It started with a press release for scotch. What annoyed me was that it was about buying gifts for Dad. And it really reminded me of just how badly Mother’s Day gifts stink. In the past few weeks, I’ve seen ads and press releases touting pink standing mixers, flowers, chocolates, fashion accessories, and all sorts of ephemeral, often purely decorative stuff.
Whereas the stuff for the guys tends to be useful and/or substantial. Even the scotch. Premium quality scotch is not something you drink in one sitting. It’s something that hangs around a while. Ties may be decorative, but they’re usually worn when you want to be serious about, say, a job interview or an important meeting.
When we honor mothers at church, the women get a flower, which is usually half dead before we get it home. At our church, the guys get a pen, which is useful.
Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against Mother’s Day gifts, in general, or against Mother’s Day. If we’re going to truly stand behind the idea that parenting is the most important work we do, then we should be honoring mothers, however defined. And fathers, too. I’m not even bugged about the gender distinction of the honor, because each gender identity brings something unique and necessary to the process of parenting and helping our kids build their identities. Please note, this is not a knock on same-gender parents, non-binary parents, or single parents – they do even more work to help their kids build healthy gender identity.
What bugs me is how our advertising community and the larger society insist on reinforcing rigid gender roles, particularly the ones that present women as decorative and insubstantial. We get the flowers, which last maybe a few days. We get the chocolates, which also last a few days. We get kitchen appliances, because we’re the cooks, and we get them in “pretty” colors, especially insubstantial pastels.
In my household, I’m the scotch fan. My husband doesn’t like grain-based spirits. I’m the household geek. My husband puts out the fresh flowers. I may be the primary cook in the family, but my husband cooks almost as often as I do. My dad is the chocolate hound in my parents’ household.
And then there are the power tools. One time, years ago, my husband and I were waiting in an insanely long line at one of those home-improvement centers. I left to find some light bulbs and took quite a while to do it. When I got back to the line, the neanderthal in front of us began poking fun at me for going off and drooling over all the wallpapers and window treatments. My husband just grinned and said, “She was drooling over the power tools.”
And that’s exactly what I want for Mother’s Day – a power sander. I’ll have to wait ’til June, of course, because that’s when power tools go on sale. For Father’s Day. And I’ll probably buy my husband’s Father’s Day gift now, while the standing mixers are on sale. Assuming I can find one that isn’t a pastel color. Because it’s the assumption that’s so annoying. I don’t care if you want a pastel standing mixer for Mother’s Day. That should just mean you need one to do what you do and you happen to like pastels. I simply resent that if you do, you’re a woman, and that all women are assumed to want one and that it’s assumed that what we want is largely decorative and insubstantial.
Because the bottom line is, I’m not decorative or insubstantial. And neither is my husband. We worked hard to bring up my daughter to be a responsible adult. We both deserve honors that reflect that work. I’m just saying that the honors accorded me do not really reflect all that women are. And I’m more than a little tired of it.