By Phyllis Lerner and David Sadker
Tuesday, December 19, 2000
Holidays can be a season for meaningful actions that challenge sexist and other stereotypes, de-emphasize materialism, teach our children and families, open ourselves to diversity and emphasize recycling, helping and sharing.
(WOMENSENEWS)--Here it is again: another holiday season (take your pick: Chanukah, Christmas, Three Kings Day, Kwanzaa or Ramadan). Buy all your gifts yet? Bake any holiday goodies? Well, for the Martha Stewart within us, these questions may be timely, but December can be so much more than buying and baking; this can be the season for meaningful action.
The cheerful ads and blissful music that infiltrate elevators, stores and the media can dull our thought processes. We find ourselves going through the familiar routines, but not really considering them or the meaning of the season. The holidays have become a time of unbridled materialism. But this is also the season when our personal values become public. How do you spend your holiday time? What lessons are you teaching children, family and friends? How can your actions contribute to a more humane society?
Here are a few suggestions for creating more meaningful holiday traditions:
Buy gender-bending gifts for the young people in your life. You may be the only radical relative or friend who can select a non-stereotyped toy. Won't they get enough doll or monster goodies from everybody else? Your careful selection matters.
Think: "What can I do?" versus "What did I get?" Teaching children the meaning of sharing and caring often gets lost in this holiday season. Help children to start with their own toy box and select items they don't use or need. Giving toys away to children who have little can clean up their rooms and brighten up their perspective.
Challenge stereotypes. Consider the gender stereotypes that are imbedded in your holiday home life. Does a dad always play Santa? Who is the mechanic when it's tool time or chef when it's dinnertime? Is your daughter on the decoration team but your son is on the basketball team? How can you broaden these roles to eliminate gender stereotypes?
Prune and share. Winter clothing, hanging in your closets, could warm someone who has neither clothing nor closet. Residents of homeless shelters, substance abuse centers, domestic violence shelters or particular charitable groups would benefit from clothes you don't need. Try a simple rule: If you haven't worn it or used it in three years, get it outta there!
Holiday hits. Hundreds of not-for-profit organizations now have Web sites that convert visits by you into money for worthy causes. Every time someone visits the site, a worthy cause receives a donation from a corporate sponsor. (Remember It's A Wonderful Life?- "Every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings.") Choose an issue or an organization that has special meaning to you. Support breast cancer research, fight sexism, save a tree, or search the web by plugging in key words related to issues you care about. Hit the sites, and spread the word! ("Holiday Hits" are gifts that literally keep giving all year long.)
Give to a progressive cause. Gift certificates and donations to worthy causes that fight sexism, racism, or promote the progressive agendas can be made in people's names over the holiday season. You may choose to research other worthy causes as a family project. In lieu of a score of material gifts, these donations can be significant. Children can contribute a token amount to your offering as well (or at least design the card). The money goes where you want it to go. And, it's a timely deduction for the 2000 tax year.
Helping the helpers. Have family and friends spend some holiday time helping others. For instance, child care centers and nursing homes have staff and volunteers who might like to spend Chanukah evenings, Christmas Day, Three Kings Day services, Kwanzaa candle lighting, or Ramadan fasting with their own families. Is there any chance that you could cover for a few hours?
Spend time (not money) with someone. We all have a friend, neighbor, foreign visitor or local college student who could use a sense of home. Can you take a person shopping who is less than able? Might you invite someone over to make cookies with you? Wouldn't a wrapping paper partner (other than your two-year-old) actually be useful? There are loners out there and they may not be "single."
Buy from non-profits that need a strong financial base. Why go to the Amazon of online when you could surf in to smaller organizations, including some groups with feminist values. Many non-profits really need your dollars for survival, not just success.
Boycott or "girlcott" violent video games and toys. Let everybody know that you'll spend your money in ways that matter.
Broaden your family traditions by incorporating holiday rituals from diverse cultures and communities. You can broaden your home events by inviting people who celebrate different holidays and share different cultural experiences.
Recycle things; (no, not your chia-pets), but your gift-wrapping, leftover food, cardboard containers, glass bottles, and recycle plenty of loving-kindness too. Presents are too often "stuff" that is hardly needed and often stashed or trashed.
A holiday message can be more than a greeting card. Let the holiday season help you communicate a message that you have always wanted to deliver. Take this opportunity to remind someone who may not be particularly sensitive about equity issues, how important this season is to mutual understanding and respect among all peoples. A diplomatic comment or card could do the trick. (It will probably help you feel better as well!)
Bevy of books? Book clubs have grown over the recent years. Has your book collection grown as well? Give some (if not many) away. Books are so worthwhile the second time around and they're darn easy to wrap!
More ideas? Let us know and we'll add them to next year's list.
Phyllis Lerner is an independent consultant focusing on effective and equitable instruction. She has produced and presented several video programs on gender bias for educators.
Dr. David Sadker is a professor at The American University in Washington, D.C., who has researched gender bias for 30 years. Along with his late wife, Myra, he co-authored, "Failing at Fairness: How Our Schools Cheat Girls" (Touchstone Press, 1995).