Winter Rolls Right Around the Corner: How family gender roles are amplified in the winter

by: Kathryn Kaiser
With winter coming right around the corner, all the many joys (and chores) of the season are going to be brought back into our lives. Along with the hot cocoa, steaming cider, snowmen, and ice skating comes snowy driveways, decorating, cold drafts, and icy walks, creating more work to be done inside and outside of our homes. With five older brothers to rope into yard work, my winters don’t usually include shoveling the driveway or laying out salt. Instead, my mom, sister and I handle the decorating inside and build a fire to keep the house warm and cozy. This pattern can be seen on a larger scale, too. Searching “person shoveling winter” in Google Images yields mostly pictures of men, while “person decorating winter” only has images of women.

In my family as in many, the men are expected to do yard work. This has always been something that I fought against, especially when I was younger, wanting to prove to my dad that I could help out outside, too. But as my brothers have gotten older and moved out, I’ve begun to do more of the work outside. I still like to decorate inside, but my mom takes charge of it more than before. Spending that time outside has become something I look forward to, a way to feel the harsh cold of winter. But what does this have to do with gender roles?

I’d say that how these roles appear in our own lives, in harmless ways like house-work and yard-work divisions, are just as important to recognize as the more intense and systematic ways gender roles manifest. By trying to shake up these roles in our own families, we can privately challenge the overall culture that allows them to persist. If you’re a girl who has been exempt from yard work, ask your family why. Suggest to lend a hand next time, or do it instead of your brother or father if they usually tend to it. If you’re a boy with a sister, see if you can swap household responsibilities or bring up why you’re given certain chores. 

If the chores you normally do don’t stereotypically align with your gender, think about why that is. Is it a conscious choice to divide the work equally, without categories, or is it a result of not having another boy/girl to give the job to? By examining how these roles have come to enter our homes in the upcoming winter, their impacts (good and bad) can be discussed and we can move towards intentionally assigning chores each season. We can develop a firm answer to the question of if it’s better to divide certain work by gender or to get rid of those divisions entirely.

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