What if Santa was a woman?
Santa Claus must be a woman. What man would wear a red velvet suit? And there’s no way a male Santa would reach all those addresses without getting lost. After all, men never ask for directions.
Such banter is the fodder of festivals of all religious and cultural stripes, poking fun at ourselves through traditions and cultural icons. Who doesn’t enjoy a bit of men versus women back and forth, especially after women have spent the whole day cooking festive food and the men are sprawled on the sofa? Whether it’s Christmas, Eid or any other religious festival, it’s the same story in the dining and living room.
But what if Santa Claus really were a woman? I will ho-ho-wholeheartedly defend myself against the charge of turning a bit of fun into a “woman’s issue”. But sometimes we can get underneath social attitudes through a little bit of playful imagineering. And the perfect time to ask such unexpected questions is when a man is wearing a thermal red velvet suit, boots and a hat while celebrating a snowy Christmas in the desert.
Santa is always depicted as a friendly, chubby bearded and respectable elderly man. He brings joy by giving toys to children. Actually, while attempts have been made to imagine a female Santa, she’s a one-dimensional character: always dressed in skimpy clothes and depicted as a naughty plaything for men. She is the toy, with no autonomy of her own.
There is sometimes a Mrs Santa Claus. She works hard all year to look after the elves, to procure toys, to pack them up and to bake cookies. She’s a podgy stay-at-home wife who does all the behind-the-scenes work so that on the one night a year when her husband Mr Santa does actually work, he takes all the glory of making children happy everywhere.
Poor forgotten Mrs Santa. Yet her story as an unsung wife is really the story of most women around the world today, who still do the bulk of housework and childcare. If there really was a Santa, wives and mothers around the world would be wishing for Eid and Christmas cooking and cleaning, clothes procurement, present shopping and wrapping and event planning to be the gift that he gives them. Making festivals into fun is still a woman’s job.
In 1889, Katherine Lee Bates wrote the poem Goody Santa Claus on a Sleigh Ride, Goody being the colloquial term for “good wife”. In the poem, Mrs Santa complains about being left behind and asserts that she should go with Santa on his journey: “Why should you have all the glory of the joyous Christmas story / And poor little Goody Santa Claus have nothing but the work?”
This Mrs Santa gives voice through storytelling of the frustrations women face. The tale comes ahead of the changes of the early 20th century. When it was written, western women who voiced their opinions – especially when it came to their rights – were considered manly, improper and out of place.
A humorous and fun re-imagining of roles can sow the seeds for momentous social change, giving us new and insightful perspectives on the problems we are facing and how to change them.
But there is one problem a female Santa would never allow to defeat her: she’d never be seen in the same red outfit year after year.
Shelina Zahra Janmohamed is the author of Love in a Headscarf and blogs at www.spirit21.co.uk
Published: December 12, 2014 04:00 AM