I just updated a Facebook status about my mother’s reaction to me wishing her a happy Mother’s Day. In short, translated from the original Bengali, it went something like, “This concept is stupid and you are being silly and you have exams coming up in two weeks, go study!”
I should’ve known. The woman doesn’t even like celebrating her own birthday. Why should this be any different?
Once I got over my initial indignation about the rebuff, though, I began to wonder.
Why is it that my mother, for whose very sake this day has been dedicated, considers Mother’s Day to be unnecessary?
What aspect of celebrating this apparently harmless tradition annoys her?
On the one hand, it’s definitely a matter of the age-old tussle: between keeping aside a special day to celebrate something, and celebrating that something by acknowledging its existence, uniqueness and importance in your life every day.
My mother tends to lean towards the latter: it’s been her go-to excuse, I mean reason, for not celebrating anniversaries, festivals or birthdays- including mine- for as long as I’ve known her. And to a large extent, I get her point. There is an implied hypocrisy about elevating a something or someone to a place of significance for just one day in the year, and taking them granted for the rest.
If you want to show how much you appreciate me, she seems to say, then do the things that make me proud of you, regularly. Study well. Be a good person. Don’t forget your priorities. Maybe get a semblance of control over your daily routine. A one-day outing to a spa is not likely to be of any help if you are rude to me every day, just as a one-day outing to a spa can never replace the happiness I feel when you do well in what you do.
It’s a compelling argument.
Which brings me to my next point: gift-giving.
My mother hates buying gifts, for any reason. She especially hates receiving them.
I used to find this really strange at first. What is the reason for this Sheldon-like aversion towards making presents? Could it be that she simply thinks the whole finding-the-ideal present thing is too stressful?
Nope. It turns out that she hates buying gifts- or receiving them, for that matter- because she thinks, in our present world, doing this imbues relationships with a commercial, power-seeking undertone, which is cheap, mercenary, self-serving, classist, and in the case of women receiving gifts in the context of societal expectations from them, sexist as well.
You can understand why, when I go to buy stuff for my mom sometimes, my hands are arrested by an unsolvable dilemma.
On the one hand, I know my mom saved the gift I got her with money I earned when I was in class 5 (I won a competition, I think) to this day.
It’s a watch that she has maintained so well that you can’t even tell it’s ten years old, and then some, I imagine, given that I got it from the local repair shop. It wasn’t even for an occasion. She says it’s because she liked the fact that I even thought of her at that age, with my own earnings in hand.
But try to give her a present now, especially for a special day like today, and she just gives a withering look that implies something like “Gifts are an unnecessary socio-economic construct”, and then tells me to go and study.
The worst part is that I, once again, find her argument to have too much weight to be dismissed. I had a difficult childhood, guys.
The third part of her established irritation-with-special-days is less personal and more complex. It’s also the part that I identify with the most.
My mom thinks Mother’s Day, Women’s Day and most days that celebrate women or specific roles for women do more harm than good to the feminist movement.
These days, she says, are an opportunity for companies to sell some cards and put discounts on gifts; for people to post on public platforms talking about how much they love their moms. They’re imbued with commercial implications for which emotions are exploited to make a profit. They may have been created with nobler ideas in mind, but over time, they have come to represent a shell: essentially, these days are all about putting up a show that ultimately means nothing. It is a completely hollow ritual.
(I should point out that this is also her opinion on Valentine’s Day. I agree with her quite readily on that one.)
The reason that she believes this hollowness has come to affect women’s rights movements adversely is because it is a sign of appropriation.
Celebratory days like these have been appropriated by a culture that propagates pretty much the exact opposite of the power that these days are supposed to stand for.
The notions surrounding Mother’s Day in popular culture, for example, often create an automatic co-relation between being a mother and possessing certain qualities that apparently define motherhood: “Your mother sacrificed herself for you”, “My mother’s unconditional love and support got to where I am today”, “I don’t think about the fact that every time I turn around, she’s waiting for me”, and so on: all playing into long-existing ideas of what a woman as a mother should be. On Women’s Day, we see the same kind of statements: only they’re about long-existing ideas of what a woman, as a woman, should be.
My mother doesn’t always support me in everything I do.
She has every right not to: she may not agree with me on my decided course of action. She hasn’t ‘sacrificed’ ‘herself’ for me: who she is as a mother is very much who she is as a person, and is an undivided aspect of her individuality, beliefs, desires and femininity. She may not always be available to comfort me: she is an individual unto herself, as am I, and sometimes, as individuals, we just don’t get along.
By propagating notions such as these, days like Mother’s Day and Women’s Day, through their cultural implications, white-wash women into stereotypical qualities that over time and usage have come to mean nothing (the word ‘strong’ comes to mind).
They erase women’s individuality and paint them into a group that ultimately ceases to have control over the narratives of their own stories and how they are presented.
I have not even addressed the incredible cultural hypocrisy of celebrating days for and about women in a society which cannot guarantee their basic right to not be violated.
This Mother’s Day comes a week after the discovery of the rape of Jisha, the young law student from Kerala. What about her mother? Is she ‘strong’? Is anybody celebrating Mother’s Day with her? And if they did, what do you think she would say?
My mother thinks Mother’s Day is an unnecessary social construct.
She thinks we’d be better off as a society if we stopped relegating a specific day for mothers and women and just started normalizing the concept of acknowledging and respecting them every day, as we tend to do for men.
And I think it’s the most succinct and most poignant argument I have heard on the topic of Mother’s Day. For once, I have nothing more to say.
At the end of this, I would like to acknowledge that the reason I’m able to analyze this situation and put it down in words in some sort of a coherent manner is because of my mom, and who she brought me up to be.
I know I don’t say this often enough, and so I’m going to be a social-construct cliche and take this opportunity to thank her for never getting in the way of my dreams, never telling me I’m not good enough because I don’t fit in with much of society’s boxes for little girls and- most importantly- not bringing me up any differently than she would have brought up a boy.
We fight a lot- a lot-but that’s really your fault, mom, because you’re the one who taught me to stick to my ground and never give up. Here’s to many more years of arguing and yelling and crying and knowing ultimately we both suck. Thank you for being the first feminist I ever knew, and thank you for listening to me while my idea of feminism evolves beyond yours. And, as much as you hate it…. Happy Mother’s Day.
(I’m not cooking for you or anything lol but if you’re up for it, we might get some take out.)