By Sandy Burgham
I had a passing interest in the Santa Parade this year as not only did it pass our apartment but I couldn’t help noticing that Santa had entered into the gender debate i.e the usual player had been pushed aside after commenting that Santa could not be female because Santa did not have boobs. That’s odd, I thought, since Santa-as-envisioned-by-Coca Cola is overweight and hence I suspect has moobs (man boobs). And as some have pointed out, in real life is usually played by Mum anyway as she plans, buys, wraps, and cooks Christmas not only for her own family but often for her husband’s too. (Shout out to my husband who in bizarre turn of events has actually has sorted the kids this year already).
We do of course prefer Santa to look like the big jolly man he has looked like through our lifetime of consumerism. Because Christmas is “for the kids” and we don’t want their hopes and dreams crushed by a female Santa. For goodness sake , this is just another example of “PC gone mad” said the masses. What next?… a young, female Prime Minister breastfeeding at the UN?! …Oh.
This Second Act column arose after a close friend passed away at 50, which I was soon to be. It was a sobering experience which lead to me declaring, somewhat optimistically, that 50 was the midway point in life where one crossed the threshold into their ‘second act’. If my first act was about ‘being successful’, my second act was about ‘being conscious’ as to what I gave my time and energy. My own 50s have ended up being a game of two halves. For the first part, I plunged into understanding gender as thoroughly as I could, through studying both gender and history at university, while absorbing myself in every aspect of that hackneyed phrase “diversity and inclusion”. This has morphed into a deep interest in how gender works within systems of power, how it’s used and misused, and how it’s fundamentally changed the direction of both my working life, and how my life works.
So my ears pricked up when Santa waded into the gender debate with odd comments about boobs, but helpfully, that the ladies could be Santa’s helpers, dancing around in little skirts and tops (I checked out the dancing helpers in the Farmers’ parade, and yes, they would certainly have been revealing in the 1930s when Coca Cola Santa was invented).
In the gender debate there are usually two positions. The majority are in the “PC gone mad” brigade. They don’t like change. In the other corner are those that tend to be very “woke” on issues. I use “woke” in air quotes as it’s a current slang term about being very socially aware, so as not to exclude anybody. (Here’s an experiment for over-40s: casually use the term “woke” and watch millennials cringe). This lot talk a big game, but don’t want to do change either as it risks them being unpopular. So the trust committee overseeing the Farmers’ parade wanting to appear all “woke” and “with the times” wildly overcorrected one way, and then the other when they reinstated ‘sexist Santa’ after a week of headlines and talkback chatter. (Phew, status quo!).
How disappointing. What a lack of imagination. If you want to make a statement about being non-discriminatory, or whatever the complaint was, then lead with some fresh thinking and new action.
In his 1963 ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail’, Martin Luther King wrote, “I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councillor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice.”
The irony in all of this is that Santa represents the consumerism that Christmas has been reduced to in the eyes of most children and parents, and that is rapidly ruining the planet and thus the future of our kids — the very ones who we are trying to protect from the horror of a female Santa (or as in Nelson, one wearing a korowai but no jaunty red hat). If Christmas is truly “for the kids” we would take some responsibility, stop buying them so much unnecessary crap and avoid fizzy drinks. But we are too addicted to fitting into the status quo and popular opinion of the masses, the ones who are ruining the planet. The gender debate unfortunately is complex and the solution is not to be found in usual, binary thinking. So what would I have done if I was on that Farmers’ parade committee?
Begged Lynda and Jools Topp to play Santa and his/her favourite elf. Disrupt Christmas. Wake up. We are living in a different world.
– Sandy Burgham
This article first appeared in the December 2018 issue of The Hobson Magazine.