As you gear up for a weekend of elbowing your way into the florist to buy wilted carnations followed by stilted conversation over a family lunch where the dishes will probably be left to the guest of honour, you may ask yourself, what even is the point of Mothers’ Day?
It’s a question that has only one answer. There is no point; in fact, there are compelling reasons to get rid of it altogether.
1. It’s stiflingly commercial.
This week my inbox has been assaulted by ‘special offer’ emails advertising the best Mothers’ Day deals from businesses as diverse as a car mechanic, a cinema, a jeweller, a pet store, a meal delivery service, a lingerie store, and a penis enlargement drug. (Ok, so I made that last one up, but it probably exists in my spam folder somewhere.) I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel that a discounted wheel alignment adequately compensates for being the family taxi service. Relentless consumerism is not a way to celebrate maternal care but somehow we’re at the stage where every business tries to cash in on what should be an expression of gratitude for all the unquantifiable and priceless care a mother can offer. And this diversity of products (or, advertising free-for-all) is barely worse than the more traditional offerings. How many polyester dressing gowns and tiny specialised kitchen appliances does one woman need?
Relentless consumerism is not a way to celebrate maternal care but somehow we’re at the stage where every business tries to cash in on what should be an expression of gratitude.
2. It’s so heteronormative it hurts.
These days when you buy a gift card for a wedding, even Hallmark will offer you a version for two brides or two grooms. But you’d be hard pressed to find a commercial greeting card that recognises two mums, or no mums, as a valid family configuration. Images of shiny-haired (usually white) heterosexual couples with children dominate billboards and ad slots for at least a month leading up to Mothers’ Day. Not only are these images boring, they’re unrepresentative of the diversity of actual families. One year, when my daughter tried to buy three gifts at her school Mothers Day stall, she was turned away because the stall volunteer couldn’t comprehend that she actually has three mums. The bitter tears of a misunderstood 7-year-old was not on my wish list of gifts for that year! About 20 per cent of LGBT Australians have kids these days, so there are plenty of children running the gauntlet of enforced Mothers Day card making at school who don’t know whether it’s okay to make two, or none. That’s to say nothing of the even larger numbers of kids who have foster mums, or step-mums, or no mum at all, to make a card for. Should we really be looking forward to a holiday that claims to celebrate family, but makes little kids cry?
3. For 364 days each year, we give mothers a bad deal.
The saccharine sweet message of Mothers’ Day is that there is nothing like a mother’s love, and that motherhood is valued and respected. But it doesn’t take much scratching of that veneer to reveal the ugly truth about the devaluing of motherhood. Australia ranks as one of the worst of the wealthy nations when it comes to paid parental leave entitlements. Cuts to single parent benefits have meant more and more single mums are struggling to meet basic expenses, and facing homelessness. What’s more, women in work earn about 17% less than their male peers; a gender pay gap that is contributed to by the lack of options for returning to work after kids, and the lack of respect that mothers are afforded in the workplace. Outside of paid work, it is still the case that women shoulder the bulk of unpaid caring work, including parenting, whether or not they work more paid hours than their male spouses. To add insult to injury, mothers are consistently shamed for their parenting choices and threatened with irrelevancy if they don’t get their ‘pre-baby body’ back soon enough. Instead of paying yearly lipservice to the vital role that mothers play in keeping our country running, we should give mums an actual gift. Like the money they are entitled to.
4. Some of us have nothing to celebrate.
Mothers’ Day pretends that all families are the same. It lies to us, and says that all mothers are loving mothers. It claims that there is something singular about the love of a biological mother, as if not having that love makes you broken. And it shoves images of perfectly coiffed, alarmingly happy women of child-bearing age into our faces, as though women who don’t, or can’t, have children are anomalies who certainly do not deserve nice new fluffy slippers. The ubiquity of these images means that a trip to the shops or a browse online can feel like running the gauntlet, especially for those mourning the loss of a mother or of a baby. This painful side of Mothers’ Day shows that its inherent sexism -- the assertion that only mothers are caring -- can be a barbed message. The prolific images of a certain kind of woman inhabiting a certain kind of social role coerce us into an oversimplified, stunted view of femininity. Where is the celebration of unconventional women, of childless women, of the energy and care some women put into their careers or volunteering? Where is the recognition that it is possible to be without a mother, and to be without a child? To try to distil our love for the women in our lives into one pink fluffy holiday is pointless and insulting.
I’m not about to send my daughter away when she brings me some burned toast in bed this Sunday. You can be certain that each of her mums will be treasuring the hand-drawn cards she’s already making. But we’ll also be teaching her that women should be celebrated every day of the year, that caring work is always of value not matter the gender or family status of the person who does it, that there is more than one way to be a woman and more than one way to make a family, and that polyester dressing gowns are just plain gross.
Image courtesy of Flickr/Tom Mooring.
Elizabeth Sutherland is a writer, teacher and mother based in Melbourne. Her hobbies include feminist snark and waiting impatiently for marriage equality. Follow her on Twitter @MsElizabethEDU