Christmas these days seems to be all about the ads. What latest witchcraft have John Lewis employed to jerk upon our tear-ducts like the evil scarf-peddling puppet-masters that they are? Who’s that dancing in the M&S ad, a smile on their face as they quietly survey the ruin of their career and the inevitable slide into panto? Which Hollywood star is the latest to sell out hawking Eau de Starlette, or whatever? And the supermarket ads, of course. You’ve seen the Asda one. The woman does everything: decorating, shopping, wrestling with a turkey, preparing a Mont Blanc of sprouts (which no one likes anyway! Is there any more damning indictment of patriarchy than the fact that a woman has to knock herself out peeling a vegetable no one even enjoys? I’m going to write a feminist book on the subject: Burning Our Brassicas). At the end of all this costume-making, chopping, Christmas card addressing, and general slaving, she collapses into a chair with an expression that suggests she’ll be checking into a psychiatric ward as soon as she’s done the washing-up. Then her husband actually gets up off his arse and carves the turkey…this being beyond the skill of a woman who’s single-handedly organised Christmas, apparently.
I hate these ads. They make me burn with feminist ire, and want to find the advertiser’s HQ and shell it with copies of The Female Eunuch shot out of a vagina-shaped cannon. So why are they still on TV, in 2012? It’s fine, some people have said, because this reflects reality for many families. Er, OK. Except isn’t advertising all about aspiration? Since when did ads for makeup, shampoo, or cars actually reflect reality? Ad world isn’t the real world, or else everyone else’s periods really do come out blue, and there’s something very wrong with me. So when we produce and screen ads like this, what we’re actually saying is we aspire to a world where women do everything. We’re perfectly happy with that status quo, because, well, it’s Christmas.
I’ve long thought that Christmas, birthdays, and other celebrations would simply cease to exist if women acted like men. My husband barely remembers to text his best friend on his birthday, and only then when I remind him. I’ve slowly become responsible for his family’s presents too, and all because I don’t want to be shown up when it comes to unwrapping time. I still remember the year they showered us in beautifully wrapped gifts, box after box of delight swathed in silver paper, adorned with ribbons, sparkles, and shimmer. We gave them a hose. With a bow on it. I’m not even joking.
Recently, this women-doing-it-all trend has taken an even more sinister turn. I’ve noticed that some of my more middle class friends have started ‘making’ Christmas presents. You know this one? ‘Oh, we won’t buy things this year, we’ll make them! It will be cheaper and so much nicer!’ All very well if you already run your own cottage industry making cupcakes/cushions/cardigans, but not so good if you have to a) buy all the materials and b) teach yourself how to do craft from a basic level of complete incompetency. Me and fabrics don’t mix. It all stems back to school Home Ec lessons, failing to thread a bobbin into a sewing machine while being shouted at by a nun (crafts and Catholicism, my twin nemeses). And yet I too have fallen into this ‘let’s make our own!’ madness. Somehow, last Christmas, despite being hugely busy with work and shopping and travel plans, I found myself in the kitchen at midnight, spattered all over with scorching-hot cranberries, making festive jam. There’s nothing like a vicious pectin burn to bring your back to your senses. Why do we do this to ourselves?
Feminism has been kind to my generation, on the whole. We have jobs, and for the most part our menfolk share the domestic responsibilities. And yet we voluntarily don pinnies, go back in the kitchen, and wear ourselves out making cakes and hand-engraving cards and knitting jumpers. Why? Because it’s retro. Because it’s ‘nice’, and ‘thoughtful’. Because being women, we’re supposed to be the pleasant ones. Despite jobs and cars and liberation, we’re still somehow expected to hold together the fabric (ha!) of society by sending (hand-made) cards and remembering people’s cat’s birthdays.
The person I blame for this is Kirstie Allsop. Now there’s a recession and she can’t force people to buy fixer-up houses they don’t want and can’t afford, she’s on a mission to get us all baking, but not just that – flower-arranging, felting (I thought that was some kind of dodgy sex act), and even, yes, binding our own books. Who the hell actually binds their own books? It’s like she’s William Caxton in a pinny. But we have to do all this, because it’s so ‘nice’, isn’t it? It’s nice to add even more work to Christmas. It’s nice to be on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Now she’s got a new TV show helping ‘desperate’ families spruce up their homes by making their own cushions and visiting antique fairs. At the end there’s a helpline for anyone who’s never been to one (I might be making this up.) When I watch these programmes, I just feel it’s adding yet more things to the list that women are supposed to do, or supposed to be – fit, healthy, slim, pretty, glamorous, supportive, successful, industrious…what’s wrong with just watching Loose Women in your pyjamas, eh? What’s wrong with never brushing your hair, and only realising after three straight days you haven’t unbolted the front door once? (I love being a freelancer).
I say we stop this doing-it-all nonsense, and claim back our time by acting more like men. When it’s someone’s birthday, let’s take them out for shots and send a badly-spelled text, instead of spending weeks doing sugarcraft on their cake. Let’s not send Christmas cards, let’s buy the dinner in the supermarket, let’s give our families socks instead of something thoughtful that took us weeks to find (people moan, but everyone wears socks). Let’s use all that extra time to learn kick-boxing and invent a cure for menstrual cramps and run for Secretary-General of the UN. In short, let’s not do anything that’s stressful and tiring and leaves us with less time for being who we want to be. Who knows, our families and friends might even prefer us relaxed, happy, and already half-cut on eggnog, instead of quietly weeping with our hand stuck up a turkey’s bum.