Gendered holiday expectations?

As the winter holidays loom ever closer, this seems like a good time to put the microscope on our culture and ask the question: are you finding yourself the object of any gender-based expectations this holiday seasons? For example:

  • If you’re a woman, are you feeling like you’re expected to have a brand new dress none of your co-workers have ever seen for the upcoming office party? Or a special hairstyle?
  • If you’re a woman, does family expect you to cook something for get-togethers?
  • If you’re a man who does the bulk of the cooking in your household, have you noticed family asking your wife to make something for a party without even checking whether you’d like to make something? Or whether she’s halfway capable of scrambling an egg?
  • Teenage girls, do you find you’re expected to watch the babies in the family while the grown-ups go shopping, while your male brothers/cousins are allowed to go off to do whatever they want?
  • Women and girls, are you expected to do the dishes? Bonus points if it’s expected when you’re a guest.
  • Men, do you feel pressured to watch sports with the other dudes, whether you love sports or hate ’em?

Share your gendered holiday annoyances in the comments.


  1. Nialla says

    Thankfully we just have a lunch thing at work early in December and it’s nothing fancy. Especially not when about half the staff are in their uniforms — police, EMTs and city maintenance.

    My family knows better than to expect me to cook anything. Recipes are considered “suggested guidelines” for me. I can cook, but I rarely cook for large groups (only child), so it’s difficult to adjust recipes.

    We switched over to plastic ages ago, but back when we used real dishes, everybody better put their own damn plate in the dishwasher, or gramma would want to see the cast on your leg. *g*

    My mother’s side of the family is a bit weird, because more of the women than men were into sports. Those who were into it watched on the living room TV, those who weren’t hung out in the kitchen/dining room, playing games or whatever. Nowadays we have the added option of computer games, which is a bonus because you don’t have to set everything up by hand.

  2. amymccabe says

    I feel very fortunate that none of those really apply. I know my sisters sometimes take on watching little ones, but is 1) completely voluntary and 2) our youngest brother is probably the most involved in that activity. I ADORES babies and little children.

  3. Anemone says

    I think I’m expected to eat chocolate. Given that I have no job or social life, I’m spared the rest.

    I have to say, though, that I used to like the excuse to wear a new dress (not that I wanted to put any pressure on anyone else), and I liked being able to do the dishes. It got me out of social demands, and I got to nibble on the stuffing some more in privacy. And I liked it that the other women chatted in the living room, so I could have the stuffing to myself. (Mom had a good recipe.)

    This is family I’m talking about here. When I had a job, I usually skipped the office party. Except the last one, where they had two live bands and a DJ, all going at the same time.

  4. sbg says

    All I have to do is show up this year. People are asked to bring a dish to share (I would bet my reduced annual salary that of the married couples, the women will be doing the cooking, and my single brothers will bring nothing. Or perhaps something to drink.), but I figure if I’m flying through a friggin’ snowstorm while squished between Fionn mac Cumhaill and Andre the Giant, I’m exempt from cooking. 😉

    I find myself more annoyed by gendered ads, but you know me and griping about commercials.

  5. says

    Just got off the phone with my mother sussing out the rules for the first family x-mas I’ve done in 3 years.

    I am expected to watch small children and/or puppies on x-mas eve so people can do last minute shopping.

    I expected to do dishes and help with dinner. ESPECIALLY since they are all making a big sacrifice by not putting beef on the table as I can’t digest it after so many years of being poverty-induced-vegetarian. Nevermind that I told them not to bother adjusting the food.

    I am expected to convince the relative giving me a ride to adjust his schedule and route in the manner most convenient for my parents/

    I was reminded to do my hair, shave my legs and dress in a certain manner. Just in case I forgot what it was like to be around ‘real’ people (which do not include a houseful of hippy-dippy queerfolk).

    I am, in fact, required to help with the day-after-x-mas sale shopping despite my utter lack of funds to support such an endeavor, and my utter hatred for such things.

