Ah, Mother’s Day, that extra special holiday for celebrating moms and their endless contributions to the patriarchal world order, which you spend the rest of the year entirely ignoring. Your plans for the mom in your life may vary (breakfast-in-bed, which means less sleep and more clean up for mom, brunch in a crowded restaurant with a two-hour wait, macaroni necklaces, etc), but no one is more dedicated to celebrating (the money spent on) Mother’s Day than The Brands.
Used to selling cooking as a Woman’s Domain, food and beverage companies reliably deliver the thirstiest — PARCHED, even — campaigns, all invested in giving female homemakers a single day off in order to keep them working (and buying) the rest of the year.
Take Tim Hortons’ Mother’s Day deal: Show up at one of six participating Tim Hortons locations across the U.S. on Sunday, ask for a “mom-sized” coffee, and you will receive a 52-ounce iced monstrosity in return. That is nearly twice the volume of Starbucks’ biggest 31-ounce Trenta size. Tim Hortons told the Takeout that the company is aiming for inclusivity by allowing moms of all genders and of all offspring — even “dog moms” — to get in on the deal. But the understanding of the joke hinges on the implicit understanding that moms are so busy and overworked that they need 572mg of caffeine to get through the day. (The Mayo Clinic suggests that “up to 400 milligrams (mg) of caffeine a day appears to be safe for most healthy adults.” Why does the Mayo Clinic hate working moms who just want to lean in and have it all?) Paid parental leave and work-life balance may be lost causes, but Tim Hortons is here to fuel the never-ending hustle and productivity of mom bosses everywhere.
Tropicana’s attempt falls back on the tried-and-true tradition of preparing breakfast in bed for Mom, this year in the form of a “Mother’s Day Hotline” from 5 a.m. to 2 p.m. EST on Sunday, during which “advisors will be waiting to give dads and kids advice and answer all of their burning questions, like: What’s the ratio of OJ to bubbly in a mimosa? What should I serve my mom for a special holiday brunch? How do I make the perfect scrambled eggs?” Once again, the concept only works if we accept the norm of moms grinding away alone in the kitchen, while dads — all dangerously stupid, if you believe advertisers — look on cluelessly. Rather than celebrate Mom by giving her “a morning off of breakfast duty and a few extra minutes to snooze the alarm,” as the PR copy suggests, maybe advocate for a more equitable division of “breakfast duty” labor in the first place?
Both these gimmicks fall into the same trap that German supermarket Edeka recently stumbled headfirst into with its trope-filled Mother’s Day advertisement. In the video, which has been downvoted into the depths of hell, bumbling fathers are depicted as incompetent fools who fail at everyday parenting tasks like blending up baby food, combing hair, and reading bedtime stories. The final shot — a mother, gentle and maternal, in contrast with a sloppy, chips-shoveling dad — and the closing punchline, “Mom, thank you for not being Dad,” encapsulates everything wrong with the way advertisers reinforce gender stereotypes. Unsurprisingly, the campaign has not been popular, accomplishing the double-whammy of pissing off both women and men.
It’s worth considering Kraft’s Mother’s Day stunt, which takes a similar approach to Tropicana’s promotion by promising some time off for mothers — but by reimbursing up to $100 worth of babysitting. The idea and the accompanying ad still panders to the notion that women are primary caregivers (an unfortunate truth), but here, at least, the gimmick’s purported beneficiaries actually walk away with a tangible measure of absolved labor and capital. In a time when women are stripped of rights to an increasingly dangerous degree, this particular example of brand #empowerment is, at least, a more tolerable substitute for real systemic changes and strides towards gender parity.
This Mother’s Day, as you face the mild inconvenience of celebrating a hardworking woman, the best move, perhaps, is to look beyond the grocery aisle or coffee line to ways — like, say, advocating for universal childcare — that can benefit her and other moms more permanently.