“Suzy Wants a Dolly”: Gendered Carols

by | November 30, 2010
filed under Feminism, Pop Culture

So my choir started rehearsing our Christmas set last night, and about half-way through we get to a version of “Jolly Old St. Nicholas” that has the following lyrics: “Johnny wants a pair of skates. Suzy wants a sled. Nellie wants a picture book: yellow, green, and red.” Wait a minute! The words I’d always known were: “Johnny wants a pair of skates. Suzy wants a dolly. Nellie wants a story book: she thinks dolls are folly.” It had never occurred to me how the original lyrics were reinforcing a predictable gender binary: boys as active, girls as passive. Though I guess kudos to Nellie for her small act of rebellion…

Sociological Images has more on this norm and how kids are socialized into it through toys, which I’m going to talk more about later this week. For now I just wanted to put together a list of other Christmas carol lyrics that have gendered aspects. For this post, I’m going to focus on secular carols, since I don’t feel I have enough religious knowledge to do justice to an analysis of sacred carols. Keep in mind I’m not saying the lyrics below are inherently bad or harmful; only that we should think about how they subtlely (and sometimes not so subtlely) reinforce gender roles.

So if you’re looking for something more alternative and funny, check out this Feminist 12 Days of Christmas at When She Speaks I hear the Revolution.



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  • Jessica C.

    I’ve never heard the “dolly” version of that song. Weird.

  • jarrahpenguin

    Did you hear the “Suzy wants some skates”? version? I think it was an attempt to make it less gendered.

  • jarrahpenguin

    Or was it “Suzy wants a sled”?

  • Sarah (Blollings)

    I’ve been thinking about this too recently! Haven’t heard of some of these more traditional songs though. I wrote a post about modern pop songs and sexism on my blog. I think mostly Christmas songs are laid back and light-hearted. but that doesn’t meant that they´re not reinfocring these gender roles!

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