So, sit down on the couch and tell me about your childhood. I’m ready to hear it. It’s getting cold again, so tell me what your normal family Christmas was like. Did your mum cook the turkey? Did she coordinate your festive costumes for the school’s annual vegan multi-faith play over a bowlful of quinoa in Maida Vale? Or, like me, did you win the Easter hat competition in Newcastle when she attached a discarded chicken toy from a Kinder egg to your forehead with masking tape (‘it’s in a nest’)? Whether your holidays leant more towards ‘tofurkey and cuddles’ or ‘sledge ride home from the pub on Christmas Eve because Dad’s too drunk to stand up’, it was probably almost always your mum who was pulling the weight. There’s a reason why Iceland’s strapline is ‘because mums are heroes’, and it’s not because of a renewed fetishisation of femininity. It’s because everyone knows that most of the time, especially when kids are involved, women are lumped with the domestic labour.
Now, it’s worth qualifying immediately there are a million and one exceptions to this rule. My own single father coordinates his own house and holidays fine, thankyou very much (and that pizza we had for Christmas dinner last year was as delicious as it was good value.) But there ain’t no use pretending that we don’t know what we’re talking about when we talk about steaming veg. Or ironing, or washing up, or turning up to put another tired smile on a tone-deaf daughter’s rendition of Little Donkey at the third night running of the Christmas carol concert. Society is changing, and has changed, but we still see women reporting in surveys that they do more than half of the domestic labour and childcare in their households, even when they work full-time or the same hours as their partners.
And here we come to the crux of the Asda Christmas advert that everyone’s tweeting about. Built around the same idea as Iceland’s ‘heroes’ gag, it portrays the mum who does everything. She puts together the costumes for the school play, prepares all the food, shepherds in the relatives, wraps and buys all the presents, blows up the inflatable mattresses, decorates the tree, entertains an entire cohort of children from her extended family. She ‘makes Christmas happen.’ And then, at the end, she finally gets to settle back into an armchair next to the reclining males, and her (presumed) husband turns around and asks: ‘What’s for tea, love?’ Oh, ho, ho. How that good-natured wifey laughs as she settles her feet on the ground, rather than jumping up and bludgeoning her partner to death with the wood-carved nativity scene we just witnessed her place on the mantelpiece. Fade out, and Asda reminds us that ‘it doesn’t just happen by magic.’ No, we should all remember that Christmas is the mother’s domain – and Asda is the backbone to it all.
Or rather than the backbone, is Asda actually the rod for her back? Because we all know that women still struggle not to be seen as the ‘homemakers’ of society, the girlfriend who quietly gives out Doritos while her boyf and his mates watch Chelsea play Tottenham, the mother who’s expected to cart around the kids while Uncle Ben and her husband break out a six pack and let the Pussycat Dolls’ latest music video play ‘in the background’. These are tired, overdone stereotypes, and they’re as insulting to men as they are to women. Most dudes are more than willing to lend their fair share, rather than sit back and watch their wives do all the work as they complain, Homer Simpson-like, about their various domestic incompetencies before standing up to assert their masculinity through the carving up of a dead bird. And suddenly, the media’s gone all ‘fifties’ on us.
The thing is, there’s a difference between recognising the fact that women have and often still do the majority of domestic labour, and celebrating it. These retro ads with their cheesy ‘mums are magic’ messages make me feel like the manager of our local store might see me loading up on roast potatoes and lean over to pat me the head (or the bottom, actually – that is Asda style, after all.) Actively reveling in the idea that mum does more – in a pre-Christmas advert that then seems to imply mum will do more this holiday, since it’s the done thing, darling – seems as tasteless as a thong under the tree from your pervy uncle. Recycled gifts are already a total faux pas, and here’s Asda serving us up a badly gift-wrapped steaming pile of historical patriarchy. Thanks a bunch.
On a positive note, it’s clear that the Ghost of Christmas Past has found himself a money-making scheme this year on the board of a major supermarket, and we love his work. But if we have to turn back the cultural calendar at holiday season, can’t we just start harassing our neighbours at their doors for figgy pudding again? At least there’s the promise of something at the end that doesn’t leave a sour taste in our mouth (although admittedly, figs aren’t usually our first choice at the dinner table.) And next year, maybe we can put the past to better use, and forget the idea that your mother has to hoover up all the pine needles and then giggle seductively about it. Because, kids, a feminist Christmas doesn’t just happen by magic.