As a professor in the States focused on analyzing gender and family issues within a critical media studies framework, Thanksgiving poses some interesting challenges for me. On the one hand, I absolutely adore this holiday. I love the days off (my College even throws in Wednesday), being with family, and cooking a traditional meal while catching up with everyone.
At the same time, on a practical level, Thanksgiving is not the ideal time for an academic. It’s our crunch time. We are preparing to wrap up the semester and often are faced with an inevitable tough choice. Either we assign papers to be due right before Thanksgiving and have to spend the entire holiday grading (albeit with a few extra days for the task), or we make the papers due immediately after Thanksgiving break, forcing students to spend their entire holiday writing and leaving us only a short time to grade them after the break. Add to this the constant stream of emails from students working on these papers. Stealing away a few moments to catch up on grading and beginning the preparation of final exams, I often find myself hiding in another room while festivities play out elsewhere. Non- academics really don’t understand why you can’t really take a few extra days off from your job.
Another aspect of Thanksgiving that presents a challenge is watching my children absorb cultural myths while attempting so assess how much critical perspective a 7-year old should be offered. Where do I interfere with discussions on representation of Native Americans? How much should I reframe different schools’ narratives of the holiday? For example, Rethinking Schools has offered one way to explain the complicated nature of Thanksgiving to children, but where is the line between wanting to provide alternate interpretations of the holiday for my child without causing conflicts with her teachers?
Then, of course, the entire Black Friday spectacle follows. While most people debate the morality of stores opening on Thanksgiving Day, I’m forced to wrestle with the conflict of my personal desire to save money on a new washing machine with my professional and scholarly critique of rampant consumerism. I want to support Buy Nothing Day, but I can’t pretend I’m not tempted as much as anyone else by the excellent deals to be had.
Finally, I can’t ignore the gendered components of the holiday, in which too many families conform to a structure where women serve as the domestic laborers during the day, while men comprise the takers of the meal (although I must acknowledge that my husband and I do not follow this norm). The Ohio University Women’s Center has organized tips to avoid the gendered cycle, but will relatives rooted in the dominant culture appreciate my using the holiday to attempt to break some cracks into our gendered society?
This struggle between asserting my scholarly critical self and allowing others to relax and enjoy the culturally normative experience of Thanksgiving in the U.S. is an experience that I’m sure is not limited to only myself. Happy Thanksgiving to everyone out there in similar (gravy) boats!
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