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Gender Roles and Thanksgiving

By November 25, 2020February 28th, 2024From Susan

(Or…Where the heck did my brothers disappear to?)

Have the rigid gender roles (women slaving in the kitchen/ men sitting on their butts watching the game) changed over the years? I guess every family is different, but when I started writing this blog, I realized I have the somewhat unique perspective of seeing gender roles in my own family evolve over four generations. Note: It ain’t always pretty.

When I was a kid, we celebrated Thanksgiving at my paternal grandmother’s house, and the day was pure magic. I’m from a big family so by the time my aunts, uncles, and cousins convened, we numbered somewhere around 25. At that time, traditional gender roles were hardwired into the holiday festivities. Men and boys watched the game or played catch in the backyard while all the cooking and cleaning was done by the women and girls. In those days, men worked outside the home and women were homemakers; cooking and cleaning was what they did. Nobody thought much about it though I admit to being rankled by the fact that my three brothers got to frolic while I was assigned chores… OK, so it was just stuffing the celery sticks with cream cheese, but still.

When the matriarchal Thanksgiving baton was passed from my grandmother to my mother, women had started working outside of the home so the rationale for men sitting out the chores was wearing a bit thin. But traditional gender roles prevailed with the exception of my aunt who had a demanding job and a very feminist mindset. When it was time to do dishes, she’d boldly up and leave the dinner table when the men did. I heartily approved of it at the time, yet there was the nagging knowledge that all that really did was leave more work for the women in the kitchen. By that time, my brothers were supposed to help with dishes, but they had developed the superpower of invisibility and always managed to slip out the door unnoticed. I tried to get comfortable with the way things were, but the whole Thanksgiving thing started getting under my skin. (It didn’t help at all that I became a vegetarian and felt sorry for the turkey!)

My mom passed away in 2006 and I guess you could say our Thanksgiving tradition pretty much died with her as the matriarchal baton was passed along to me and my two sisters. Yikes. Let’s just say it wasn’t in the best of hands. There’s a standing joke in my family that you’ll know when the Brown ‘N Serve rolls are done when the smoke alarm goes off. And my sisters and I often refer to the stove as “the hot thing in the kitchen.”  One year, when it was my turn to host Thanksgiving dinner, I had it catered. I thought it was a brilliant move, but everyone else seemed to think that was bad form and not at all in the spirit of the season. Whatever.

My sisters and I made lame attempts to rally over the years, but with no matriarchal loadstar, we began to find excuses to be out of town over the Thanksgiving holidays. By that time, my brothers were married and most likely out playing catch at their in-laws. Not that it would ever have occurred to them to host a dinner

Which brings us to the next generation. (Yay!)

The matriarchal baton has once again been passed along to the next generation. This time to my niece Sarah, a successful lawyer who lives near Abilene with her appellate judge husband, John. They live in a big comfy house on a couple of pastoral acres and have restored my love of Thanksgiving.

This year our numbers will be a little thin, but in pre-COVID years, there are at least 25 of us. It feels a lot like the traditional Thanksgiving I loved from my past– but with a twist. The gender roles have all but disappeared. Men, women, boys, and girls are in and out of the kitchen equally giving a hand where they can. (Except for my brothers, of course, who have retained their ability to vanish into thin air.) Me, I still don’t like to venture too close to the hot thing, but I shoulder my share of the responsibilities by entertaining the young kids and bringing the pies (I buy the really good ones.) Oh yeah, and stuffing celery sticks with cream cheese. Some things never change.