I would rather be a bad feminist than no feminist at all.
The year 336 AD seems a long time ago in terms of celebrating Christmas, but recording the times before Christ's proposed heyday reveals a monumental prehistoric history of winter celebration.
The Western world knows Christmas and New Years as the largest holidays that mark winter solstice- probably the only ones, actually. With a frenetic bustling that happens in November and inches up in pitch and fervor by December, there is constant talk and buzz which altogether centers Christmas and Christmas alone. The biggest spenders during these Winter holidays inevitably end up being women. Statistically, they are the most active in the consumer space making up more than 70% of purchasing decisions in the United States alone. And then after those holidays calm down, the roll-ins of gym memberships, coupons being cashed, and other packages secure their spot as top dollar consumers.
How did we get here?
What came before
The most successful rebranding award has to go to the Christian Orthodox faith. Not only has it transformed itself many times over, but also nearly erased the history of holidays that came before it- not just by besmirching them but doing a complete and total takeover.
As Christianity became stronger and more solidified across Europe, Pope Julius I decided to further deter people from indulging in the old, decried pagan holiday of Saturnalia (and perhaps even Sol Invictus).
This holiday just so happened to take place on December 25th and was a Roman tradition that spanned around a week, thought to end on that fateful date. It was all about opposites, turning things on their heads. Slaves became "masters" for the day, served and catered to in some tales. Men wore their robes the way women did, and vice versa. Food was cooked and gifts were exchanged. Laws were changed to accommodate at atmosphere of freedom, frivolity, and companionship.
Although mostly erased, legends, tales, and recorded oral histories track these pagan celebrations and a time before. In 2022, we viewed a rise and fall of many different trends, ranging across multiple scales and going faster than most of our newly-shortened attention spans could even keep up with. One particular trend, however, has been a steady rise in the genres of "woman" that one could choose to be.
What does this have to do with Christmas or the solstice, though?
Well, hard to say what others may have seen, but many had For You pages dominated by parodies and frustrated montages of exhausted women to share with their friends over the holidays. Images of women fed up with being constantly advertised to and mined for their insecurities, raging against incessant subliminal demands and alpha-submissive podcasts have crafted funny, rageful takes looking back at the year. Some videos gave pop culture timelines, others looked at the stereotypes of #UtahMoms (remember that whole drama this year?) and played on the continuing resurfacing of the trad-wife movement.
That one in particular stands out. The TradWives were having a ball this winter, describing ways to increase one's value as a woman and how to best create a perfect seasonal celebration, all while looking hot (but not too hot) and fertile (in a heterosexual way!) and happy. It's all very Fallout-before-the-nuclear-war.
The 1950s aesthetic isn't new to the scene. Many have a pure aesthetic enjoyment for it, but some creators are beginning to sell a tone and message that maybe things would be better if we returned to such a time.
I expect that from a particular strain of online creators, but to hear people in comments and even "alt"-adjacent teens and young women buying into these talking points was very alarming.
What can be gleaned from these trend cycles is that women continue to be the biggest Final Boss for every market, every subculture, for every movement. They have an undeniable power, deciding the death of something or, at the least, how well it did that quarter. And Tradwives are only reporting more and more success.
Let's actually look at the 1950s for this. Mad Men allowed us a look at the Golden Era ad space, a team of wordsmiths and creative business minded sadists who knew just how to pair what image with what funny phrase to cash in. Most especially were these ad agencies and firms working hard to play to every insecurity and social demand that ensconced women.
Often, these vintage ads not only sold an item, but an experience, discussing its usefulness in holiday preparation, in house cleaning! Don't forget that loving and protecting a child comes with the package, adding an easy appeal to the "frazzled woman" when she is already crumbling underneath a hundred demands. And if you don't have a child?
Get one! Hello!
Messaging prompted women to not only buy into these trends for their families, for their friends, but for themselves. It prompted conformity to a manufactured idea of what a woman should be. Especially with the War being over, ads prompted working women to return to where they'd be happiest (interesting how another massive worldwide event is being used to corral working women into a more conservative box again under the guise of 'liberation from' rhetoric).
Choice feminism aside for the moment, the reductive role and harm that these ads exemplified let women feel confident and powerful in their homes!-- because they were sold that they should be. Gender norms were packaged to perfection, trapping many femmes in the kitchen, restricting their ideas of what they could do because they were shaped by the mass media they were fed.
While domestic violence was incredibly common, even cosigned, in the 50s and 60s, young women were seeing and hearing about the joys of domesticity. To choose to take a handle on your home's cleanliness! The independence and joy of buying a new iron that will be perfect for pressing your husband's shirts, defining the pleats in your daughter's new skirt! If that's what you're seeing, and its being echoed, even celebrated as revolutionary power, then why wouldn't you accept it?
It's A Choice
Renowned philosopher and drag queen Tatianna once looked at the camera and said, "Choices."
It all boils down to it, making a choice. In fact, this article may seem like an indictment on choices that women make decrying what they should be allowed to do with their lives. If a woman is at home perfectly happy with receiving a stipend for buying groceries, tools, and household necessities, that's her choice. What's the matter with that?
There's nothing inherently wrong with it, is the thing! It is a choice. Taking away from women celebrating traditionally feminine characteristics and traits isn't the intention of this piece. In fact, there's a running trend in feminine neo-pagan circles embracing womanhood and the uniqueness of women. This extends to acknowledging pagan holidays and how they reaffirmed traditional feminine power, like Matronalia! Similar to Saturnalia, celebrated on the first day of the Roman calendar (now March), this was a day for women to receive presents from their men and dress unencumbered, letting their hair down, loosening their knots in clothes, and having prayers dedicated to them.
A young girl living during this time is not very different from a child in the 1950s when you consider their options. In fact, her life is probably much worse. But no one is really decrying the neo-pagan content creators for celebrating Roman goddesses or turning back towards ancient wisdom, spiritual figures, and age-embracing.
But that's because they're not promoting the lifestyle of someone who lived in 236AD. There's not really a slippery slope from listening to Ethel Cain and looking at dissertations about Lana Del Rey into trying to embody the everyday of someone from ancient times. This is in direct opposition to where the trad-movement comes in.
Respect to homemakers, but the insidious conservative taglines that accompany this movement's message has been connected to far-right recruitment and Christian fundamentalism. Speak defenses against it, but there's too much of a correlation between watching a woman sprinkle 1950s housewife music into 30 second clips of her pantry organization methods and watching the GirlDefined sisters discuss how much you should be putting into your marriage to be considered a good wife.
The winter time finds women pressured to maintain homestead and engage in seasonal practises. It is not enough to buy the right present for a partner but the right present for a child, for a family dinner, a present that inevitably signifies increased labour, that proves a multitude of statuses well-deserved and well-earned once again. You don't need to be a tradwife to find yourself doing this; you just have to be a woman who's been raised with certain expectations, who's seen and heard all sorts of advertisements echoing the same sentiment.
And it's completely a choice to do all of those things, or none at all. It's a choice to fall completely into the grey area between! But recognise that women will always be the major targets for all sorts of recruitment opportunities; even when something is aimed at men, it inevitably affects and involves women.
Women have been sold a lot of things in the past year, and centuries before. But here's to hoping that-- whether you plan to celebrate Matronalia in March, or you're a staunch Romulus-follower and did it at the turn of the year-- certain harmful choices find themselves underperforming in sales with women in 2023.