It’s Mother’s Day this week, which means that for the past month, we’ve been getting flyers and advertising material in our letterbox, as well as shopfront displays, telling us that we need to spoil out mothers, and showing us just what we need to buy for them, to do the spoiling.
I have mixed feelings about Mother’s Day. Of course, presents are lovely, and I’m all for encouraging my children to consider all the many tasks their mother does for them. Mother’s Day could be one means of not taking that parent for granted.
What amuses me most about the ads is just what mothers are supposed to want. I know, most of this is for the sake of the businesses who are selling the goods and services. It’s an sales opportunity. But all the same, if you look through any of the catalogues, it’s clear what we would like:
- dressing gowns
- make up
- a blender
- did I mention pyjamas?
It’s times like these that I’m reminded, I’m not like the other mothers. I don’t wear make up or jewellery. Or pyjamas. Or slippers. I don’t drink wine – I do eat chocolate, but with a chocoholic Handsome Sidekick in the house, it’s unwise for us to keep too much of it around! I don’t fit those stereotypes. I am not that woman. I am not that mother. Is that what it really comes down to?
It seems to come down to gender stereotyping, which makes me sad. It’s supposed to be a day where you think about how special that person is. None of that really requires presents, and none of it requires presents which are pre-approved as the kinds that mothers want. I look at all of those ‘suggested gifts’ and none of them appeal. What is that saying?
Perhaps it would be nice if we could be a little less focussed on what it is to be a mother, or woman.
Gender equality in media or culture is not just putting more women in front of the camera or allowing someone to choose a female character when playing a game. It’s accepting that women can be all kinds of people. They don’t have to wear make up and high heels, or wear men’s shirts and workboots. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to either gender. Wouldn’t it be better, if we could just accept people for who they are?
Recently Meryl Streep talked about how challenging she finds it as an actor, to portray a character with whom men will identify. She says, to the amusement of the others in the room, that because of the way in which stories are told – by men, about men – that she was more likely to identify with the male characters in the stories. ‘I wanted,’ she says, ‘to be Tom, not Becky.’
Oh, Meryl, me too! When I was a child, I wanted to be a boy, but not because I hated being a girl. I just hated what girls represented. Dresses and uncomfortable shoes and not getting to do any of the cool things in the books or television shows I watched. The boys got to do all the cool stuff! How unfair was that? What I wanted was to be shown that girls could do all that cool stuff too.
As an adult, I want a world where I am a proud woman but don’t have to rebel against other people’s ideas of what a woman is supposed to be like. Where I can choose the girl character in a game, or read books about women, rather than choosing the male characters because the women do not represent the strength I want, the depth I want. Of course, I do choose to wear what I want, and more and more there are women writing books and singing songs and challenging us to re-consider what girls and women can be. But when in doubt, we fall back onto the stereotypes, and in the process, we’re not just doing ourselves a disservice, we’re also giving our tacit approval to others to continue to put us in pigeon-holes.
In the end, the advertisements are there to make money for the companies they represent, not to forge social change (if anything, it might threaten their market share!) and I probably am reading too much into it. Surely, there are plenty of women who do like pyjamas and make up, right? And for however I roll my eyes and lament at our inability to avoid the stereotypes, I’m also very grateful that I have four healthy Offspring and I can celebrate my role in their lives, especially when there are other mothers whose children have passed away, or would-be mothers who would deeply love their own children and for whom it’s not possible to have them. Then there are those – both grown up and still young – whose mothers are no longer in their lives. For them, Mother’s Day is less about the typical flowers or perfume, and more about just getting through it. I think about those people, and all my issues about not conforming to what society expects, not being That Mother, or That Woman… all seem petty in comparison.
For my own part, I’ve requested a sleep in and a cup of tea in bed. I might potter in the garden and I’ll probably cook a roast for tea. I hope, whatever you do on Sunday, whether it’s buying pyjamas for your mother, or just calling her, or even if it’s a day which disturbs painful memories, that it’s as content a day as it can be.