Well Being

The Thanksgiving Gender Divide: Women Cook, Men Watch Football?

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In many families, Thanksgiving duties or activities are split strictly along gender lines—and too often, this means women in the kitchen, men in front of the televisions. Why does Thanksgiving have to be yet another thing that becomes ‘women's work?'

In my extended family, my mom and her four sisters take care of all the Thanksgiving dinner planning, shopping, cooking and set-up (and these are not stay-at-home wives with breadwinner husbands, but all women with full-time jobs of their own). My generation—the “kids,” as we're still called, despite the fact that the fifteen of us grandchildren range in age from 21 to 38—is generally tasked with dishes and clean-up; sometimes, some of the female grandchildren help with setting the table, and small things like that. And what are the men—the husbands, dads, uncles, and older male grandchildren—doing during all of this? Sitting in the TV room, drinking beer and watching football. [tagbox tag= “gender issues”]

My female cousins and I have vowed that when we run Thanksgiving, this will not stand. And maybe that's true. But as long as our parents' and grandparents' generations are around, the Thanksgiving gender divide is firm. And as we grow into adulthood emulating these family-gathering patterns—not just male and female grandchildren taking our places with either the aunts or uncles, but significant others brought into the family doing so, too—I can't help but think that this is a family pattern that will continue into perpetuity.

An informal poll of friends, Facebook and my fellow Blisstree writers reveals that my family's Thanksgiving gender dynamic isn't uncommon. Though some friends say the men and women in their families contribute equally—and a few even say that the men take the lead—the pattern of women in the kitchen and men in the TV room seems to be pretty prevalent, accompanied by an attitude of: Well, this is the way it's always been.

That's what's funny about things like this. Even though gender relations amongst my peers might be more progressive than those of generations past, as long as we're still “the kids,” and there's an older generation in charge who either doesn't mind or doesn't see a way around gendered holiday activities, we're going to fall into these same patterns. And by the time we're all in charge, will they be so ingrained that we just play along, too? This is the way it's always been … 

The fact that many young people now spend the holidays, especially Thanksgiving, with friends instead of family means we're forging new ways to celebrate old traditions, and I think that bodes well for a more equally divided holiday workload. And I don't want to discount the fact that some women, even those of Gen X and Y, wouldn't have it any other way: They like taking on all the holiday meal planning and cooking themselves (but even the clean up, ladies?). And they say it's a great time for bonding with their moms, sisters or other female relatives.

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