Viewpoint: Is Mother’s Day Sexist?

Moms are thanked for hugs, while dads are thanked for being role models. But the family roles of mother and father have long since converged

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It’s the time of year when we celebrate mothers and — about a month later — fathers. But the way we view each holiday reveals a lot about the growing gap between cultural gender stereotypes and the reality of most families’ day-to-day lives.

How do we celebrate Mother’s Day? Well, it’s Mom’s day off. This is the day she does no cooking, no cleaning and, of course, no childcare. She is brought breakfast in bed and taken out to a restaurant. Cards abound that show women soaking in bubble baths, sipping wine, reading books with their feet up. Mother’s Day is the one day she doesn’t have to be a mother, a job for which she is on duty the other 364 days.

The other half of this image is the hapless father, trying to take her place for that one day. You know — breakfast in bed is served, but the mother is already imagining the disaster in the kitchen, with pancake batter all over the floor and dishes mounted in the sink. Dad is clueless, and dresses the kids in striped shirts and plaid shorts. (To take just one example: “For my Wife, on Mother’s Day. You just relax. I’ll take care of everything,” one card reads. The cover shows a guy in sports jersey holding out a flower. Open it up and it says, “By the way, where is everything? Happy Mother’s Day!”)

Father’s Day, by contrast, is thought of as the day that Dad does spend with his children. It’s a day for a family barbecue, or to take Dad fishing or on some other activity he enjoys. Dad doesn’t need a break from all the caretaking he does all year — rather this is a day to engage him in family life.

(MORE: Smother Mother: Why Intensive Child-Rearing Hurts Parents and Kids)

Other messages in Mother’s Day and Father’s Day cards also reinforce sex stereotypes. Moms are thanked for the hugs, for drying the tears, for “always being there.” Dads, though, tend to be thanked as role models and individuals to look up to. A typical Hallmark Father’s Day card reads, “Integrity. Respect. Honor. I learned these things from you.”

Of course, there is not a thing wrong with children saying thank you for all those cuddles and comfort, or for expressing gratitude for models of strength and responsibility. These are all lovely sentiments. The question is: why in 2013, are we still dividing all these traits by gender? It’s insulting to both women and men and it has less and less to do with contemporary American families. Dads can be nurturers. Moms can be role models. Many, of course, already are.

A recent Pew study noted that the family roles of mothers and fathers are increasingly converging. Dads are doing more housework and childcare; moms more paid work outside the home. In fact, today nearly equal shares of working mothers and fathers report feeling stressed about balancing work and family life.

(MOREThe Mythical Choice of the Stay-At-Home Mom)

And that’s just heterosexual married couples. Single parents assume multiple roles that blur “traditional” realms. Studies that look at gay parents question the presumption that mothers and fathers bring separate gender-based skills to parenting (like mothers excel in nurturing and caretaking, while fathers bring discipline and rough housing into the mix).

I am not against Mother’s Day. My kids are now grown, but I still cherish those sweet, homemade, crayon-scrawled “You are the BEST Mommy in the WORLD!” cards. But it would be nice to celebrate mothers and fathers in a way that truly honors everything they each can — and do — bring to the family.

MORE: Is It Really the ‘End of Men’?

77 comments
Lalala
Lalala

Who comes up with stupid stuff like this? There's a Father's Day too so how in the h e double hockey sticks is Mother's Day sexist? Some people aren't happy unless they're complaining about something....

RobertAvery1
RobertAvery1

Crap like this article, is the reason time mag. is going out of business....

LoriAlayneWeberMiller
LoriAlayneWeberMiller

Nonsense, they have Fathers day too. Somebody is just jealous because they aborted all their kids so they don't get flowers that day like I did, and dinner out and massage certificates...

JesseMills
JesseMills

I want to understand why the author is trying to twist something that we do, into so called days of sexist hate? Whoever you are you need to get over yourself.

JudyPope
JudyPope

I just want to go on record and explain to this woman why Mother’s Day is not only not sexist but t a day that I and many other MOTHER"S have earned-- I say earned because That is what I did I put my life on hold in order to be a stay a home mom and take care of my children ( 2 children that I love more than my life) I love the fact that there is day that we celebrate the most amazing and wonderful accomplishments that have ever or will ever done . Mother's day is not the day when mom does not have to be a mom it is the day that we thank her and celebrate her for being just who he is; she may be the mom that chose you as in adoption , or she may be your natural mother who changed her dreams and never looked back when she chose to have you, or she may be the Step Mother who came into your life and treated you like you were her own she never complained she never left you out she loved you just a fiercely as if she had given birth you. I say that these women not only deserve to be celebrated in one day that is all about them but that they have earned that right.And yes Mothers are more than nurturers but every day I get to see the influence I have on children’s life --- Mother’s Day is not a day to say Thank You Mom it is a day to say “ Well Done Mom; you are amazing; look at everything you have done!” Congratulations to all the Moms !

