daughters.
In this modern world, we have a set of very intelligent people who are sadly ill-equipped to deal with their power. We can take lessons from our mothers on this, but I think we’d be well advised to start looking to men as well. Maybe it doesn’t have to be as complex as we are making it.
It’s something to think about. I know I’m far from a definitive answer.