He looks like he has given birth several times, nursed babies at his bosom and been a good mother. But Santa Claus is not a woman. Is this just feminist tripe? Can’t one accept the jolly good fellow that millions do and gender be damned?
I did. At school, a starchy convent where the most important thing we learned was how to cross our legs, Santa towered over us and made us go weak in the knees – with the weight of the books, toys, sweets, whatever.
Later we discovered that Santa was all fiction and it was the neighbouring school’s padre doing the honours. But older and wiser though we became, the fictitious bit was even more exciting. It was like a genie coming out of thin air to satisfy our needs.
All this has changed. Now when I see models wearing red caps and nothing else with just a banner covering their bodies that say, ‘Down with fur’, I know it is time for the fur to fly in more ways. All right, anybody can dress up as Santa, but will he be complete without a beard, without being a man?
I have thought of a few reasons why society cannot imagine a woman in his place.
Santa as wish fulfiller:
This is the most potent image. We have someone who comes quietly, and answers all our prayers and desires for little things. We would not dare give women that kind of power.
Santa as man comfortable with his girth:
No one would dream of showing a woman as huge, simply because it goes against male aesthetic sensibilities, besides being insulting to many a woman who has gone along with the corseted image for centuries. Here we have a man completely comfortable with his obesity, a kind of fertile god, pregnant with possibilities.
Santa as epitome of cheerfulness:
Have you seen Santa cry? Have you seen him complain and crib? Have you seen him lose his temper? Have you seen him throw a tantrum? Have you seen him get hysterical? Have you seen him being partial? Now fancy a woman not doing any of these!
Santa as representative of generosity:
Imagine this man sitting somewhere far away, patiently opening hundreds of letters from all over the world and planning out how to give, give, and give. And then he arrives, bearing a sack, togged up in red - a gratifying blood-life-giving colour, with trimmings in white, soothing and pure. If Santa were a woman, the first thing they’d want to know is: where did she get all that money?
Santa as no-questions-asked man:
A woman would want to know why, how, where, right? The male Santa does not. For him your wish is his command. He does not want to know your antecedents, your present status, and your future. He is only concerned with being there for you when you need him most.
And this is what I have begun to object to. It is a nice industry. Harmless fiction is nearly always lethal. Here in one figure we have been learning lessons in patriarchy, upholding of traditions as perpetuated by the male and of course the financial wherewithal and the emotional compulsions of the masculine gender to be the provider.
It is a questionable theory, but has remained unquestioned even in progressive societies where there is a large female workforce and it is many a woman who has filled her child’s stockings after saving up enough from her salary.
The strange thing is we cannot even mentally picture a female Santa Claus because the one that has been dinned into our heads is a guy who looks so nurturing, his cheeks rosy, cottonwooled against inclement weather. He goes through his selfless work year after year.
Being a ‘character’, he does not even need the burden of history. Who the hell is his mother? Do we care? We are caught in the web of Father Christmas as Power Mom. But, heck, aren’t we the ones who ask, why can’t a man be more like a woman?
So, Merry Christmas to all and a little moral here: While teaching Eliza Doolittle, it was Professor Higgins who learned the more important lesson of love.
PS: What woman wouldn't like a little Rhine in her spine?