toodles
toodles

"Dads can be nurturers. Moms can be role models. Many, of course, already are." Yes, the author is correct. But focus on her words "can" and "Many". What seems so hard for some to believe is that the vast majority of women are nurturers and dads are role models. And that's how we are hardwired. The fact that some want women and men to be the same only demonstrates their own gender confusion, sexist biases or inculcation by their college professors. Change, in and of itself, doesn't mean it's for the better.

nikki.e
nikki.e

It is encouraging to see an enlightened woman who knows the difference between gender and sex. Gender being a social construct and sex being biological. Gender roles are perpetuated by mainstream media (i.e. Halmark) and don't accurately reflect what is actually happening. Yes we could simply pick a less gender biased card, but why should we have to? If well all keep endorsing these stereotypes then nothing will change. 

Hondo
Hondo

I'm sorry, did she actually say something in this article? If anything you're the sexist. Hapless men? Next time pick less sexist cards.

LarryBirt
LarryBirt

Kate Stone Lombardi,,,,, you are a retard!  Why does everyone keep trying to make everything out to be racist or sexist?  STOP with the "stereotype" MENtality; HIStory will prove the focUS was undermining society in general!

BTW, I raised three children as a single parent and did a good job at being BOTH mom and dad!  My teen aged children even gave me a mothers' day card to thank me.

AlexShifrin
AlexShifrin

Are antihistamines sexist? What's wrong with antiherstamines? Don't women also sneeze? End this pharmaceutical patriarchy now!

Strawberries
Strawberries

Sexism will not end until people, like this author, stop rating activities traditionally done by men as more worthy or important than activities traditionally done by women. 

I did not believe in gender differences until I got married. Umm...wow, so many of our cultural stereotypes are true. Do you know he doesn't really care if the forks are in the right slot of the silverware tray? And then I had babies. Both were given pretend tools, trucks, and dolls from day one. The only thing my son ever did with his doll was draw on it once--even though my husband carried him, bathed him, fed him when I wasn't available to nurse, coddled him, etc. However, our son was perpetually using his tools to "fix stuff." And when our daughter came along she had no interest in tools but was oh so gentle with her doll. (Now that she is 4 she likes to play with trucks just like her big brother, but she still is oh so gentle with her dolls.)

My husband and I are both great role models and when our children are hurt we are both loving. But when our son fell off his bike when it was just him and dad, the first cries out of his mouth were, "I want Mommy!!!" The grandpa that was with them said his granddaughter does the same thing when she gets hurt. No matter who is there she wants Mommy. Maybe the Mother's Day cards thank us for drying tears because it is AN IMPORTANT JOB. And for some reason kids thinks moms do it best.

I am college educated and started my decades long professional career in the 80s. Before I was married I purchased and renovated a historic house, fixed my own cooling system, and changed my tires. Now I do our family finances and homeschool our kids. I am a stay at home mom. Our kids are taught to respect everyone for their intrinsic value. The guy stocking shelves at Home Depot may not have the education or professional prestige I did, but his job is important. People rely on his skill set to maintain their homes. My husband is college educated (though he has less education than I do.) He can cook to keep himself (and possibly our kids) alive. He can fix pretty much anything. I am so glad he maintains our cooler, a job I do not like.

Our kids are not being raised with sexist ideals. Instead they are being raised that different people have different jobs and all jobs are important. The reason Mommy does the cooking is I like it and my husband does not (and I am better at it.) The reason my husband maintains the cars is he likes it and I do not. However, without either activity we would not be able to cope well in this world.

People like this author perpetuate that men's traditional skills/attributes are more important than women's. If she really wanted to end sexism she would shout from the ceiling about all the wonderful things that moms and women can do and leave it at that. Maybe dads get card for being good role models because it's the closest anyone could think of that comes anywhere near wiping tears. And, really, is there anything more important than wiping the tears of a child? (Equally important, yes, but more important, no.)


nizwaman
nizwaman

This is an idiotic question and is a waste of time to even consider or contemplate. I'm very disappointed if this is the crap CNN continues to publish online. Time to consider other media websites.

