You know Dasher, and Dancer, and Prancer, and Vixen; Comet, and Cupid, and Donner and Blitzen – but do you know that these most famous reindeer might actually be females?
Reindeer, sometimes called caribou, are a species of large deer that sport antlers – regardless of gender (unlike other deer species). According to the San Diego Zoo, male reindeer shed their antlers in early winter, while females won’t shed theirs until later in the spring after they give birth to calves.
Reindeer are native to the Northern Hemisphere. It’s common knowledge that Santa Claus lives in the North Pole, so winter would come for him and his flying reindeers around December. By 25 December, the male reindeers will have already lost their antlers. The reindeer pulling the sleigh then, who are most commonly depicted sporting antlers, must be female!
The tweet I posted on the afternoon of 11 December, while I was
procrastinating studying for finals by reading research on arctic animal husbandry, illuminated a revelation I experienced. Others have experienced it before me, I acknowledge. I was simply excited:
MALE REINDEER LOSE THEIR ANTLERS IN WINTER AND FEMALES DON’T THEREFORE SANTA’S SLEIGH IS ACTUALLY PULLED BY A TEAM OF STRONG, POWERFUL, UNDERRATED WOMEN!!!!! YOU GO, GIRLS!! I SEE YOU!!!
— Cat Reynolds (@catreynoldsnyc) December 11, 2017
After the tweet garnered over 600,000 likes and 180,000 retweets, I learned a lot about strangers on the Internet and their feelings toward reindeer. First, an alarming number of people don’t know that reindeers are actual animals. And second, men get really, really angry when you try to take away their reindeer representation.
There is an alternative to the female-reindeer narrative, if strong lady reindeer bringing Christmas joy to boys and girls everywhere isn’t your speed. Traditionally, reindeer who pulled sleighs in colder regions were actually castrated males. Castration kept the males docile, and allowed them to keep their antlers through the winter. So, yes, it’s totally possible that Santa and the elves neuter the reindeer the same way they do in Russia: by biting the reindeers’ testicles with their teeth.
Embracing female reindeer does mean we’ll need some new Christmas classics, like the 1964 claymation Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, but revamped a cast of women voicing the reindeer. I’m looking at you, Disney.
Nonetheless, female reindeer do cause us to call into question the ethics of Santa’s workplace practices. The integrity of Santa’s workshop has been scrutinised in the past, as many wonder what elvian working conditions are like and if they are provided with a living wage. Female reindeer keep their antlers through the winter in order to fend for food while they’re pregnant, as winter follows the reindeer’s mating season. Does this mean that these ladies are pulling a sleigh around the world overnight while they’re with calf?! The North Pole apparently has no legal policy for maternity leave, leaving Dasher and friends vulnerable to labor exploitation.
This is not to mention the fact that Santa ties them up and calls out, “Ho, ho, ho,” while they’re just doing their job, augmenting a holiday harassment case. Meanwhile, Santa is happy to take all the credit for Christmas while a team of hardworking, strong female reindeer do all of the heavy lifting.
Sure, accepting female reindeers means acknowledging a lot of flaws in the Santa model, but there are flaws in the fact that reindeer have been portrayed as male figures for the past century and a half as well, depriving little girls of the representation they need: empowered female reindeer.
No matter how many angry men tweet at me, Rudolph will always be female in my eyes.