Is there anything, anything at all that women cannot do as well as or even better than men? That’s a very dangerous question to answer, but one fearless old bloke with a white beard has answered it in public and is, so far, refusing to back down. Women can’t be Father Christmas, says Neville Baker, who runs a New Zealand company that recruits, trains and places professional Santa Clauses.
And they won’t include women, not on his watch, although the consequences of his stand may mean that his days of deciding who wears the red regalia are numbered.
You could have heard a pin drop in Auckland — where Baker himself has starred as Santa in the annual Farmers Parade for the past four years – when people opened their Sunday Herald and read his startling declaration.
In the run-up to the parade, the paper had asked him what it was like doing his job in the #MeToo era. He talked (on video) about the importance of sticking to rules about touching – not only children but grown women who, after a drink or two at a girls’ get-together, sometimes want to sit on Santa’s knee. His recruits are trained to place their white-gloved hands carefully; they don’t want any #MeToo-style accusations when the bubbly effect has worn off.
A female Santa would most likely avert that snare (though there’s the trans factor to think about) but there are no women in Baker’s portfolio – zilch, albeit not for want of applicants. “They apply, and you say, ‘have you misread the ad?’,” he said. “Putting politically correct things to one side, there’s a certain character people expect to find when they come to meet Santa.”
Adding fuel to a potential conflagration he pointed out that there was already a role for women: Santa’s Little Helpers, who wear a “little skirt and top … but I wouldn’t put a guy in a skirt and top – right?”
Somewhere along the way he amplified: kids today were a critical market, many questioning whether his Santas were the real deal. “That’s something we already have to contend with, let alone kids saying ‘Santa’s got boobs, mum.’ I couldn’t place [a female Santa] with one of my clients, they would think I’m stark raving mad.”
Probably they would, but thinking is one thing, saying is quite another, and Baker’s frank admissions were too much for the sensibilities of the Auckland Children’s Christmas Parade Trust which hires Baker’s company to provide the key figure for the parade, and four of whose six members are women. By the end of the week they had dropped their contract with My Santa, effectively sacking Baker.
“We are distancing ourselves from this company. We found his comments to be inappropriate and unnecessary and will not be using their services for the parade,” said leading Auckland businessman and trust chairman Michael Barnett. The trustees found Baker’s reference to boobs and Santa’s helpers in little skirts and tops offensive. “It was a statement that did not sound like the values of a family parade,” Barnett added piously.
Strangely enough, half the city’s business community seem to support the annual Pride parade, which is billed these days as family entertainment despite its very un-family-values display of body parts beginning with “b”, real and pretend. (Interestingly, the Pride parade has its own problems this year.)
No doubt there was a a more refined way for Baker to say his piece on female Santas, but his vernacular does not seem to have troubled the public overmuch. They are, however, furious with the trustees for sacking him.
Thousands went online to denounce the trust’s decision with epithets like “ridiculous” and “PC BS”. A Herald online poll of 34,000 readers found that 90 percent believed Baker should not have lost his contract.
Two female Herald columnists chimed in. “Oh, well done, thin-lipped, righteous and smug people,” said one, asking what the organisers would do if a thick-set, hairy bloke wanted to represent Elsa from Frozen in the next parade. The other was driven to call the situation “peak madness” and demand, “Can men literally not do a single thing without deferring to women, acknowledging women, professing women’s capabilities? Must we as women be offended by literally everything?”
Indeed, it is hard to believe that the organisers’ gripe was about bad taste and not about the omnipresent bogey of sexism. I will bet that the good ladies (sorry, women) on the Auckland Children’s Christmas Parade Trust have referred to their own and others’ secondary sexual organs as “boobs” more than a few times, and not just because they have internalised the language of the wicked patriarchy. It’s about not taking oneself too seriously.
As for Baker’s reference to Christmas parties where women try to outdo one another at canoodling with Santa, I doubt that he made it up. Women, like men, do silly things sometimes. And, now that they go on to accuse the men involved of harassment or assault, this is quite germane to Baker’s account of being Santa in the “MeToo era. Anyway, he has taken legal advice as he feels he has been “wronged”.
Meanwhile, the issue of a female Santa awaits a resolution. It will be interesting to see who stars in the Santa role in this year’s parade — postponed last Sunday when it poured with rain. And if not this year, next, if the event survives.
Already struggling to please worldly-wise kids, the parade is also running up deficits. The city’s tourism arm has said it will not fund the event after this year; it considers the Pride Parade or multi-cultural events like Diwali better bets. So it may be that the sexism/family values controversy provides an excuse to can a custom that has outlived its era, although it may survive in the suburbs.
I can’t see that a gender equality version of Santa will save it; Mother Christmas waving and chuckling at the kids is simply not the same thing. I wonder if it could be a thing at all.
Carolyn Moynihan is deputy editor of MercatorNet.