I’m a sucker for Christmas, but like many, the consumerism of it all can be rather nauseating, if not downright idiotic. Buying for the sake of buying. Showing love and appreciation with money. It’s not exactly the moral due-north. But it’s the thought that counts, right? Meh. Women bear the vast brunt of the gift-buying burden no matter the season. And a troubling iteration plays out in the office on the reg.
It’s perhaps an age-old tradition: bringing back treats for the office from your vacation. You muster up your measly paid-time-off for a week away, and as a “sorry I had fun while you did exactly what you’re paid to do,” you have to bring back a gift? What a contrived gesture—almost backhanded.
However timeless the trope, I refuse to play along. And I couldn’t help but notice during my three years in a nearly satirical small-office environment, only one person on our team of six was holding it up: the only other woman. The men took their family vacations, too, sure. Myrtle Beach. Outer Banks. Seattle. Wherever the fuck. Never once did they burden themselves or their wallets for a meaningless souvenir that no one asked for, wants or is expecting. Good on them! It’s ridiculous, archaic and an empty gesture of status quo maintenance.
Isn’t vacation our one sacred extended time to avoid thinking about work? Shouldn’t our minds be as far away from the office as possible? Easier said than done, but going out of your way for pity taffy is a breakdown of priorities.
Salt water taffy is, after all, the signature sweet of so many seaside destinations. Maple candy from the northernmost New England states is a classic. Texas? That would be praline candy. It’s all so predictable, banal. Exotic sweets from foreign lands were purchased as well, but almost certainly duty-free.
And that’s what got me. I knew she’d buy them at the damn airport in an utter panic. Familiar with her particular anxieties, I knew it had to all be preceded and succeeded by a frantic feeling of obligation — that everyone would hate her if she didn’t, that she MUST compensate for her joy. This is the definition of emotional labor. Cue the mad dash to find the most staple sweet treat before Flight 248 to Dulles starts boarding.
As a woman newly minted to the workplace, I quickly started observing the ways in which my gender dictated my office responsibilities. Party planner. Mood booster. Supply orderer. Pretty thing to look at in otherwise drab environs. I soon began to seek my opportunity for rebellion.
We are, alas, in the midst of a cultural shift. And as we ride this feminist movement into the sun, reevaluating centuries of vile intentions, bitten tongues and accepting what we thought we couldn’t reject, emotional labor lives at the crux. It’s the everyday duties we take upon ourselves because we don’t know who else will, we fear punishment, or worse: society’s total collapse. It’s the minutiae we roll our eyes at, but festers and makes us feel devalued.
As we dissect our personal lives for imbalance we’ve long disregarded, or could not see, for the thankless responsibilities we’ve incurred because SOMEONE’S GOTTA BUY THE TOILET PAPER, and seek burdens to share, why not start with the lowest hanging fruit? Office treats.
Now, I’m also not the one buying birthday gifts unless it’s deeply personal, taken from casual mentions of wants and interests, and serves a purpose. A rare token, indeed, however convenient. To me, the idea of going to the closest Urban Outfitters and getting a friend an earring holder, not because she’s been talking about needing one, not because you’ve seen her many earrings in disarray on her dresser, but because you have to get her SOMETHING, the price is modest, the design is feminine, and she’s a girl — is loathsome.
If you’re my good friend, I’ll call you on your birthday, celebrate it with you if I can, and show you love all year long. If I notice your earrings in disarray on your dresser, I’ll add to my “GIFT IDEAS” note in my phone that an earring holder may be just the thing for you. And if you’re my colleague, I will work hard and support you, provided you’re pulling your weight. But I’ll be damned if petty obligation has me spending my hard-earned cash just to uphold decorum. Because the boys are operating by different rules.