A Black femme writer and sex worker by the name of suprihmbé writes: “we deserve your money and then some for birthing your babies, for putting up with your abuse, your violence, your terror. But most of all, we deserve to live.”
It might seem more than obvious that women deserve to live, but the often-violent actions of men proves this is not always the case. There is a sense of entitlement that many men feel we have over women, one that is quite frightening. suprihmbé highlights how we, as a society, expect constant emotional labor, sexual labor, and any form of labor we can squeeze out of women for little to no compensation. The expectations that suprihmbé explores are rooted in a system that we like to conveniently “forget” exists: “Mr. Scream”: Misogyny, Racism, Sexism, and Capitalism Rule Everything Around Me. Building on the phrase popularized many years ago, “Cash Rules Everything Around Me” (C.R.E.A.M.), we have to examine how capitalism’s misogyny, racism, and sexism touch everything we do, even holiday shopping.
Growing up in a pro-Black household, meditation on the overwhelming whiteness of Christmas was unavoidable, so I have the racism part down. We would buy a white Santa and then paint him Black. We grew up with depictions of Black Jesus all over our walls. I would also like to say that we made our Christmas tradition into more than consumerism, but I grew older I began to really see how holiday shopping and capitalism are intimately tied through this push to buy things we do not need. There is a culture of shame, as well, around those who celebrate Christmas without the economic means to buy their loved ones (especially their children) gifts. In 2015, Black Lives Matter continued to disrupt Christmas with #BlackXmas2, actions all over the North American continent to draw our attention to the anti-Blackness that fuels capitalism.
However, this year was the year that the misogyny, sexism, and the ties between each were personally unavoidable. Feminist writer Maureen Shaw recently wrote that our “celebrations shouldn’t come with a side of sexism” for Quartz. And as a man, I can guarantee you that I will receive less hate mail for saying that sexism is not just a side course, sexism is at the root of holiday celebrations as we know them. This is not to say that a holiday is that much more patriarchal than other day of the year, but to say that holidays are just as patriarchal as any other day. Something about the holidays just makes “Mr. Scream” more visible.
While shopping during the week leading up to Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa, I finally noticed that everyone in line appeared to present as a woman (and primarily women of color). This store carried housewares, bedding, toiletries, and a variety of clothes for men, women, and children. Last year, Dr. Lisa Wade wrote about the extra responsibilities forced onto women during the holidays, yet it was still surprising when the men I did eventually see were just the lifeless arm candy to the women doing the labor of holiday shopping. Some men begrudgingly waited outside of the store while a few men followed their partners around like it was the last thing they wanted to do. Sons accompanied their mothers but did not help them look for the perfect gift at an affordable price.
This holiday shopping encounter reminded me that my mother handled all of the back-to-school shopping, holiday shopping, and birthday shopping for most of my life. She would even purchase the birthday cards, leaving us to merely sign our names for each other. Now that we are older, she even texts us the day before each other’s birthdays to ensure we call our siblings or father. And although we actually knew who waited in line to buy and return the gifts and who sent out the texts, my dad received equal credit for the ideas and masterfully executed wrapping that we knew was not his handiwork. “Mr. Scream strikes again.”
The gendered division of labor is too easy to ignore, and when we (read: men) finally witness it, we rationalize it. “My mom likes shopping and my dad does not,” right? While it is true that my mom derives immense joy from spoiling her children with fantastic, personalized gifts, we cannot act like gender does not play a role. Which parent figure is typically waking up early to make dinner for the holidays–in addition to working their full-time job? We discuss the unbalanced distribution of household chores, and the embarrassing gender pay gap across the U.S. and the world, but sometimes the mundane incidents become elusive. “Mr. Scream” is not just some acronym, but a material reality.
Finally, I want to highlight the politics of holiday shopping to call our attention to the way that money, capital, and wealth are weaponized as a form of leverage over women. Those with the economic means to shop for more than the essentials during such a trying time still face the threat of violence as women in a patriarchal world. Not necessarily at increased rates during the holidays, but at the still-ridiculous rates they face as objectified, sexualized, racialized, and ultimately dehumanized bodies. Additionally, those without those same economic means are sometimes forced into nonconsensual sexual labor in order to survive. This applies to both consensual relationships and those forced into sex work.
As suprihmbé writes, “Men use and commodify our bodies, not just in porn and various other modes of sex work, but in advertisements, music videos and campaigns — but whores don’t deserve to be paid.” What labor are we willing to pay for, what are we willing to give up, and how do we work toward a more equitable world for women and femmes? If “Mr. Scream” is a reality, what is the solution? We start by consistently listening to those most marginalized, shutting up when they talk, and reflecting on our discomfort so that it may move us to action.