‘Tis the season for a different kind of giving…

5 Dec

I was really moved by CF Eeshap’s most recent post: Conflict is forever: Can we change attitudes about diamonds?  In the post, she explains:

I don’t write this post to make people with diamonds on their fingers feel bad. I shop for bargain goods that I know are made in sweatshops. When I purchase produce, I know that it was grown and picked by laborers whose rights are violated. I try to make ethical choices, all while knowing that I am complicit in a world economy that is rooted in human rights violations.

Her words made me reconsider my own purchasing practices. On the one hand, I know that I will never purchase or accept a diamond. I also know that if I decide to get married, I won’t be wearing a diamond ring. (If you liked it, then you should’ve put a condo down payment on it.) However, I do wear all kinds of jewelry and, therefore, actively participate in the bloody economics of the diamond/gold/silver industry. Sadly, even fake bling carries this weight.

The capitalist world economy can only maintain itself through the oppression of others. Living, working, and spending in this country means that I am an active participant. So, no matter how conscious I try to be with my purchases, in one way or another I am likely participating in someone else’s oppression. Oppression is just not feminist. So, what can I do?

The media’s coverage of the apparent foolishness that always is Black Friday and Eeshap’s post made me wonder: How can I combine my feminist beliefs with the holiday practice of gift giving? How can I stay within my budget and express my genuine gratitude to the folks I love without purchasing expensive gifts? Is credit card debt feminist?

These questions reminded me of two of the best presents I have ever received.

Number 1:

[Back story] This past Thanksgiving, I finally figured out that my mother’s numbers have always been off by a few years (a fact she now conveniently denies). [Side eye] My mom married at the tender age of 16. He was 16 years her elder. Yes, it was legal. The twice-divorced love of her 16 year-old life turned out to be everything but her Prince Charming. He was the all-too-common triple A: abusive, alcoholic, and an adulterer. A shock, I know. Right before her 20th birthday she divorced Mr. Uncharming and was left a single mom of a toddler and a newborn son. Did I mention that she grew up on a farm, had just moved to the states, did not speak any English, and that her entire family lived in the Caribbean? Yes. She hustled for many years, so much so, that I was five the first time we actually had a Christmas tree. Not only did we have our very own tree, but there was also one very large present waiting just for us. My brother and I eyed that box for days. On Christmas Eve we finally uncovered our very own child-size table with two chairs. My mom could not afford to give me a room of my own and gave me the next best thing: my own space, a little corner in the apartment that I could use to do my homework and teach my little brother all that I learned at school. On that table I was both diligent student and dedicated teacher. We also had all of our meals there because it was our table and, most importantly, our size. It was by far the very best present I remember ever receiving as a child.

Number 2:

This past birthday my mother sent me a picture book of my life story: essentially, Crunkista’s biography. It was very basic: a small booklet full of photographs and hand written chapters of what (in her eyes) have been the greatest milestones and achievements of my life. In it, she explained how I was as a child and how she saw my character evolve throughout the years. (Apparently I have always been crunk). She also shared stories I had never heard before—like the fact that I learned how to climb out of my crib and walk at seven months. At the end of the book, she left a number of blank pages so that I could write the rest of my story. I tear up just thinking about this wonderful gift.

This holiday I would like to actively engage in a more feminist practice of gift giving. I want to give presents that affect the people I love the way these presents have affected me. I don’t want to just give presents: I want to give lasting memories.  Also, the less people I oppress, the better.

Some ideas I came up with:

  • Support local craft fairs and purchase hand made items by local [women] artists
  • Print one of your favorite photographs in black & white and frame it
  • A CD of all of the top ten songs on the radio the year your loved one was born
  • Spread the feminist love by giving a young adult a book written by a woman of color feminist author
  • Make a book of coupons with redeemable actions: hugs, chores, homemade dinners, back rubs, quickies, etc.
  • Compile a cookbook of your families’ most cherished recipes and include a brief bio of every cook
  • Make a homemade calendar full of your favorite family photographs that highlights all the birthdays
  • Seeds, pots, and soil so that they can plant their favorite flowers or start their own vegetable garden
  • For the new parents: children’s books that feature people of color
  • Dance classes
  • An autographed copy of your loved ones favorite book
  • Write their autobiography 😮
  • Interview family members and ask them to share their favorite holiday memories, make a compilation and give everyone a copy
  • Make jars full of dry (organic) ingredients of their favorite cookies

Familia, with all of the winter holidays approaching–Kwanzaa, Christmas, Hanukkah, Winter Solstice and El Día de los Reyes–I think we can collectively compile a grand list of ideas. I would love to hear your thoughts on feminist/more conscious gift giving. What have been the greatest gifts you have received?

12 Responses to “‘Tis the season for a different kind of giving…”

  1. nas009 December 5, 2011 at 11:03 AM #

    Love it! I would also include giving a gift to a women’s fund such as the African Women’s Development Fund

    • Frankinstein December 5, 2011 at 11:37 AM #

      YES. I give people hand-made or locally made gifts, but I also donate in their name to a local (non-denominational) charity, like the Youth Emergency Shelter, the Stollery Children’s Hospital, the Adult Literacy Program, TERRA Pregnant & Parenting Teens Centre, the local university radio station (more programs hosted by & involving people of colour than any other in the entire rest of the city!), etc.

  2. eeshap December 5, 2011 at 11:44 AM #

    Great post, Crunkista. Some really great solutions.

    Also, another thought: in addition to donating money to organizations that I love, I’ve been thinking about ways to donate my time. Habitat for Humanity, my local soup kitchen, boys and girls clubs etc. A lovely way to counter the holiday consumerism for those of us that don’t have much cash to spare, but could definitely find a few hours over the holidays (and anytime, really). This is also something really fun to do with others, esp. little siblings.

  3. Sonalee December 5, 2011 at 12:10 PM #

    I’m making my SO a quilt 🙂

  4. Calaveras and Corazones December 5, 2011 at 5:36 PM #

    Your story about that little table made me well up. Your mother sounds like an amazing woman.

    Can I put in a little plug for my Etsy shop? Everything in it is handmade with a lot of love!

    xo, alex.


  5. JazzFest December 6, 2011 at 4:21 AM #

    I received a gorgeous scarf that my friend knit for me and I love it! Practical and handmade gifts go over really well 🙂

    Donating to local charities or national/int’l orgs works too. There are also some organizations where you can buy seeds, a chicken, desks, etc. You would have to go through and see whether you agreed with the practices of the individual organizations but I’ve found these can be great gifts as well.

  6. momsomniac December 6, 2011 at 4:43 PM #

    This is a lovely list!

    If you have a YA science fiction/fantasy lover on your list, I suggest the book “Zahrah the Wind Seeker.” It’s a fun easy, read and features a brave heroine.

  7. Cal B December 7, 2011 at 12:00 PM #

    “Make a book of coupons with redeemable actions: hugs, chores, homemade dinners, back rubs, quickies, etc.” The ‘quickies’ part of this tickles me LOL I like these suggestions very much, as they are applicable YEAR ROUND to combat being pigeon-holed by ‘crony capitalism’.
    I for one have not bought a Christmas gift IN YEARS, partly because of budget restrictions and partly because I REFUSE to be led [AND misled] by corporate America and the 1% anymore.



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