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[OPINION] A little more for Mother’s Day

A display shelf filled with cleaning items such as dishwashing liquid and bleach, among others, was put on a display at a Checkers earlier this week with a massive banner crowning the items: 'Gifts to wow mom' it said.

The picture circulated on social media with a number of people shared disparaging tweets with Checkers about their “dirty” marketing. Is that all mothers are? Cleaners? And is that what women in fact want? Cleaning products?

To their credit, Checkers dealt with the mess quite admirably and quickly explained that this display was not the brief and they supported their reasoning with pictures of the display shelf in other stores which no cleaning products but rather a more substantial variety of “pinkish” gift type things. Is this what mothers want?

Mother’s Day, after all, like Valentine's Day, is just a commercialised holiday paid for by the guilt of the consumer who feels the need to go out there and purchase chocolates, flowers and, in the case of Father’s Day, socks or a pocket knife.

But Mother’s Day really does have its roots in empowering mothers and the idea of motherhood. And it has not always worn the cloak of rhetoric commercialised feminism.

In 1908 Anna Jarvis wanted to honour her own mother so she invented a holiday and dedicated it to her.

The trend caught on and by the time 1914 rolled around, the US Congress officially stamped the day “National Holiday”. Mother’s Day gained congressional status because of a year-long campaign by Jarvis.

She really felt passionate about the idea that mothers be recognised nationally, and have a day dedicated to them, but it didn’t take long for things to turn.

Mother’s Day was co-opted by capitalism. Companies institutionalised the day through the marketing of flowers, sweets, greeting cards and other “pinkish” gift type things, commanding that this, in fact was the proper way to celebrate mom. (Side note: There were no advertisements for cleaning products as a suitable gift for Mother’s day – not even in 1914).

Six years later, Jarvis regretted everything. The day she spent so hard to protest for, the work she did to put the day on the official American calendar had turned on her because of commercialisation. In an official press release she called florists and greeting card manufacturers “charlatans, bandits, pirates, racketeers, kidnappers, and termites that would undermine with their greed one of the finest, noblest and truest movements and celebrations”.

And so she spent the rest of her life trying to abolish the day. That battle was obviously lost. And here we are, decades later, waiting in line with cleaning products and pinkish things to gift our moms on Mother’s Day. And when pink gifts come in through the door, empowerment and the true purpose of Mother’s Day goes out the window. Why?

Because are we really celebrating motherhood by buying into a rhetoric of commercialised empowerment? Do our mothers really feel emancipated from antiquated gender norms of cooking and cleaning and raising children when we perpetuate the very norms through what has now become a celebration of what antiquated femininity is “supposed” to look like.

This is bigger than a flower and pinkish gift. Which I am not saying is a terrible gesture. Everyone loves a surprise. But the meaning has been lost in the subtle gendering of the day and what it should entail. Look around you. Mother’s Day meals are “light meals” because women are little and men are big. So by contrast, Father’s Day is celebrated with a massive steak, for example, instead of a petit four. The meals advertised on Mother’s Day are not meaningless, they’re part of a bigger conversation when it comes to gendered norms. Women need meagre meals because they are the weaker sex. Also, they must eat less, because… body politics.

So while we’re out there buying the petunias and the petit fours, let us as daughters and sons also remember to cut the crap and just celebrate our mothers. Because motherhood is joy, sacrifice, feminism and liberation and let no pinkish gift or cleaning product get in the way of that. Ever.

Haji Mohamed Dawjee is a South African columnist, disruptor of the peace and the author of 'Sorry, Not Sorry: Experiences of a brown woman in a white South Africa'. Follow her on Twitter.

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