Cross-posted with permission from The White Noise Collective.
As Mother’s Day approaches, the White Noise Collective is once again faced with more questions than answers about this national holiday with a rich but forgotten history. We all agree that the current mainstream celebration of Mother’s Day — adorned with endless plastic, fuzzy and floral ways to express your annual appreciation to your mother — are at best a capitalist co-optation of a holiday that was originally meant for a completely different purpose.
Harnessing fierce maternal love in all its forms, we offer this blog with a compilation buffet of food for thought and critical reflection on the his/herstories of Mother’s Day.
In its inception, Mother’s Day was intended to be a day for women across the world to band together in opposing war and promoting peace. As Ruth Rosen writes in her article about reclaiming Mother’s Day, ”The women who originally celebrated Mother’s Day conceived of it as an occasion to use their status as mothers to protest injustice and war. Women political activists of this era fought to end lynching and organized to end child labor, trafficking of women, and consumer fraud. In their view, their moral superiority was grounded in the fact of their motherhood.” But, “the gift card and flower industries also lobbied hard. As an industry publication, the Florists’ Review, put it, ‘This was a holiday that could be exploited.’” And so it was. And so what do we do today, when to either celebrate it or not both feel like compromises we don’t want to make?
Well, before the anti-capitalist mothers among us run into the streets, burning Hallmark cards and calling for all mothers to join us in protesting the vast injustices in the world, let’s ask ourselves some critical questions.
Mother’s Day & Capitalism
Initially, what does it mean to honor the work of mothers (as well as all female-bodied and female-identified people), whose labor, body sovereignty and worth are devalued so systemically in our political and economic climate? What would it look like to deeply honor ”maternal work” (or what is considered “maternal work”), which is systematically taken for granted, invisibilized and exploited? Silvia Federici explores the many ways that capitalism relies upon the exploitation and unwaged labor of women through “glorifying” the sacrifices of femininity/motherhood and naturalizing housework, domestic work and reproduction as “women’s work,” all to then profit annually off of “honoring” her. Perhaps honoring our mothers should happen more than one day a year and include things beyond cards and flowers, such as fair wages, affordable housing, protection of reproductive rights and body sovereignty, open borders, prison abolition (because 10 million children have experienced parental incarceration at some point in their lives) and so much more.
Mother’s Day & Exclusion
Next, what does it really mean to use the status of “motherhood” to fight against injustice? Are there ways in which the valuing of motherhood devalues the experience of women who are not mothers? As Anne Lamott critiques, in her article, Why I hate Mother’s Day, “Mother’s Day celebrates a huge lie about the value of women: that mothers are superior beings, that they have done more with their lives and chosen a more difficult path. Ha!” And are there groups of women who don’t have full access to Club Motherhood — who aren’t REALLY believed and understood to have the experience of motherhood? Who are they and how can we all take to the streets together — without uplifting the moral authority of ONLY those most visible “mothers”?
Thinking about who has access to Club Motherhood conjures a slew of questions — What about trans and gender-nonconforming parents? Women who gave birth to children who were then adopted? Women who experienced pregnancy, but never gave birth, or never gave birth to a living child? People of all gender expressions who care for children, but did not give birth to them? People who have adopted children; relatives and friends who raised a child they did not give birth to; partners in relationships where both people identify as women and one partner did not give birth to their child; step-parents and unmarried partners of people with children from previous relationships? These are all examples of people who often don’t get to waive their motherhood flag with full support of our society, and of our movement work.
Mother’s Day & Racism
And what if we move beyond all of this to also recognize the ways in which Mother’s Day is both raced and classed through oppressive ideas about what makes a “good” mother? What mainstream images do we get when we think about (or even internet search) “mother”? What mothers do we see portrayed positively in the media? From welfare racism to stereotypes about teen moms, who is excluded from the “honorable” forms of motherhood and how do we transform this? As Tope Fadiran Charlton poignantly details in her article, The Impossibility of The Good Black Mother, “from the pediatrician’s office, to the grocery store, to the streets I call my own, it is not the myth of the Good Mother, but that of the Bad Black Mother, that renders my motherhood at turns invisible and suspect…When I respond to questions about my motherhood, am I simply challenging notions that I cannot be a Good Mother, or falling for the siren song of “proper” Black motherhood made in the image of polite, white-washed femininity? The lines are blurry.” Indeed.
So…the central question is, as we reclaim Mother’s Day, how can we all take to the streets together — waving our many different flags of maternal love and motherhood? How can we ensure that we are not working to lift up some on the backs of others? And, if we do choose to celebrate Mother’s Day, how can we make it just one part of a larger movement toward liberation?
Resources for further reflection on this day, and throughout the year:
Inclusive, intersectional, anti-racist feminist class war – Many shades, second sex: Discusses the need for inclusive, intersectional, anti-racist feminist organizing for reproductive justice and body sovereignty.
The Anti-War Roots of Mother’s Day: Further explores the transformation of what started as a pacifist holiday into a nationalistic celebration of the Mother in order to build support for American intervention in World War I and to sell the American mother on the notion of “patriotic motherhood.”
Trans, Masculine-of-Center and Gender-Nonconforming People Are Mothers Too: Describes a campaign launched by the California-based nonprofit Forward Together to “reflect the diversity of motherhood and parenting” and to ”change the way we think, feel and act in support of mothers in this country who are otherwise often invisible, targeted or stigmatized.”
There Is No Escaping Mother’s Day for Birthmothers: A vulnerable reflection through the eyes of someone who has experienced multiple forms of loss related to Mother’s Day.
Mother’s Day Hypocrisy: Commentary on a billboard selling cleaning products for Mother’s Day and pointing out the ways this perpetuates misogyny.
The White Noise Collective is a group dedicated to racial justice that explores how internalized sexism and heterosexism show up in the work of anti-racist activists, educators and allies. Through blogs, workshops and monthly dialogues, they collectively investigate patterns common among people at this intersection of white privilege and gender oppression from their various unique relationships to it. They encourage and welcome participation from people who do not identify as white or female. To find out more, check them out at their website, Conspire for Change.