Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Feminist Question of the Season: Feminism and Holiday Cheer

Like so many Christmas classics, A Charlie Brown Christmas is wonderful but all about 
a male  protagonist.     Image source: sentrawoods

Given how the holidays (and in my case, Phd application deadlines) have thrown off our recent post schedule, this week might just act as our question for the next couple weeks. But it's a question I've had in my mind for some time.

Awhile ago, I was thinking over how much I enjoy Christmas movies. From It's A Wonderful Life, to Elf, to Nightmare Before Christmas, to all the claymation classics, I just love Christmas movies. Well, aside from A Christmas Story - I watched that one during one very sad childhood Christmas which involved the whole family catching the stomach flu, and I haven't been able to bear it since. But as I was thinking over all those Christmas movies I love, I realized something:

None of the Christmas classics I could think of featured women as protagonists.

Sure, there were prominent female characters in most, but by and large, the stories were about men and boys. The few Christmas-themed I could think of with female protagonists usually featured them as co-protagonists or as children (Little Women; Meet Me in St. Louis; Yes, Virginia; Frosty- not to mention, I was stretching by calling some of those movies Christmas Movies, since the holiday wasn't necessarily the main focus.

I recognize that a few readers might feel like rolling their eyes at me and telling me that I'm focusing on the wrong things by noticing the lack of women in the most popular Christmas movies, but it got me thinking about the role of women in Christmas celebrations and in holidays in general.

When I look at the Christian celebration of Christmas for what it's intended to center on - the birth of Jesus Christ as the savior of humanity - it seems obvious that women should be recognized too in the celebrations. After all, Mary is treated with reverence in the biblical story of the savior's birth and is at the center of the nativity story. She is the main protagonist - she's the one who gets pregnant and is visited by angels and nearly has her life destroyed by a fiance who wants to end the engagement, and she is the one who ponders on what the angel tells her and who visits her pregnant cousin to share stories about their miraculous conceptions. And during Jesus Christ's life, he treated women with great respect and took the time to listen to them and interact with them and teach them.

I realize that not all our readers are Christian, and some of our readers may not celebrate any religious holidays in December. But for those who get involved in the holiday season at all - be it through Hanukkah or Christmas or New Years , my question is open-ended. Essentially, I want to know how you experience gender and feminism in the holiday season.

Do you have a holiday movie you love, which you feel tells the story of a woman's experience of the season?

Do you have family traditions that relate to gender?

How do you experience gender during holiday food preparation and family gatherings?

What irks you, and what inspires you?

And what spiritual insights do you have on how women and gender factor into the holidays you celebrate?


  1. Reminds me of this:

    The movie "One Magic Christmas" is about a woman. It's not nearly as popular as the male-centered ones you've listed, though.

  2. I think Miracle on 34th St. could be listed as, if not a completely female protagonist movie, then a pretty gender-equal one.

    Also, a grand variety of Hallmark Christmas movies feature women as leading characters, or co-characters.

    And, there's a very cute (very popular, at my house) Christmas movie called Prancer that has a female (albeit, a child) protagonist.

    However, in direct "proving your point" manner, one of my newest favorite Christmas movies is a made-for TV special called "The Man Who Saved Christmas."

    It is also interesting to look at these movies you've mentioned, and look at what would happen to them if you took the female characters out completely. THAT would be interesting. :P

    As for food preparation and family gatherings... women typically run the show. Grandma reads the stories, Mom decorates, women and children make/decorate cookies, do most of the shopping, etc. (Actually, to be fair, my dad does a great deal of shopping, helps equally in making Christmas dinner AND cleaning it up, and puts up the lights on his house -- but that's more because he's OCD and wants it done perfectly than because he thinks it's a man's job. My mom and I put up lights at our house, so...).

    I likely care far less than anyone else who reads this blog about gender roles and holidays (or gender roles in general), but this was a fun post, and I thought about it long enough that I decided to come back and comment.

    Merry Christmas!

  3. Emily, I saw your fb post with the xkcd comic about Christmas songs. I think the same thing applies to Christmas movies--the movies that were made decades ago, that our parents grew up with, are the "classics," and unfortunately, "back in the day" Hollywood was not so good at featuring interesting, well-rounded women characters in movies. Not that Hollywood is great at it these days, either.
    There was a movie a couple years back called "Call Me Claus," in which Whoopi Goldberg becomes the new Santa Claus. So that's kinda fun, gender-wise.

  4. Just going to say: "Love Actually." Not only a great movie in general, but a Christmas-y one with plenty of female characters (and, for the most part, equal air time, if I remember correctly). Or maybe I just love that movie too much to care. ;)