Breaking Gender Roles at Thanksgiving

While Thanksgiving is meant to be a relaxing holiday spent being thankful for family and friends, for many women, like my mother, it means waking up at the crack of dawn, shoving large poultry items into ovens, frantically running around to cook up casseroles, vegetables, rolls, and pies, and obsessing over matching silverware, all while shouting at the kids and the husband to clean the house, take out the dog, and to please make sure the living room furniture covers the part of the wall that the toddler painted on. Then it’s setting the table, pouring drinks, and finding places to store all of the family’s shoes and coats as the guests start arriving. During the actual dinner, my mom is the last one to eat, and the first one to jump up if someone needs a water refill or salt and pepper. After the meal it’s more of the same; Dad and the boys watch the football game while the women clear the table, wash the dishes, and store the leftovers, and suddenly what was meant to be a family holiday has turned into a frantic female work day.

If your family is anything like mine, it’s sometimes hard for the women to enjoy and experience the holiday. Here are some tips I’ve thought up to equalize gender roles come Turkey Day.

1. Don’t be afraid to let the men in the kitchen.

Part of the reason the women in my family do all the work on holidays is because it’s self-imposed. They refuse to let the men help for fear that the turkey will burn or the dinner rolls will fall flat. But strongly encourage them to assist. If the turkey’s overcooked a bit, chances are no one will notice or care.

2. Solicit their help the second they walk in the door. 

The men in my family have a habit of making a beeline for the living room. If you politely ask them, “Do you think you could help me set the table or put the water on?” as they are walking in, they’ll be more likely to stick around and offer their assistance once they  realize that putting together a Thanksgiving meal isn’t a piece of cake. Literally.

3. After-dinner cleanup is gender-neutral.

You don’t have to know how to bake a chocolate soufflé to know how to throw some soap in a sink and wash the dishes. If the men in your family claim they don’t know anything about cooking, cleaning up is the best way to garner their service.

4. Don’t hesitate to ask for help. 

You can ask for help without making yourself seem like you’re unable to do things on your own. Your husband, uncles, and male cousins should be happy to help you out. If not, a recitation of a chapter of Judith Lorber’s Undoing Gender may be in order.

5. Relax.

Don’t forget to take a breather. If you’re slaving away in the kitchen, take a couple of minutes to sit down, relax and chat with your guests. An extra five minutes won’t cause anyone to die of hunger. And fellowship is what the day is supposed to be all about.

With these in mind, don’t forget that American Thanksgiving has its roots in genocide and imperialism. Happy Thanksgiving!



About Ohio U Women's Center

The Ohio University Women’s Center serves and responds to the needs of OU women students, faculty, and staff, as well as members of the community. Founded in 2007, the center is dedicated to creating an inclusive and welcoming campus climate for all members of the community through programs, resources, referrals, advocacy, and education. Located in Baker University Center 403.
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