Mother’s Day is coming around. Even if you don’t own a calendar app, you would know. You can not open a newspaper, walk through a pharmacy, or click on anything, without a pinkish flower festooned banner reminding you that the day is near. The ‘holiday’ was first conceived as a call to disarmament (a family friendly version of Lysistrata) and later revised as a way to honor mothers. But it did not take hold in the public’s imagination until an enormous department store got behind it (evidently the miracle of motherhood takes place on 34th street too.) So it really should come as no surprise that the day is seen as such a major retail event.
What always does take me somewhat by surprise is how marketers and publicists view mothers and motherhood. If you were to try and understand motherhood by reading greeting cards (presumably created for adults to give to their mothers) you would believe that throughout her entire lifespan a mother gives selflessly of herself, denying herself to the extent of needing a ‘special day’ on which she can put up her feet. You would be hard pressed to find even one card that speaks to how an adult may feel about his/her mother (ex. “Thank you for helping to make me the person I am today.” OR “Isn’t it nice we’re still speaking?”)
The gift suggestions that have been bombarding consumers since midnight on Easter would have us believe that every woman who has ever parented is in fact Donna Reed (who in fact is not even Donna Reed.) Her interests (if I can use that term) include; decorative scarves, perfume, manicure devices, make-up sets or cardigans.This time of year is when any and every version of “chicken soup for the postnatal soul” is strategically placed on a table front and center of the store. (Noticeably absent from the displays are copies of Mommie Dearest or that lovely book by Bette Davis’ daughter.) There are stores that offer specially decorated (cue pink and roses) gift cards for the day. You know, for the person who’s never actually met his/her mother.
Mother’s Day is one of the more profitable days for retail. Some of that cash is coming out of husband’s wallets (which from a psychological perspective seems a bit icky.) I suppose when a macaroni necklace simply won’t do… Grown men purchasing gifts and passing them off as being from their children (which is kind of the inverse of Santa, isn’t it?) might explain the Mother’s Day marketing of some youthful apparel. An adult is not buying his/her mother “whimsical/retro apparel” unless there’s a biologically improbably minute difference in their ages. Nor are most adult children buying mommy a diamond tennis bracelet (I said, most; I can just hear the dissent of professional athletes, captains of industry and show people.)
Many of us have (or are) mothers who have actual interests, and who read books not pitched to them from a mass retailer or talk show hosts. We delight in the many gift options we enjoy giving and receiving, and don’t use promotions or advertising to guide us. But isn’t it just mildly offensive to walk through these few weeks with a vague sense of being caricatured? If we were to jot down each and every message being broadcast (re: Mother’s Day) and try to distill it into a portrait of motherhood, we’d find ourselves with some sort of apron wearing, vapid drag version of motherhood. Isn’t the whole point of this holiday to honor the woman (not the cartoon) who has played an important part in our lives?
*Photo – Liza Minnelli, Lorna Luft and Judy Garland