    Hard to say whether or not these are gendered in my family, as I am the oldest cousin/grandchild and have all the responsibilities thereof.

  6. Ray says

    Cooking. I love to cook, but I hate the holiday expectation that I the women will DROP EVERYTHING to do so, which definitely applies in my family. (There is some help from the men, which I much appreciate, but I hate how when a man helps the whole family is grateful because he’s gone “above and beyond,” but what the women do is expected — if we don’t, then people are annoyed.) There is also the unfortunate year-round issue in parts of my family — the “providing dinner isn’t my responsibility, but it had better be ready by 6” attitude that comes up if there’s any sort of complication.

    And then, we will travel to see family, and it will be a “all women and girls over 12 to the kitchen to do the dishes” situation. Every year I have to decide whether to protest this or just endure it. One year my male cousin offered to help and was told that there were enough of us already and he could go back to watching TV. The two of us ended up clearing tables instead. I would mind the gendered divisions of labor, but less, if the men were doing something else vital to the success of Christmas dinner at this time, but they are usually just talking around the table.

    It’s also a pet peeve of mine that I get so much jewelry, even though I wear very little. Gendered gift-giving suggests that this is a safe and easy choice for a woman. And I feel bad because the stuff isn’t cheap, but if I suggest that people not buy me so much jewelry, they get offended and begin the “why aren’t you a normal girl?” interrogation.

    I love my family, but… holidays are stressful. 😉

  7. Scarlett says

    I’m fairly fortunate that none of those expectations really apply to my family. ‘Cos it’s the middle of summer here, we hardly ever do any baking – this year, like last, is bbq and cold seafood, which is my dad’s domain. (Mum, my sisters and I do the salads though.) Though if we lived in the northern hemisphere, I’ve no doubt all the cooking responsibilities would fall to mum.

    Mum will do the baking for dad’s family get-together, although part of it is that we always bring her potato bake which is a huge fave with everyone, and no-one can make it like her. (Pretty much the sme reason why dad takes care of the bbq and seafood). Everyone pretty much keeps an eye out on their own kids – or maybe they just know that I’m likely to be reading or writing and not keep a proper eye out so don’t bother saking :p

  8. aizjanika says

    My husband does a lot of cooking for special occasions, and even when he brings stuff to work, people tell him to thank his wife. If they are at our house, they ask me for the recipes.

    My husband and I cook our family meals together. I am vegan and he is not, so I make the vegan portion of the meal (if I’m making anything separate) and he makes what he wants, though this varies. If he doesn’t feel like cooking something different or if he likes what I’m making, he’ll make that. If potatoes need to be peeled, he does that, but generally the duties get divided up somewhat as we work together on preparing vegetables or whatever else we might be making.

    Anyone who knows us knows that when we have a get-together, my husband does most of the cooking. I make homemade salsa or hummus and things like that. I might also do some baking. I love to bake bread, but I’m also good at other types of baking. My husband usually makes everything else–even making sure there is something vegan for me and the kids, depending on what he’s making. For instance, he loves to make calzone, and he’ll make a vegan calzone or two for us. Sometimes I help by making some of the filling that I want, but sometimes he does it. It depends on how busy either of us is.

    People who don’t know us assume that I’ve done most of the cooking and cleaning, but in reality, it’s him. He’s faster and more efficient at the cleaning. I go behind him and do a little of this and that–add finishing touches or neaten up shelves, that sort of thing. I do wash floors and clean the kitchen and things like that sometimes, but he cleans the bathrooms and does a lot of the heavy cleaning.

    At larger gatherings with more extended family (especially if we are not the hosts), I’ve noticed that girls and women are expected to help in the kitchen while men and boys watch sports on TV or something like that. It depends on the family, though. I can remember years ago preparing Thanksgiving dinner with my sister and her husband. All four of us were in the kitchen cooking and socializing. The guys were making homemade ravioli (vegan and non-vegan). At my husband’s family, the women tend to do most of the work.

