Open Thread: Thanksgiving

Way back when I was but a young feminist in a WGS 101 class, my professor asked the class to describe our Thanksgiving traditions as a way of further explaining the notion of gender norms. As more and more students told tales of men sitting on the couch watching television while women basted turkeys and mashed potatoes, light bulbs turned on around the room. Aha! Gender norms! Men and women are both expected to play certain roles, even during such great American holidays as Thanksgiving!

Holidays can bring out the best and worst in all of us (especially when you’ve got an uncle that likes to play “bartender” by pouring shots for everyone the way I do). So what are your Thanksgiving traditions? How do you negotiate gender norms when you get together with your friends and families in the kitchen? And what are you going to cook/eat this year? Oh, and do you remember THIS?

Now don’t get me wrong, I LOVE Thanksgiving. I look forward to it for about six months out of every year. But there are a few problems that even I can see in the holiday, and what better place to commiserate/share coping strategies than right here on this blog?

Problem One: Annoying Gender Norms

It’s one thing to tell your friends/classmates/coworkers that you are a progressive feminist, and it’s quite another to have to tell your dear old grandpa that he needs to get his ass of the couch and help grandma with the dishes. Gender norms can be mighty tricky to negotiate when generations of family are involved. So what do you do? Do you just bite your tongue and let the women work in the kitchen while the men watch football? Do you protest by rejecting the gendered expectations put upon you? Does your family have a different, more equitable way of doing things? Discuss!

Problem Two: Thanksgiving is Pretty Racist

Oh hey, do you remember when white people came to North America and made everything better? Good thing some friendly Native Americans were there to help the Europeans get corn so that they’d have the energy to “civilize” (read: eradicate) them! It can be tough to celebrate a holiday that you are aware is basically founded on racism. Is this something you choose to address on Thanksgiving? Do you choose to make your Thanksgiving celebration about something else? Do you genuinely like celebrating colonialism? Oh, and have you ever been in a Thanksgiving pageant? (Tangent: Has anyone seen the Thanksgiving pageant episode of Strangers With Candy? It illustrates the racism pretty well.)

Problem Three: To Some People, Meat is Murder

So your mom (or dad, or friend, or whomever) has spent a ton of time and money cooking a giant turkey. But guess what? You don’t eat turkey because you are a vegetarian/vegan/non-turkey eater. Do you lecture your family and friends on the politics of meat? Do you choke down the turkey anyway to be polite and avoid an argument? Do you bring your own tofurkey? Also, what do you think of this new PETA ad?

Problem Four: Despite The Aforementioned Problems, Some People Love Thanksgiving (Like Me)

I’ll admit it (I already did, in fact): I think Thanksgiving is awesome. I love the food, the family togetherness, and my uncle the “bartender” (I’ll be spending the night at my mom’s house tomorrow to avoid a DUI offense). I love leftover Thanksgiving food the next morning, I love the stupid parade and watching Planes, Trains, and Automobiles after everyone is too full to socialize. So feel free to share your good thoughts about Thanksgiving in the comments section as well. Do you have a great recipe? A favorite Thanksgiving movie? A new and improved way to make a hand turkey? Let’s hear it!

Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving!

by Kelsey Wallace
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Kelsey Wallace is an editor in Portland, Oregon. Follow her on Twitter if you like TV and pictures of dogs.

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9 Comments Have Been Posted

Oh my. Thanksgiving with my

Oh my. Thanksgiving with my family is excellent, men and women alike cook and watch the game, wine is plentiful, and everyone knows I'm a dirty dirty liberal with no verbal filter, and they love me anyway.

This year we're going to the in-laws house. Recently I was informed that, in a family that has only born men (all wives are married in), our "generation" is now responsible for clean up.

Ponder that a moment?

That's right, I'll be cleaning up for 20-something people this year since the other wives will be with their own families. Cousins can do what they do, but I'm married to the oldest brother, and he and his siblings definitely WILL be helping in the kitchen, even if they're the only boys there. We've already had that discussion.

Holidays are what you make them

I've come to believe recently that the above statement in the subject line is true. My parents are religious and they continue to celebrate Easter. Easter is still about Jesus. Christmas is about getting (cleverly disguised as 'giving') and being with family; it's not about Jesus anymore. Halloween for many people is the devil's holiday. I like to dress up and eat good food and hang out with good friends. Thanksgiving, while we know how it originated, is what you make it. I acknowledge the racism and slaughter of the natives, but the Thanksgiving holiday is not about that. It is about giving thanks and eating good food that you may or may not have harvested and sharing with friends and family.

