Tuesday, December 11, 2018
Home Lifestyle & Health Is only hiring male Santa impersonators discrimination against women?

Is only hiring male Santa impersonators discrimination against women?

(Picture: Fred Levy / EyeEm)

After a councillor in County Durham told a woman she couldn’t play Father Christmas, a row kicked off about whether it’s time we changed the rules and had female Santa Clauses.

If you saw the debate you might have dismissed it – after all, Santa has always been a jolly fat man, famed for his massive white beard – and that’s what kids expect, right?

So, why change tradition? Well, why not? Santa is a fictional construct after all.

The man in the red suit we know and love is far from a mirror image of his original inspiration – Saint Nicholas, a fourth-century Greek bishop and gift-giver of Demre, in Turkey.

Today’s Santa is an amalgamation of incarnations and traditions from across the world – so why not introduce a female one?

After all, if it’s mostly about having a jolly person in a red suit bring presents and smiles to children’s faces (and it’s surely more about the present than the gender of the person giving it) – then a Mary Christmas could do the job just as well.

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Which brings us on to the big question: Could being turned down for a paying job on the basis of gender be considered discrimination, even if it is as a role playing Father Christmas?

In short, no. If being male is an ‘occupational requirement’ for the role, it is ok to hire based on gender.

Kate Palmer, of employment law firm Peninsula told Metro.co.uk that while you cannot discriminate based on gender, sexual orientation, creed or colour, specific people can be hired for a role if it’s an ‘occupational requirement’.

Which begs the question, is being male an occupational requirement of being Santa?

slender woman legs in striped Christmas stockings on a red background
Pictures of female Santa Clauses are highly sexual, for some reason (Picture: iStockphoto)

The councillors of County Durham certainly think so.

In the council meeting that sparked the debate, residents of Newton Aycliffe asked Great Aycliffe Town Council if the role could be taken on by a female volunteer, with one man requesting that his wife play the part.

A spokesperson for the council told Metro.co.uk what happened in the meeting: ‘A recommendation from the Events Sub Committee to allow a female volunteer to undertake the role of Santa Claus (Father Christmas) as part of the Town’s Santa Tours was considered.

‘The Recreation Committee did not agree with the recommendation and confirmed by resolution that the role of Santa Claus should continue to be a male role.’

Meanwhile, in New Zealand, a man playing Santa in the Farmers Auckland Christmas parade was fired (and then reinstated) after he commented that women couldn’t fit the role.

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So should we continue to see Santa as inherently a female role? And if the character is fictional anyway, can’t we change the rules?

What does the law say?

The Equality Act 2010 outlaws less favourable treatment on the grounds of characteristics such as disability, religion, sexual orientation and sex.

This means that an employer can’t make their decision of whether to make an offer of employment based on the applicant’s gender.

Employment lawyer Kate Palmer tells us: ‘The decision to hire a person or not needs to be made on objective factors, such as whether the candidate has enough previous experience or the required qualifications to carry out the role.’

That means that if a woman who has enough experience in children’s entertainment wants to apply, she should be able to – but that doesn’t mean anyone looking for a Santa has to open it up to women too.

‘There is nothing preventing entertainment employers from hiring a female to carry out this role. And if a female applicant shows they have better experience and skills to perform the job, then they may consider bucking the traditional norm,’ Kate said.

‘However, employers looking to fill particular roles concerning acting and performance skills, such as Santa, can rely on the legitimate aim of authenticity or realism to specify that they require a particular gender to carry out a role which is associated with being a particular sex.’

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There are exceptions to the general rules of gender discrimination, if it’s an ‘occupational requirement’ to carry it out properly, says Kate.

In a nutshell, that means yes, people can advertise for male-only Santas.

Ultimately, it depends on the employer. They can use the concept of historic authenticity to argue that Santa should be male.

Or they might choose to put a 21st-century spin on the tradition and go with a female Santa.

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