    I don’t really pay attention to clothes. I wouldn’t notice what someone else was wearing unless it was something really unusual, and maybe not even then. I have never really felt any pressure to have something new to wear to holiday parties, because if there was I wouldn’t know about it.

    I probably did buy something new most of the time, but mostly because it was a good excuse to buy something new or because there was something specific I wanted. It’s unlikely I would buy a dress, though. I’m more practical and I’d make sure it was something I’d want to wear lots of times, like a new sweater or pants I could wear anywhere.

    As a teen, I don’t recall ever being expected to babysit other people’s kids, but I admit I’ve pressed my daughter into this service maybe once or twice when people were over, but that’s mostly because she was home and of age, not because she was a girl. If my son was home and old enough, I expected him to help, too.

    When I was a child, this was all different. My mother never expected help in the kitchen or with anything, even when I was a teenager. Perhaps other women or my father helped her; I don’t remember. I wouldn’t be surprised if she had very little help at all. My sisters and I were expected to entertain the guests, especially if there were other children around.

  9. says

    Yes to all of these in the past, not so much anymore on the helping out/watching children front because I live so far away from my family; but when I’m back home and there’s a party the division of labour is 100% traditional gendered and although I don’t get explicit demands to go along with it, I feel bad having the burden fall on my mom/aunts and so the result is the same.

    I struggle with the whole cooking thing. My boyfriend is very competent in the kitchen, but I’m a fantastic cook (who doesn’t believe in false modesty! =)), so the way it shakes out is that I do almost all of the cooking for any special occasion, or even just a nice dinner at home.

    He is amazing about sharing the burden of actual work – I have to fight him away from the sink to do the dishes, he chops all the onions and peels all the spuds with remarkable alacrity, and is the best sous chef anyone could wish for – but I still feel bad that we have such a normative division of labour in our relationship.

    Especially since my cooking skills do originate in a very gendered place; the women in my family are famous for being great cooks, it’s a multi generational tradition that means that no man I’m related to has ever been able to make so much as a grilled cheese sandwich. And I did, in less enlightened days, use to play heavily on the domestic goddess trope, and find it hard to shake off now.

    I did rebel for about six months earlier this year and we started basically either going out or eating pre-prepared food; but this was so bad to both wasteline and wallet that it couldn’t go on.

    Anyway, to answer the question: yes, people overwhelmingly expect that it will be me doing the cooking, but for many of them (those who know me) it’s a reasonable expectation. Closer to home, my boyfriend doesn’t exactly expect it of me, but I think he always hopes that I do, because he knows we’ll get a good meal that way… :/

  10. Deb Sens says

    These expectations fall a lot on my family especially with my inlaws. They volunteered our home for our Christmas party I said ok, we can have a platter becasue I am not good with cookiing and I absolutly hate it. Nope apparently I am cooking and cleaning all day, luckily my hasband is helping. I know I shouldn’t be that upset because I am not doing ALL the work but I really don’t like being volunteered to host parties. Then my MIL invited a few people that Adam and I have never met and we are expected to buy presents for them. I called called a scrooge for saying um…..NO this is last minute they have NO right inviting peple at the last minuete I don’t even know them. Sorry for the rant.This is my first post on this blog, but I am a long time lurker!

    • Youll Never Guess says

      “I shouldn’t be that upset…”

      Uh…Yes you should. You have EVERY right to be upset about this. You may not have been doing ALL of the work, but you were doing a lot more than you volunteered for. I certainly hope the in-laws were doing their share too.

  11. Char Lefave says

    And this is why my family stopped going home to my grandparents’ house for Christmas. Not that anyone was expected to cook the one time we did; we had pizza for Christmas Eve, and went to my great-aunt’s house for Christmas dinner.

  12. Kiki says

    The looks on people’s faces, espcailly my parent’s generation when I got cooking items and would hand them to my boyfreind who would exclaim happliy. I would explain that he does most of the cooking and he would say that I do most of the baking.

