There are endless issues for feminists to care about. The gender pay gap, rape, domestic abuse, victim blaming, women being killed by their partners, women being killed by strangers, women being assaulted in nightclubs, women being assaulted on trains, women being catcalled, women who have no control over their reproductive rights, girls who are forced into marriage, girls who have their genitals mutilated, girls who have no access to education, girls who are trafficked and sold. Girls who grow up to be women who are criticised for having children, criticised for not having children, criticised for breastfeeding, criticised for not breastfeeding, criticised for being a working mum, criticised for being a full-time mum, all while trying to navigate their way in a world that tells them they are too fat, too thin, their faces too wrinkly, too smooth, their hair too grey or suspiciously blonde.
These are the things that most feminists care about. It’s a long list, and the issues affect millions of women and girls all over the world. And yet scrolling through most of the major online news publications, it would appear feminism is about something else entirely. According to the media feminists are people who get outraged over the lack of gender-neutral snow-people and, most recently, a woman’s right to play Father Christmas.
The furore started when the news broke that two women had volunteered to dress up as St Nicholas as part of a festive event in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham. Labour Councillor Arun Chandran wasn’t in favour of the idea, saying: “There is no shortage of male volunteers to act as Santa Claus, so we should not permit a female volunteer to perform the role. My understanding is that Santa Claus, otherwise called Father Christmas, is a male role.”
Fine. As a feminist I really don’t care if one person feels men are better suited to donning a synthetic beard and chanting “ho-ho-ho” at a village fayre. I don’t feel concerned by this news, but I am concerned that these are the stories that are used to paint a picture of what the fight for equality is, and are subsequently shaping what some people think it means to be a feminist.
The story was debated in the newspapers, on Loose Women and Good Morning Britain, but the reality is nobody really cares about what gender Santa Claus is. People have better things to worry about than debating over who gets to pretend to be a mythical gift-giver who flies through the sky on a magic sledge, but the story was positioned by the usual clickbait culprits as though people were marching through the streets demanding for all-male Santas to surrender their red suits and herds of reindeer to make way for the next generation of female warriors. It just didn’t happen.
The truth – I know because I’ve worked in newsrooms and seen it being done – is these stories are often written based on one or two tweets and positioned as though feminists everywhere have rallied together to ruin everyone’s Christmas. These stories are untrue, unhelpful and frankly quite tiresome when, truly, beyond being not raped or killed, all most British feminists want to change in their daily lives is the right to continue their careers after having children, or to walk into a nightclub without being grabbed.
These pointless debates are detracting from real issues that affect the lives of 50 per cent of the population. There are plenty of other things we need to talk about.