Saturday, November 24, 2012

A Feminist Thanksgiving?

A repost from 2008

This Thanksgiving, as my family sits down to their traditional dead animals, I’ll be munching on Tofurky and vegan stuffing. Whatever, I’ve been a vegetarian for eight years, I’m used to being the odd girl out every fourth Thursday of November. And, just like every Thanksgiving since I stopped eating meat, I know I’m going to get the comments and the jokes, even though it’s hardly a novelty after all this time.

What is it about Thanksgiving that brings out the super-traditional? Even in my fairly feminist household--my parents are proud of their egalitarian marriage, split the chores and childcare responsibilities pretty evenly, Dad had no problem moving for Mom's career, etc.--my dad and uncles and brothers will still watch the football game and chug (non-alcoholic) beers after the big dinner while all the womenfolk clean up the kitchen. No one even pretends that there’s an equal distribution of responsibilities. Sure, every year Dad ceremoniously asks if there’s anything he can do, but much like the ceremonious cutting of the turkey at the beginning of the meal, it’s all for show. The men have nothing to do with the preparation of the meal, and they certainly have nothing to do with the cleanup. Their role is to eat and digest, and compliment the gals on a job well done. I don’t know what would happen if this year Mom answered, “Sure, we’ve got dishes for thirty people to clean and about fifty pots and pans that need scrubbing…there’s the sink!” It’s as unfathomable as my meat-and-potatoes family deciding to share some Tofurky and forgo the bird carcass.

And here’s the strangest thing: I know that come Thanksgiving, even with my feminist heart heaving with the unfairness of it all, I’ll be in the kitchen with my mom and aunts and girl cousins, cleaning up while the guys burp contentedly in the other room.

A couple years ago, deciding to make a statement, I informed my mother that I was watching football with the boys. I expected a little anger, maybe even a flat refusal, but my mom, perhaps knowing what was to come, had no problem with it. So for the first time since hitting my teen years, I sat out in the living room and watched the big game while the big clean-up went on without me. And here’s the thing: even though I’m a huge football fan, even though watching a game with Dad is one of my favorite ways to spend an evening, it wasn’t very long at all before I was back in the kitchen.

I try and justify my own lapse back into traditional gender roles. The cleaning isn’t hard at all, I reason, not with a dozen people pitching in. It’s a safe, female-only space, our own little once-a-year, consciousness-raising event.  But the truth is, that I know it’s bogus. I know everyone should pitch in after dinner, and I know that it reinforces all the stereotypes I fight against the other 364 days of the year for the menfolk to all watch the game and the womenfolk to clean and gab.

But I also know that I’d much rather be in the kitchen chatting with my aunties, hanging with cousins I see once a year at best, and, yeah, pitching in on the cleanup, then hanging with the dudes in the living room.

Go figure.

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