    Most of my presents do tend to be very gendered because I like household crafty things like knitting or sewing. The only jewelry I got this year was from my mother though.

    Family tradition says my mother bakes the holiday cookies for her side of the family because her grandmother taught her how to do it. This year I made the dough for the sugar and filled cookies and my brother made the filling. Mom made the oatmeal. My boyfreind and my brother’s girlfreind helped cut out the cookies, and I helped my mom roll them. While I was home visiting my brother made dinner most of the time even jumping in where I’d started.

    My aunt hosted my mother’s side and did a lot of the cooking but since the food is served in the kitchen and that is where the door is we tend to all gravate towards the spread and can be gotten to help. My grandmother hosts my father’s side and I’m never there for the prep but my aunts help with clean up.

    • Maria says

      Hehe, when my friend got married, people kept giving her cooking appliances and cleaning appliances at her engagement party. It was HILARIOUS when finally her fiance admitted HE was the maid of the family and started testing out the vacuum, especially since all of those people had GROWN UP with her and KNEW she didn’t clean!!

      • Youll Never Guess says

        Yikes. That would have scared me out of getting married! Am I getting a husband, or loosing my life? Becoming a matron, or becoming his maid? What horrible “friends”.

  13. Maria says

    The other thing this made me think of was that scene in Harry Potter, when Ron gives Hermione a GIRL gift, and that’s a sign they’re an OTP, which is STUPID because her OTP should be the guy that knows her well enough to get her something she WANTS, not something that recognizes her gender.

    • MaggieCat says

      Haven’t seen the movie, but in the books I’ve always thought that was a call back to the fight they had in GoF that basically started with “Wait a minute, you’re a girl!” like it was some startling revelation. Or I’m reading too much into that because as a teenager most of my close friends were male and generally forgot that I wasn’t just one of the guys until they suddenly needed a girl opinion.

  14. says

    …I hate Ron/Hermione with a burning burning passion.

    In my house, I’m expected to do the cooking, but that’s just because I am the only one who can actually cook something not out of a box or fried in butter. I remember I thought it was excessively funny that things like taking out the garbage and disposing of mouse traps were “boy” jobs since I’ve only got sisters and my Dad isn’t handy (much to my mom’s dismay, just because she likes things she doesn’t want to do done for her). Although I was the kid who did everyone’s laundry for a little while before I started losing people’s underwear and socks, and “collapsing” dramatically on the laundry room floor.

    Really, the gendered roles I used to have to do alone were just tasks my mom thought it was easier to keep me doing than to make my sisters help. I’m the oldest and most easily convinced/coerced/guilted into taking people’s crap. From the impressions I’ve gotten from my parents, it’d have been much worse if I’d had any brothers (specifically butch, straight brothers), so I’m just really glad that didn’t happen.

  15. Youll Never Guess says

    Yep. I wore a new dress to the office party yesterday. (I’ve never seen a woman from the office wear the same dress twice, too any event.)

    Grandma does the cooking. Always…but Grandpa does the dishes…usually.

    No teens or televisions here.

  16. Kara K says

    Thanksgiving is my least favorite holiday because of how gendered it is in my family. The women do nearly all of the cooking and all of the cleaning and all the of the child care for the whole day. My husband and I split the cooking for our assigned dishes (for which my husband got many, many cookies–eyeroll). My uncle grudgingly carved the turkey, the only man besides my husband who did any task in the kitchen.

    The men wanted to go shooting, which means they would have left for three or four hours, but I told my husband that I was not happy about that, because of course the women wouldn’t get to leave for that same amount of time, and there are a lot of young families with little kids (including our four children who are 3-8), sticking the women with not only all the cooking and cleaning, but tons of fun tethered to the children without spousal support. I love my children, but cooking and cleaning all day and trying to keep them occupied in a non-child-friendly house for hours without my husband is the opposite of a celebration. So, we nicely directly the afternoon activities in a different direction.

    Christmas is a lot less gendered.

