Wednesday, April 20, 2005

On Mother's Day

I have tried for years to get to the root of why the Mother’s Day holiday bothers me so much. Part of it is certainly the Hallmark card forced emotion/guilt of the day—you MUST buy you mom flowers or you are a BAD child. (No mention, of course, of what you are supposed to do if your mother is deceased, or the details of how such forced rituals might affect people who have lost their mothers). Wonder how much money the greeting card, flower, and restaurant industries make on this.

Then there’s the whole notion that we must somehow celebrate the fact that a certain segment of our female population has chosen to procreate. I’m sorry, but I don’t see why someone else’s reproductive choices are more culturally “worthy” than mine. After all, wasn’t one of the goals of the Women’s Movement to gain reproductive autonomy? And at the rate we are using the worlds’ resources, it seems downright selfish for all American women (citizens of a country that consumes a disproportionate amount of the worlds’ resources to begin with) to have children. Further, just because a significant majority of American women can physically have a child, does that make these women “mothers” in the true sense of the word? Does it make them somehow more “special” or “”valuable” to our society? Why should we reward women who have children with this “Hallmark holiday” while we ignore the other women (such as myself) who, for health, sanity or a million other very valid and personal reasons have chosen not to become mothers--to say nothing of the thousands of women who desperately want to become mothers but have fertility issues. What are we supposed to do, and how are we supposed to feel? Remaining childless is every bit as valid a life choice (and certainly more earth-friendly), than is having a child. Why don’t childless women get a “day”? (And of course, we won’t even get into the cultural and economic issues surrounding motherhood and working women—the hypocrisy of a culture that celebrates “motherhood” while failing to provide equal pay, childcare, etc. for working mothers.) America is no longer the huge, untamed wilderness in need of populating that it was when prolific childbearing was the norm. Isn’t it about time our cultural values caught up?

Alas, does any of us really know what Mother’s Day is and why it is celebrated? If you don’t, don’t feel bad, it’s not like they teach this kind of information in grade school. I myself was only made aware of the historical origins of Mother’s Day in the weeks before the Million Mom March here in the Nation’s Capital a few years back. Ironically, it is really supposed to be an active, not passive holiday, a day for action and reflection, not mindless consumerism. The national Mother’s Day holiday is, in part, the direct result of the horrific carnage of the Civil War—a day envisioned by poet Julia Ward Howe (of “Battle Hymn of the Republic” fame) in 1870 as a means to galvanize women across the globe to rise up and proclaim their opposition to war as a political tool, to find common ground as a gender across international borders and to inspire political leaders to consider non-violent public policy alternatives, leaving war as an instrument of last resort. It was, in other words, a significant attempt to organize women on a global scale in order to achieve specific political goals. So it seems that rather than a somewhat generic excuse for guilt-associated gift giving, the Mother’s Day holiday is truly a milestone of the international Women’s Movement. Of course, Howe’s idea didn’t catch on right away, but by 1914, the entire nation was enthusiastically celebrating Mother’s Day (needless to say, the history of how the holiday shed its idealistic origins is a discussion for another time).

However one feels personally about the ongoing American military engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan (and god knows there are many good reasons to be disturbed), isn’t it about time we gave some thought to the sacrifices American mothers, fathers, sons and daughters continue to make every day so that we can spend the first Sunday in May contributing our hard-earned dollars to the greeting card/flower/restaurant industrial complex? This Mother’s Day, instead of contemplating which restaurant has the best dessert tray, how about taking some time to think about how we can assist our friends in the armed services who continue to sacrifice so much for us. About how these conflicts in the Middle East are being conducted, what this says about America as a society, and about what has happened to the core American values that we once held dear. Beats thinking about the bland salad bar at Ruby Tuesday, I think.


Want some alternatives to “traditional” Mother’s Day activities? Visit Code Pink’s site for a list of great ways to spend the day promoting peace and economic justice (mother—child bonding opportunities abound)!

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