Today morning, I woke up to my inbox more inundated than usual with emails from the e-commerce websites I regularly shop from. A quick sift revealed the intent of the emails – today is Mother’s Day, and woe betide you if you don’t buy some absurdly expensive gift for her. Because duh, nothing screams ‘motherly love’ like an iPad Air 2 (that comes with a free pink-coloured case in honour of the occasion! Yay!)
When I was a kid, May brought with it a truckload of anxiety and frequent, nervous upending of my frustratingly empty piggy bank. I would then proceed to beg, implore and plead with my brother to pitch in some dough so we could buy our mum some fancy little trinket from Archie’s or Hallmark’s. My mother tried to convince us every year that a present wasn’t necessary, but my brother and I continued any way, undeterred. Photo frames, scented candles, coffee mugs emblazoned with some cheesy quote, perfumes- you name it!
I will be the first to admit that it took me a long time to realize the insidious intent of these special ‘days’. It took me some growing up (and multiple viewings of the Fight Club) to unsheathe the real purpose of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day and Whatever Day – to sell stuff you wouldn’t ever think of buying, in the garb of familial affection.
The question I now grapple with is – why do we even need a special day to celebrate our birth-givers? What is stopping me from picking up my phone right now and telling my mother how much she really means to me? And why, oh why, are we buying into the dangerous discourse that money is the only way to show love?
A few years ago, this time round, I’d nearly emptied my life savings on a beautiful silk stole for my mother. She accepted it gracefully, although she did tell me a while later that though the stole was lovely, she liked the handmade card I’d given her along with the gift infinitely more. I scoffed, because obviously she was obligated as my mother to say that. But today, that card from yore, yellowed and slightly dog-eared, still occupies the pride of place in the living room, while that stole languishes in some mothballed spot in my mother’s wardrobe, too delicate to be used every day.
These many ‘days’ are an effective way to guilt you into shopping for presents for your loved ones, sure. They lead you right into the clutches of that evil, green-eyed monster called capitalism. But there is another corollary to this phenomenon- something that is more poisonous than just buying junk you have absolutely no space for.
The event of Mother’s Day is also massively detrimental to women – especially the women who choose not to be mothers, or could not be mothers.
‘Celebrate Mother’s Day – the pinnacle of womanhood’, was the subject of one of the aforesaid emails from a website I won’t name. The email featured a smiling woman dressed in a salwar-kameez, with her arm draped over a young boy cradling a football. The email promised free shipping on no minimum orders, a chance to win a makeover at a posh salon, and an all-expense-paid trip to the Netherlands.
Prima facie, the email seems innocuous enough. What it (and all the other emails) does, however, is completely reduce the very essence of motherhood to free makeovers and holidays. It is also incredibly elitist, choosing to focus on urban, middle- to upper-middle class mothers who have access to amenities that would possibly alleviate the difficulties of motherhood, like good healthcare, baby-sitters, stores dealing with maternity needs, and the like. It doesn’t talk about single moms, young, possibly teenage moms, lesbian parents, disabled moms and poor moms. Obviously, we can argue that it would be difficult to squeeze all this into an email. The problem isn’t with the email alone, though. The problem is, Mother’s Day as it currently is, is a wasted opportunity. We could have spent the day to amplify the problems facing mothers who aren’t rich, married, heterosexual, in other words, moms who don’t have it easy. Instead, we use the day to market overpriced flowers. Capitalism, thou art truly evil!
Mother’s Day is also, as I mentioned before, a day which essentially vilifies women who choose to be childless. Websites, hoardings, advertisements, all propound the idea that to be a good woman, a successful woman, an accepted woman, you must push a human baby out of your vagina. And God forbid you choose not to, then you’re a bitch, a career-crazed, power-hungry moron, a snow queen. Childless women are condemned and shamed enough already, do we really need another day to make them feel bad about their choices?
The problem doesn’t stop just there, though, oh no! Another feature all these ads share is the portrayal of the mother as a stay-at-home, domesticated woman; the quintessential sanskari devi whose interests are limited to vapid celebrity magazines and IQ-reducing TV soaps.
Additionally, Mother’s Day is another example of what the patriarchy is so good at; erasure of female accomplishments. The day was originally founded by Anne Marie Jarvis as a tribute to her mother, who encouraged her to pursue college education, despite women being forbidden from doing so at the time. Jarvis herself spent a majority of her life trying to fight the commercialization of the holiday. She writes,
“A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world. And candy! You take a box to Mother—and then eat most of it yourself. A pretty sentiment.”
The way I look at it, Mother’s Day is a glorified microcosm of benevolent sexism, internalized misogyny and yet another opportunity for the patriarchy to propagate its harmful, derogatory stereotypes about womanhood. It’s not merely exorbitantly priced goodies. As Anne Lamott writes for Salon magazine,
“I hate the way the holiday makes all non-mothers, and the daughters of dead mothers, and the mothers of dead or severely damaged children, feel the deepest kind of grief and failure. The non-mothers must sit in their churches, temples, mosques, recovery rooms and pretend to feel good about the day while they are excluded from a holiday that benefits no one but Hallmark and See’s.”
So what can you do on May the 8th, instead? Well, put away your credit card, for starters. The rest is entirely up to you. Celebrate your mum, or don’t. God knows we have 364 other days for that!