This was the title of an email from a leading retailer this week. I am sure last year this was Mother’s Day, and I know that in the shop I bought a Mother’s Day card. I also saw “you’re like a mother to me” cards which as a step parent myself I thought was a sweet way of making that bridge. However, mother figure struck me as a whole different level, and somehow insidious and undermining.
One the one hand I am aware of the trend these days to be overly “woke” and to see what is not there, while I am also aware that the value of motherhood has been eroded (to put it mildly) with the rise of feminism. Ironically the “strength” of the feminist movement has coincided with the rise of a new form of more aggressive capitalism that has fought back against workers’ rights and conditions and benefitted from the dissolution of the nuclear family to single parenting and divorce by the creation of not only more consumers, but also of rebuilding consumers who are not only more happy to accept less advantageous lower paid work out of necessity, while at the same time, again out of necessity are back at the level of rebuilding via basic goods consumption and the acquisition of some luxuries with a high level of income being disposed.
I am aware not only that the choice of motherhood has been devalued, but that as a career it has become increasingly an impossible choice as the cost of living has risen to the point where dual incomes are necessary, or perhaps, more importantly, appear to be necessary to live a socially inclusive life, which is more indicative of behaviour and spending patterns. Chipping away at the role of mother by making it available as a subjective construct appears at first to be a positive move. I can see how bringing blended families and the step parent into the fold via commercialised role celebrations can serve a useful social function. In this case, the choice of the words “mother figure” heavily imply that the person does not need to be within a familial structure and is someone the giver subjectively defines as having fulfilled that role.
And, it is the move to subjectivity that makes me wary and suspicious. It is a move that is not necessarily positive and can create issues that need not be created, while it can admittedly be harmless depending on context. In this case, it could be used in a hurtful, manipulative or spiteful manner when someone exists in the traditional mother role to indicate that they subjectively do not fulfil that role. When relationships are strained, families are blending, this is precisely the sort of wedge that does not need to be driven. Also, rather cynically, coming from a retailer, it feels that the drive for profit by widening the net of who can get a gift has been made without thought of any potential social consequence or any social conscience.
There is a subtle reframing, even if that reframing is innocent the profit net and definition of mother is being widened and it has been decided by a marketing department. I am not sure that marketing departments are the best drivers of social reframing or change, even if that is increasingly the case under cover of entertainment and inclusivity.