Mother’s Day – a celebration of capitalism and gender stereotyping?

It is important to recognize that the burden of unpaid labour, which includes essential tasks like making meals, often falls to women.

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by Erin Bockstael, Health Educator 

Originally Mother’s Day was grounded in peace, with a manifesto in 1870 where women called for an end to war because it was killing their sons and undermining the values they were trying to instill in their children – charity, mercy and patience.

Today, the celebration of Mother’s Day has become yet another celebration of capitalism and gender stereotyping. For an example, you only need to look so far as KFC’s recent  “Give your mom the night off!” ads. Not only does the campaign suggest that you need to BUY something to celebrate the day, it reinforces the stereotype that women bear primary responsibility for feeding the family.

It is important to recognize that the burden of unpaid labour, which includes essential tasks like making meals, often falls to women. In 2010, data from Statistics Canada showed that, on average, female parents spent about twice as much time caring for children than male parents did. Women also spent about more time than men doing domestic work other than childcare; 13.8 hours per week for women vs. 8.3 hours per week for men. Those who identify elsewhere on the gender spectrum were not included in the research.

So how do we recognize and appreciate those who do the work of mothering, particularly around Mother’s Day? Experiences of pampering and indulgence are commonly marketed by mainstream media as ways to make mothers feel cared for. Moms are encouraged to take a day for themselves to engage in “self-care”, especially through expensive pursuits stereotypically identified as feminine, like going to the spa. Thrust upon us by marketers, this concept reinforces the sexist idea that, no matter whatever other roles and responsibilities she may fulfill in the world, a woman’s value is inextricably connected to her appearance.  They also fuel a superficial, classist idea of caring for oneself that is unrealistic, inaccessible, and ultimately unattainable to many of those who actually do the demanding work of mothering.

That is not to say that some mothers don’t appreciate these activities (and who doesn’t enjoy a good brunch?) but let’s push ourselves to think about self-care in new ways that are more holistic, genuine and helpful. Let’s challenge the capitalist take-over of Mother’s Day and develop and share ways that encourage genuine self-care without focusing on consumerism and consumption. Letting mothers and other caregivers that you see them and the work they do, that you value and appreciate them, asking what you can do to help, and challenging gendered roles in your family are all tangible ways we can support a mothers work 365 days a year. Let’s evolve Mother’s Day into an occasion that celebrates the true strengths of our families and our communities without buying into tired, clichéd ideas about how to honour mothers.

Though maybe we can celebrate while eating brunch.

Justice and Healing

Sisters in Spirit Mother’s Day March 2016. Photo credit: Val Ketchum

Annually, on Mother’s Day, activist group Sisters in Spirit holds a walk and gathering in Winnipeg to remember missing and murdered indigenous women, along with a call for an end to the violence, and justice for indigenous women and children, who face disproportionately high rates of violence.

These community gatherings provide remembrance and celebration for the people that have been lost, but also to build solidarity and community in fighting for justice and in grieving.

Join the Sisters in Spirit – Winnipeg Chapter Facebook group here.


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