That said, my whole family loves to cook. If dinner was at my mom's house, family members of both sexes would pitch in or bring a dish. And everyone would help clean up because it's manners when you're visiting anyone's house. Yes, the men watched the game. There were men who didn't help, and there were women who watched the game and didn't help. Sometimes we went out to eat and it was almost always women servers. The men talked football and cars and tools and hunting and the women...umm...the women...I honestly don't remember. Maybe I blocked them out lol. (yes, i lol'd)


This is the holiday that reminds me how much I love my brother. He is always the one in the kitchen helping my grandmother, mother and aunt while the rest of the men in our family sit around. My grandfather doesn't understand it, but that's what he gets for being such a patriarch his daughter shapes his grandchildren into feminists ;)


Lol that's awesome

I wish I had at least ONE guy in my family who was like that.

Thanksgiving to me

Thanksgiving to me exemplifies stereotypical gender roles, whether I'm celebrating with my family or my significant other's. In both families the women do the cooking and the men do the lounging, and yet both families would call themselves progressive and liberal and not sexist. And it's sort of a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation, because if I sit down with the men, that's just more work for the women, and if I help out with the women, I'm playing my little role. Also, I am a vegetarian. Ha, so . . . more complications.

Except there really aren't. Because I'll go, and socialize, and eat the non-meat items, and probably bring a dish to contribute, because people, knowing that I'm a vegetarian, tend to accommodate that. So I accommodate them by not making a scene about their established routine, and they accommodate me by making sure there's food I can at (although that's generally not a problem anyway, since there's SO MUCH food.) And maybe it's all a Big Act for all of us. Or maybe it's just a typical family holiday where we let go our differences and come together.

Also, I do think that "holidays are what you make them" is something people say when they're coming from a place of privilege, because, well, are holidays what you make them for people who are dirt poor and still living on the reservations they were forced onto all those years ago? That's what really irks me about the holiday: that people discuss the genocide of American Indians like it happened so long ago, when in fact it's still happening. Right now.


Thanksgiving is one of those holidays I love, despite it's problematic themes/history/norms. While it does happen in my family that the women dominate the kitchen and the men dominate the couches, I don't think it's necessarily a matter of gender expectations as it is personal preference-- for example, my dad loves to cook and isn't a big sports fan, and there isn't a man in the house (barring possibly my grandpa, who is a bit stuck in his more patriarchal ways at times) who wouldn't help out immediately when asked (and they do get asked). Also, my aunt is a huge sports fan, and will take frequent breaks to catch up with the game and enjoy some lively cheering and hooting for her team. Besides these exceptions, in my family the guys pretty much all love sports, and the women pretty much all love to cook. For us it's definitely not about the pilgrims, as we have a few historians in the family who wouldn't think to celebrate THAT carnage/disgrace, but truly just a holiday where out-of-town family can have an excuse to come visit, eat, drink and be merry and thankful for what we have! I admit, I am cooking something tomorrow even though I wish there was something a little more subversive I could do to make a statement, but I really don't care for sports, and I am excited to be able to start contributing to the family meal.

Thanksgiving is ironic -

Thanksgiving is ironic - what the fuck are you giving thanks for? Okay - being with your family, maybe.

And then? Colonialism and the murder of *millions* of turkeys just for this holiday. Disgusting. The gender norms issue depends on the family, but the 2 other issues I mentioned? They're always there.

the other kind of indian

i get the privelege of be an immigrant, so my thanksgiving doesn't come with the heteronormative traditions that most americans face. because the younger members of the family understand the holiday, the parents sit back while we prepare the meal. and considering the younger family members don't believe in gender norms, we all enjoy each other's company in the kitchen. we get to set precedents for our own children. this holiday is probably the only progressive holiday we share.

as for acknowledging the history behind the holiday, well, no one had to tell an immigrant family about the trials and tribulations of living with other cultures. i am in no way trying to take away the devastation the native american people have experienced, but our family understands the racism still present in our country. it's a day we come together and acknowledge our adopted history and move forward to making our own. history will be what we make of it.

as for the problem with meat, the great thing about thanksgiving is that we celebrate our vice of being glutonous americans (that was a joke, take it offensive if you wish). so the variety of dishes should accomodate both meat lovers and meat loathers. no exceptions.

and it's ok to love thanksgiving. it's ok to celebrate a non-secular holiday that encourages a sense of community and familial ties. it's ok to celebrate a holiday that acknowledges our history (whether we sugar coat it or not, it brings awareness to how cruel colonialism can be). it's more than ok to encourage our children and ourselves to stop and remember to give thanks to what we have and forget about celebrities and material possessions for at least one day. hell, with that said, we should have thanksgiving each week!

Every year my dad stays in

Every year my dad stays in the basement all day until we call him up for dinner. In the meantime- my mom, my sisters and I spend hours cooking and cleaning. I tried to get my dad to help us this year but he told me he had to ‘watch the game’ *rolls eyes*

As someone who is part Native American, Thanksgiving disturbs me a bit. Columbus Day freaks me out way more though. We’re celebrating a man who committed genocide! I’m also a vegan, so it makes me kind of sad how a holiday has hundreds of thousands of turkeys being butchered. Every year we eat mashed potatoes, rolls, coconut ice cream, pie, soup, and salad.

And even though these things kind of bother me I too like Thanksgiving. Mostly for all the food!

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