I’m not a huge fan of Mother’s Day. Like Valentine's Day, it seems to be more about commercialism than genuine sentiment. My dislike for the traditional trappings of the celebration definitely comes from my own feminist mom. Greeting cards and gifts have never been to the taste of the fearless matriarch in my life. Recently though, I was surprised to learn that it has roots in some pretty empowering ideas, giving me a great excuse to find ways to have a feminist Mother’s Day. Learning that the origins of this national holiday actually go back to some kick ass females have made it totally come alive for me. Who knew that there were Mothers Day feminist heroines to be found?
According to History.com, the American version of Mother’s Day began in 1908 after years of activism, namely by a woman called Anna Jarvis. Far from being a sugary celebration of maternity, Jarvis created Mother’s Day as a counterpoint to the endless dates in the calendar that celebrated only the achievements of men. In a rather impressive move, she successfully petitioned congress to make it a national holiday. Over time, the day honoring women became a day honoring those who have raised children. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. But if you're looking to reclaim Mother’s Day as a feminist festival, here are a few ways to have an empowering celebration on May 8.
1. Avoid Chocolates And Flowers
Mother’s Day has been so co-opted by commercialism, that it seems almost second nature to buy flowers and chocolates as gifts. Unfortunately, this tradition is such an example of benevolent sexism. Instead try to think of your mom as a person, not a stereotype, and buy her a gift with a little more meaning.
2. Buy A Gift That Promotes Equality
There is no escaping that Mother’s Day weighs heavy with the expectation of gifts. I try to honor my feminist beliefs by buying gifts that either support ventures by and for women or aid a charity that will support females in developing countries.
3. Take Your Mom Out For Brunch
NPR notes that being able to dine alone was an early victory of the women's rights movement. It took a lot of work by suffragettes to finally make it legal for women to eat where they liked, with who they liked. I always raise a glass to these feminist pioneers who fought for me and my mom to have these freedoms.
4. Wrap Your Gifts In Yellow Ribbons
According to the National Women's History Museum, early suffrage supporters used gold pins, ribbons, sashes, and yellow roses to show support for female empowerment. Wrapping Mother’s Day gifts with yellow ribbons gives a lovely nod to the women who fought for equality, and are also a great conversation starter about the progress of women’s rights.
5. Talk About Feminism
This sounds so simple, but it's so easy to fall into conversational routines with parents. Mothers have experienced so many advances in women’s rights, and offer a unique perspective to the ongoing conversation. Feminism is about giving all women a voice, and I like to honor that idea by asking the lady who changed my diaper what she thinks.
6. Honor Women In History
Until recently, history was written by men, about men, and for men. Women were so often excluded when the progress of the world was reported. I readdress this on Mother’s Day by buying my mom a book by an historically ignored female writer, or taking her to an art exhibition by a female artist from the past. Recognizing woman’s contributions to the the world feels pretty feminist to me.
7. School Your Own Kids On Feminism
I always think Mother’s Day is the perfect opportunity to discuss feminism with my own kid. A day celebrating mothers can lead to some great discourse about what it is to be a female. I make sure I spend some time praising my girl for the beautiful handmade card first though. Gloria Steinem will understand.
8. Acknowledge The Maternal Figures In Your Life
I don’t think Mother's Day has to be about the person who gave birth to you. I have been blessed to know some amazing women over the years who have bestowed love, wisdom, and care on me. It’s such a good practice to include them in your gratitude on this holiday. Just a little nudge to let them know they have rocked my world.
9. Volunteer To Help Mothers In Need
I imagine national holidays are always particularly bleak for women using shelters or a refuge. Offering a little support and compassion is a great way for me to not only talk the talk about female empowerment, but also walk the walk. It turns the celebration from being about crass commercialization to helping fellow women in need. And that’s pretty darn feminist.
10. Give Thanks To The Goddess
Some historians believe that the earliest celebrations of Mother’s Day were the ancient spring festival dedicated to mother goddesses. Connecting to the more spiritual side of celebrating motherhood is not only appealing, but empowering.
11. Promote Peace
Instead of taking your mom out to an overpriced spa day, donate to a cause such as Amnesty International and I offer a DIY pamper session. This not only supports worldwide empowerment, but it also encourages some thoughtful celebrations. It’s a Mother’s Day win-win.
12. Let Mom Do What Makes Her Happy
If your mom would still prefer chocolates, flowers, and a day at a spa, I don’t think its letting down your feminist principles to do what she wants. After all, female empowerment is about the right to exercise choice, and if the traditional trappings will make mom happy then so be it.
13. Understand That It's A Hard Day For Some
Feminism is about supporting your fellow sisters, and that means acknowledging that the day can be sad for some. Bereavement, toxic family relationships, infertility — all of these can make the rosy depictions of the mother-child bond incredibly triggering. I know that some of my friends will go underground for the day, and will appreciate a call or visit that excludes all mentions of the celebration.