27 September 2023

Research wrap: The gendered load of holiday season

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Pia Rowe* looks at look at some holiday activities that have more universal appeal beyond the celebration of domesticity and gender norms.

Ok, so for us in the Southern hemisphere, it’s actually pleasantly warm outside, but regardless of your location, we’re now slowly but surely inching towards the silly season.

And that silly season (for those who participate it in), and the holidays that go with it, are full of traditions, habits, and underlying cultural norms, which, you guessed it, enforce traditional gender roles.

Christmas as a holiday celebrates domesticity.

We could of course explore the turkey basting stats, debate the evolution of bodily autonomy and consent vis-à-vis Christmas carols, and ponder whether mums around the world are still secretly snogging Santa in the middle of the night (while Mrs Santa does all the invisible labour at home) – but let’s face it, we already know who shoulders the burden of making the holidays magical.

So for something a little bit different, let’s look at some holiday activities that have more universal appeal beyond the cishet family cliches.

International travel statistics are on the rise again after a few years of COVID mayhem – with ‘holiday’ being the second most frequently stated reason for Australian residents returning home after a short term trip (at 33.5 per cent) – with ‘Visiting friends/relatives’ taking the top spot at 48.2 per cent, and ‘Business’ third at 8.1 per cent.

Overall, men continue to take more overseas trips than women (856,970 vs 733, 940 respectively).

While the overall numbers might be getting closer to being gender-balanced, the type of travel and the underlying motivations for holiday decision-making continue to be influenced by gender and other personal characteristics.

In ‘What motivates and hinders people from traveling alone? A study of solo and non-solo travellers’ (Current Issues in Tourism, 2021), Yang provides a gender-balanced investigation of the contemporary meanings of solo travel, and the underlying factors that drive this phenomenon.

As Yang notes, solo travel has become more popular in recent years, driven in part by factors such as individualised lifestyles, changing relationship demographics and perceptions of marriages, and the increased number of solo dwellers.

The concept includes a variety of experiences, from being alone for the entire trip to joining a group trip alone.

Among other things, the study explores safety concerns from both female and male perspectives, and demonstrates that ‘safety’ means different things to different people.

She writes:

“In contrast to the accounts of solo female participants where most concerns were related to sexual harassment or assault, solo male travellers were concerned about theft and petty crime.”

Non-solo travellers also highlighted similar gendered safety concerns, and suggested that there is a difference between men traveling alone versus women traveling alone.

What’s more, some suggested that while some safety concerns – such as pickpocketing – could affect both genders, women were seen as more likely to experience it because they’re “seen as an easy target”.

Having said that, travel can also present positive opportunities for those outside the 2.3 kids and picket fences dystopia.

In ‘LGBT tourist decision-making and behaviours.

A study of millennial Italian tourists’ (International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, 2022), Salvatore Monaco argued that for LGTBIQ+ people tourism can mean more than simply recreation, and provide opportunities for a temporary escape from the social prejudices and inequalities in their everyday lives.

As the author notes, “Italy can be considered an interesting case study since in this country LGBT people are still victims of discrimination and social stigma”.

Drilling deeper into the findings, the research also showed that even though LGBTIQ+ people “share the burden of belonging to a sexual and gender minority, they attribute a slightly different meaning to tourism, considering different push and pull factors”.

Lesbian women often evaluate holiday destinations by taking into account the place’s social and cultural climate and its legislative framework.

In other words, they prefer places where they don’t have to hide their sexuality, and where they feel safer.

Gay men on the other hand place value on holidaying in destinations that offer something specifically for them, thus providing an opportunity to socialise with people who share the same characteristics, and explore their own identities.

Perhaps unpredictably, safety is the most important consideration for transgender people, with personal protection a higher priority than the cost, trip length and overall comfort.

The author notes that this is particularly true for transgender women, who have experienced discrimination and prejudices in their daily lives.

At the other end of the spectrum, the bisexual people who participated in the study were not conditioned by the sexual orientation, and rather made their decisions based on the locations they wanted to visit.

Monaco argues that since bisexual can have romantic or sexual relationships with partners of the opposite sex, they are less likely to struggle with heterosexist social expectations.

Read the full study here.

Lastly, let’s go back to Christmas and families.

As Pownall et al. note, “Christmas time is a site of intensified domesticity, a reliance on traditional norms, and centring of family relationships” (Feminism & Psychology, 2022).

However, COVID-19 profoundly disrupted our everyday lives, which obviously extended to our holidays.

Pownall et al. analysed television advertisements on YouTube to investigate how relationships were constructed in the context of COVID-19 Christmas.

And guess what? The advertisements constructed nostalgia as women’s work, and family relationships as a critical site for representing gendered norms.

Hands up who’s surprised?

*Pia Rowe is Academic Editor of BroadAgenda.

This article first appeared at broadagenda.com.au

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