  17. Shaun says

    I don’t socialize with my family members or much at all with others around holidays. I have noticed, though, EVERY time I bring food somewhere everyone asks if my “girlfriend” cooked it (even if they usually know I don’t HAVE a girlfriend) and seem flabbergasted I was able to cook anything myself. Being able to feed myself is so emasculating, I know.

    Between my parents, my dad did ALL of the holiday cooking, and pretty much all the cooking on weekends (I have never in my life seen my mum cook anything more complicated than a 4-ingredient stir-fry). I never thought this was unusual but now I’m wondering if it was perceived that way.

  18. Megan says


    My fiance and I drove 3 hours to have Christmas dinner at my mother’s house. In attendance: 6 boys aged 12-27, 2 uncles, my mother and her best friend, me and my autistic sister. After a very awkward dinner, which my mother and her BFF prepared while decimating a bottle of wine, it was time to clear the table. She announced that since she cooked all the GIRLS younger than her had to clean. My autistic sister yelled that she had helped cook, so, “Okay, you don’t have to clean.”

    Which left, coincidentally, the implication that I alone was responsible for the cleaning up after a dinner for 12.

    This has less to do with gender norms and more to do with the fact that my mother is a heinous bitch. BUT my reaction was priceless, because I said, “Why do we have to adhere ourselves to outdated gender norms! Gregory, get the plates! Nick, get the glasses! Let’s go!”

    So the boys cleared the table, scraped the plates, and helped put the leftovers into the tupperware. My fiance and I worked on the rest of the kitchen together once that was done, and it was a matter of minutes before the first load was in the dishwasher. So long as we escaped before the cycle was over, we were done with cleaning.

    Of course my mother took this opportunity away from the crowd (where she had to play at some modicum of polity) to say some very interesting things to my fiance and I during the cleaning of her kitchen. I laughed in her face. So that was fun.

    In conclusion: HULK SMASH GENDER NORMS by making the teenage boys do a good chunk of the work, and you know what? They were polite and didn’t whine and did as they were told without a fuss. Probably because they’re exceptionally good people. It is my hope that next year they will automatically help with the cleaning (unless they help with the cooking, which makes them exempt. But that’s unlikely due to territoriality).

    Of course, next year I’m hopping a flight to the Caribbean and spending Christmas on the beach, so eff it.

    • says

      Awesome of you! You know, it’s my experience that in each successively younger generation, you find more and more boys/men who not only don’t mind doing “woman” chores, but even consider it ordinary.

  19. Amy says

    My husband is the main cook in our house. He enjoys it. While my stepmom does most of the daily cooking (she’s a stay at home mother…with four kids that is more than a full time job) but Dad does most uf not all holiday cooking. Both my brother and sister-in-law like to cook and who does how much at any given time can really vary. Kids are pretty well passed around and my husband is good at shouldering some of the work of carrying for our son (he is currently on FMLA leave and caring for Finn while I’m at work). So gender roles and expectations aren’t so much an issue.

  20. Demi says

    I have a big Greek family and at every single gathering the women are always the one going back and forth between entertaining and kitchen duties. My sisters and I are asked to bring dishes to the kitchen, while the women wash up and the men and male cousins of course get to sit down and converse. As a known feminist in our family I always try to persuade Dad to set a good example and take some dishes to the kitchen…he never does though. I think he’s afraid it’ll challenge his “manliness.” One day…

  21. says


    I married into a Greek family and yes, it’s that dynamic exactly! Husbands and sons are never expected to help cook or clean. And I kept being the dutiful daughter-in-law and always cooking and cleaning. Until I got fed up and challenged my husband on his laziness and entitled attitude; leaving the dinner table to vanish somewhere sticking me with all the work. I can’t make my father-in-law or my husband’s brother participate but DAMMIT, he’s not gonna be let off the hook with ME! It worked, because he just never thought about it before. His mother was a little horrified I had done that.
    I do still help out, because they were kind enough to feed me. But husband helps too.

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