January 6: Feminist Thoughts from America on Nollaig na mBan

January 6, 2021

In Ireland, January 6th is Women’s Christmas or Nollaig na mBan

In my native Ireland, January 6th is Nollaig na mBan or Women’s Little Christmas, when our mothers were supposed to kick back and relax while our fathers did the housework.

Em .. Right.

Elsewhere, depending on your country, tradition or religious belief, January 6 is either just another day or the Feast of the Epiphany or the 12th Day of Christmas or La Fête des Rois or el Día de los Reyes Magos.

Of course, in 2021, the one-day switcheroo in male-female labor divisions is not supposed to be newsworthy or even a thing.

So nowadays, Nollaig na mBan has evolved into a marketing tag or occasion for women-focused social events or feminist-lite fundraisers which, in this COVID year, have to be virtual.

In all of these, there are very few nods to those women who are frontline workers or working low-wage jobs and risking their health and lives just to keep a roof over their own or their family’s heads.

Sometimes I catch myself prattling on about Nollaig na mBan, my native country’s version of a holiday that was, in my 1970s and 1980s youth, more branding than real, and that was all about a day of gender equality that never really existed — not in our educational access or employment policies, and certainly not in our constitution.

Still, long before Ireland became the Euro capital for advertising giants like Google and Facebook, our country has always known how to spin and export a postcard image of itself — a kind of pretend-place reserved for tourists and multinational investors and Hollywood producers.

Even in my 1970s and 1980s youth, we sorta believed that gussied up version. Or did wishful thinking override the actual reality?

In our house in rural County Mayo, January 6th, the Feast of the Epiphany, started with Mass in the village church, followed by a Sunday-style dinner washed down with tea and the last of my mother’s Christmas fruitcake. Then, there were the usual quibbles over who would do the washing up and who would fetch turf or coal or logs for the living room range or fireplace while the adults in the room dozed to sleep over their newspapers or rosaries.

In all of this, I have no memory of my mother sitting in a wing chair with her feet up while my father chopped and peeled and cooked and served.

So in our house, and in every house I knew, Nollaig na mBan, our so-called women’s Christmas, was as stuck in its gender roles as the rest of the rest of the year and the rest of our lives.

21st Century: A New and Better Ireland for Women

Of course, since I left Ireland, things have changed dramatically. Now, young Irish girls are as likely to take top university spots in engineering, science, information technology, medicine and bio medicine as their male counterparts. In fact, according to one study, Irish female undergraduates are more likely to actually complete their non-traditional degrees than boys.

In a 2020 “Best Countries for Women” list, Ireland was ranked (wage parity, educational access, employment opportunities) in the Top 20, or, in one instance, Ireland actually makes it into the Top 10.

2021 America: The Best of Times and the Worst of Times for Women

Meanwhile, in America, we are ridding ourselves of a president who, in one of his 2020 campaign rallies, promised to get our “husbands back to work.” We’ve voted out a man who, by his own, videotaped braggadocio, regards us as voiceless s*x objects, as chew toys for his doggie little antics and appetite.

Yet, in the November 2020 elections, 55% of white American women voted for Donald-the-misogynist and Donald-the-racist-Trump.

Two years ago, in nine U.S. states, most of which have disgraceful child-poverty and literacy rates, moved to pass anti-abortion legislation.

Meanwhile, the current administration is moving to cut access to food stamps for American families, while they imprison and deny medical care and human rights to non-American women and children at the southern border. We lost Ruth Ginsberg, the bright and guiding star of the U.S. Supreme Court, and hustled through her replacement — a woman who has previously voted against our female interests.

So given their druthers, these men and the 55% of (mainly white) American women who support them, would have us all living real-life versions of The Handmaid’s Tale and Oliver Twist.

Despite or because of this, we now (finally) have a female vice president. Later this week (or today, on Nollaig na mBan), we will find out if two smart men won in the Georgia runoff elections — in no small part due to the work and dedication of Stacey Abrams and her Fair Fight voter-rights and education initiative.

To all our elected women, I say ‘thank you’ and ‘go get `em.’

To all of us, I say, whether you celebrate Nollaig na mBan, or La Fête des Rois or el Día de los Reyes Magos, to heck with that quibble over who’s doing the household chores.

Instead, make yourself a bowl of porridge or pasta and then, let’s plan a year when we rise and chant and vote for the equality and policies that, all along, should have been ours in the first place.

Irish author, workshop leader in Boston area. Fifth book, “Green and Other Essays” just released. More at www.ainegreaney.com