It’s one thing to recognize I’ve reached adulthood, but it’s quite another to be able to look back over many, many years and see that the threshold was crossed quite a long time ago. I’ve now got under my belt a large swath of experiences that have pointed in the direction of today. When it comes to Thanksgiving, I’ve learned to perfect my turkey preparation, just one of many aspects to the day that are now part and parcel of the holiday for me.
I’ve also gotten attached to a certain table setting for Thanksgiving, and to having the Macy’s Day Parade on in the background as I cook, which let me just say really sucks for people in the Pacific Time Zone. For those of us who grow up with Thanksgiving through our childhood and into adulthood, we have expectations around something that happens in that day. Eating the crappy green bean casserole, or at least having it on the table, arguing about who sits where, making a particular holiday cookie, there’s always something.
Also in my personal history is the need to dress up. It’s a formalish dinner, with the special china laid out and the polished silver on the fancy schmancy tablecloth. Mom would even enlist me in ironing the napkins, which of course I hated but which of course she hated worse. Which is why the job fell on me. (Remind me sometime to tell you about the enormous Jabba the Hut pile of ironing in the downstairs laundry.)
Now then, dress up often meant dress, which by the time I’d reached adolescence was more often a clean sweater and khakis, but my point, as obtuse as I’ve made it, is this: Thanksgiving is a gendered experience. Who sits on the couch, yelling at the football game, and who is in the kitchen prepping the meal. Who does the dishes afterward, who carves the turkey, there are many moments throughout the day that tell us something about gender roles and expectations.
Now that Emile is more aware of his surroundings and the relationships of the adults around him, it’s occurred to me that there are things I can do–as the adult that I am now–to help dial down some of the more sexist traditions that my culture has handed to me. There’s nothing revolutionary here, but maybe if we can make it through the next 15 Thanksgivings with less emphasis on sexist ideology, we’ll have made a small difference in the experience for our family and friends. Some of the ideas that come to mind are:
Get everyone involved in the cooking and meal preparation–Other than the whole hoopla around frying turkeys in a vat of vegetable oil, I haven’t seen men do much in the way of cooking or baking in any given year. (Other than myself and a few select gay men I know, but overall, this has been the case in my experience.) Even people with less kitchen experience can help do the prep work of chopping, cleaning, peeling, and mixing cake batter. It’s a good time to educate folks on how much labor is actually involved in getting the big meal ready, and folks will feel more of a sense of satisfaction when they sit down to eat because they helped make it happen.
For that matter, get everyone involved in cleanup–The big bonus here is that if each person chips in the cleanup will go way faster. Some folks should clear the table, others do the rinsing or washing, and others still on hand to dry the clunky things that won’t fit in the dishwasher (or if there’s no dishwasher, stuff in general). There’s nothing about being female that makes them better at cleaning, and this way, the boys and men in the group will have less justification for begging off of future housekeeping tasks. Nobody should be allowed to take out the garbage and call it a day.
Do something as a group afterward where everyone can participate equally–Card games are good for this. Once the meal has been cleared and the dishes washed, why not play a game of poker or hearts or Uno? The basic Wii sports game is good too for not reinforcing sexist notions of body ideals (like in first person shooter games) or an overly competitive atmosphere. Get people to interact with each other instead of the monitor or television screen. Maybe steer clear of Risk, unless three-hour-long family fights are your idea of a good time (Hint: don’t try to take Europe until the end).
Don’t put so much emphasis on wearing gender-specific clothes as fancy wear–There are girls out there who insist for 6 years that all of their clothes be pink, but for the other female-assigned youth out there who prefer knockabout pants and shirts, Thanksgiving dinner doesn’t have to be a power struggle over the dress you want her to wear. I’m pretty sure I’m heading into an era where clean clothing will be acceptable clothing, so I hopefully won’t be arguing with Emile about which articles make it the most clear to strangers and relatives that’s he’s totally and unarguably a boy child. Outfits can be appropriate for supper without being all about pink and blue and our gender identity. (This from a former teenager with a penchant for sweater vests.)
Leave the sexism out of the dinner speeches–I’ve heard stories from friends about the drunk uncle who stands up, glass in hand, and thanks the womenfolk for the great meal they’ve provided and let the eating be over soon so he can get back to the football game. Drunk uncles of the United States, you’re just embarrassing yourselves. Sit down, eat your food, give a simple thanks if you must. But let the Thanksgivings past be the final resting place for those archaic ideas about gender. And enjoy the pie.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!