Mother’s Day approaches, which means it’s time to shower the moms in our lives with plush robes, robot vacuums, and all manner of gifts that make them feel freer in their oppression while doing nothing to actually change it! At least, that’s the impression I get from the Mother’s Day gift guides, which have already arrived in droves, giving online publishers ample time to cash in on all those affiliate links (yayyy, capitalism).
This year’s guides suggest in their sometimes admirable, sometimes obligatory, attempts at semi-wokeness that Mom has her own life, they know! Which is why she needs this Roomba. Hey, she does a lotta stuff! Which is why she needs a face mask for those eye bags. The mom of today, as rendered by these guides, is “on the go,” “multitasking,” “out and about,” and “living her life.” But she’s also “stressed out,” “really needs a vacation,” and would like this bottle of wine with a label reading, “WINE BECAUSE KIDS.”
Let’s not dismantle any of this, let’s buy her some shit!
Consumer Reports recommends a slow-cooker with the enticement, “Make those meals cook themselves while mom is out living her life.” It later suggests, “You have better things to do when you’re home than clean up. So why not program a robotic vacuum to work while you’re out of the house?” Similarly, Mashable recommends an Amazon Echo (which will “act as her companion even if she’s not tech savvy” and let her “call for recipe videos”) because moms “could use an extra hand.” There’s also the suggestion of an iPad Pro because “working moms need a sidekick that can keep up with their lifestyle.” That “lifestyle” being the double-shift.
These writers are not suggesting that Mom should be the ones cooking dinner or vacuuming, of course, but the implication is that she is in charge of these things getting done somehow. Judging from studies on the gender inequity around household chores, this is an entirely accurate assumption. But straight-up recommending household products to moms feels glaringly retrograde these days, unless you dress it with freedom and empowerment.
Of course, mom-targeted marketing, has always exploited domestic expectation. Once upon a time, it was more so your standard performance-enhancing products: soaps, disinfectants, and vacuums that led to sparklier, cleaner, faster results. Now, though, there is a whole new world of tech products that promise greater degrees of household load-lessening.
And then there are the luxury goods offering a temporary escape from the rigors of motherhood. Refinery29 suggests that “every day can feel like a spa day,” even for “the stressed out mom,” with an “extremely cozy, plush-lined robe.” She “deserves a fancy, hotel-quality start to that increasingly busy schedule.” The mom who could use some “much needed R&R,” can instead settle for “a natural soy candle with aromas of soothing baking spices to inspire pure relaxation.” There are telling sponsorships too, like Reynolds, maker of plastic wrap and aluminum foil, giving away a $399 spa gift card for Mother’s Day.
And, of course, it’s 2019, so now we have more than just spa days, and spa day simulacra, to help mom chill out. Now there’s the array of mom-friendly CBD products that have been pitched to my inbox, as well as fancy and fashionable mezcal. (“Let’s face it: Mom probably needs a drink,” as Bloomberg puts it. In fairness, that gift guide also recommends a woman-designed surf board and fly rod, and a dry-aged rib-eye). I have yet to see anyone suggest giving that stressed, vacation-needing mom an actual vacation.
The job of the seemingly marginally woke Mother’s Day gift guide writer (who might actually be fully woke and merely laboring under the unpleasant realities of writing for a living) is essentially to suggest ways to make moms’ lives slightly easier, without asking any bigger questions about why they’re so hard, or why they are the ones cleaning the freaking floors. Personally, if your mom resembles the imagined mom of a run-of-the-mill Mother’s Day gift guide, I suggest saving the Roomba for a pointed Father’s Day gift and instead give her this book about the inequities and ethical compromises around “women’s work.” Or, I dunno, maybe vacuum the floors yourself.