This Mother's Day, Give Mom the Gift of Ending the Mommy Wars

What Women Really Think
May 10 2013 5:45 PM

This Mother's Day, Give Mom the Gift of Ending the Mommy Wars

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Where is the "Breastfeeding Feminist Housewife" section?

(Chris Hondros/Newsmakers)

I’m looking forward to reminding my mom how much I love her this weekend—as Hallmarky as Mother’s Day is, there aren’t enough minutes in the year to express my appreciation of my mom. But my enthusiasm is tempered by the increasingly ridiculous mom-themed marketing pushes that have been hitting my inbox in preparation for the holiday. I teared up watching Google’s Mother’s Day ad featuring Google Plus—I am not made of stone—and yet I remain unconvinced that I should honor my mother by inviting her to the most irrelevant social network on the Internet. Then there is the press release factory that keeps trying to sell me on an interview with a marketing executive about “the many ways in which Mom has transformed—her responsibilities, her values, even her personality.” It’s almost as if mothers aren’t real people—they’re just monolithic “mom” now, something marketers create to sell products

I suppose it could be worse: I also heard from a porn company that’s celebrating the holiday by “giving away free rentals of three of the studio’s most popular MILF scenes."

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Of course, Americans have been raising the alarm about the commercialization of Mother’s Day since the 1920s, when Anna Jarvis—a pioneer of the holiday—promoted the holiday as one of “sentiment, not profit” and dismissed greeting cards as “a poor excuse for the letter you are too lazy to write.” But even before Jarvis coined “Mother’s Day,” her own mom, Anna Reed Jarvis, organized something more radical: Her “Mothers' Work Days” in the 1850s were meant to organize women around social justice issues in their communities. As Stefanie Coontz wrote in her terrific 1992 history of the holiday, the apostrophe initially fell at the end of “mothers,” and that was a significant choice: Mothers’ Day was organized under a collective spirit, and “celebrated the extension of women's moral concerns beyond the home.” It was only when Mother’s Day moved to celebrate the individual mom by focusing on “sentimentalism and private family relations,” Coontz writes, that it became “so vulnerable to commercial exploitation.”

Today’s moms are facing down a new permutation of that commercial exploitation: An incessant stream of click-bait trend stories that focus on the private family choices of mothers, group them into factions based on a few scant identifiers (Formula Feeders! Feminist Housewives! Pregnant CEOs!), then politicize their every move as another shot fired in the Mommy Wars. These narratives simultaneously fail to treat mothers as complex individuals and fall short of any real collective consciousness. It is all in-fighting: Click, click! Only when Mother’s Day rolls around are we instructed to treat all mothers on the same happy-go-lucky terms: Here. We bought you all the same flower arrangement.

So this Mother’s Day, while I’m tempted to tell my mom how much she’s meant to me as her daughter, I also want to remember to celebrate her as a wonderful person—one whose tireless social activism extends far beyond my own existence. That’s not the most compelling trend story I’ve ever pitched, but I think it would sound nice in a letter.

Amanda Hess is a Slate staff writer. 

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