TheBirdman
TheBirdman

As long as they got you to click on the article so you can see their advertiser's message, who cares what the article is about?  Mothers are women.  Fathers are men.  Parents are whatever, and corporate is king.  Happy Mother's Day to women with children - I'm getting another cup of coffee and clicking elsewhere.

phianett
phianett

Why is this even a question? Is there some large and unknown group of Mothers and Fathers somewhere in an uproar regarding the way we celebrate Mother's Day versus Father's Day? In that case, should I be offended because I have to work today and don't get to put my feet up in a bubble bath of champagne? Leave well enough alone, please. Thank you. Happy Mother's Day to all the Moms and Moms-at-heart. I'm off to work. 

O'Brien
O'Brien

If we were creating stereotypes about women, the comments here would be vastly different.  Cries of sexism could be heard in third world countries.  But because we're talking mainly about men, nobody cares.

There's still a place in many families for these "holidays", but the world has been changing for quite some time now. Parents Day works well for lots of families... and there isn't any sexism involved at all.

Cyfairparentscare
Cyfairparentscare

This article is appalling to mothers and fathers and their families. There should be an immediate retraction. It is written without merit or validity. Counseling and some serious time contemplating why you are on God's green earth would be good, too.

PattyDonley
PattyDonley

This article is SUCH a stretch.  The author is finding sexism in the most insignificant of places ~ and it's simply her interpretation of the apparently offensive cards which attribute traditional traits to mothers and to fathers.  I wonder if she'd be offended to receive a floral tribute, or would she rather be given a new set of wrenches.

cohibablend
cohibablend

Seriously? Harmless stereotypes (yes these exist) such as those raised in this article are relatable by the majority, which is why they show up in Mother's Day and Father's Day cards. If they didn't exist, Hallmark wouldn't incorporate them into its product.  Sexist? No. Stereotypical? Arguably. Relatable to the consumer on a such a level that billions of dollars are poured into a product? Yes.   Only in 2013 would this hand-wringing article get published.  Note: If an author references the date to support her point (as if an idea that doesn't match the author's world view don't belong in this day-and-age) then the author exhibits little more than subjective sensitivities and narcissism in making her claim.  Get over yourself Kate.  We are all doing just fine without you horning in on our celebrations.  

cristobal62
cristobal62

Why don't we celebrate a holiday without feeling guilty? I mean, is there even ONE holiday that hasn't been criticized with cries of racism, sexism, stereotyped, prejudice, blah, blah, blah. It's getting ridiculous. Seriously. Is it perchance that journalists have exhausted topics so badly that they have to create debate or issues where there are none? We can't have Christmas, Easter, Valentine's Day, Mother's day...oh cut it out, enough is enough. I, for one, want my darn card, flowers, candy or a day at the spa. Don't rain on my parade. Stop. Now. Let people have some joy and not feel bad or guilty about it. Wouldn't that be refreshing?

joesmith0729
joesmith0729

"Reinforce sex stereotypes"??? How about the fact that men have skill sets and so do women. That's why one of EACH is supposed to raise a child. Seriously, lady... STFU. 

DanielWKauffmanJr
DanielWKauffmanJr

I think assuming that a male cannot cook a dinner is hmm sexist 

stripysocksrock
stripysocksrock

Surely the problem's identified here relate to the messages that the card manufacturers produce - not our personal sentiments for celebrating our parents.  I am yet to find a card that even vaguely represents the sentiments I hold towards my parents and subsequently I don't buy them cards although I will get them a present.

jhngalt9
jhngalt9

Oh please please please just shut up.

b_keyser
b_keyser

Geeze lady, pick a gender and stick with it.

MaggieAmada
MaggieAmada

I'm a mother and a daughter and a role model and a few other things too.  I will not be laying about doing nothing on Sunday.  Quite the opposite.  I'll be spending it with family and engaging them.  I agree that the presumption of motherly versus fatherly roles is sexist and unfair to both men and women.  We are all struggling with raising children and balance.  We should be celebrating by focusing on what's important: being grateful for our families and spending time with each other without stress, argument, pressure or pre-conceptions.  Many people do this already.  It's just that the media hasn't caught up yet.  They'll catch up eventually.

vamp21
vamp21

Is there nothing that we can celebrate without being nitpicked to death anymore?

ThereseZ
ThereseZ

Just occurred to me, rereading the article, that the author wishes to minimize the biological absolute of motherhood, so as to make "gay families" comfortable about the fact that they are denying "their" children one parent or the other.

Sweep biology under the carpet, go ahead and try. You won't succeed for very long, simple rational thinking will bring it back where it belongs, underpinning marriage and keeping family priorities in order.

ThereseZ
ThereseZ

Did anybody notice that Mom is the one who (1) carried you as an embryo through to baby inside her own body? and (2) fed you from her own breasts? Did she anything unique and to be thanked for? Hello?

Funny how political correctness means everybody gets so stupid about actual anatomy and science.

FA_Mitchell
FA_Mitchell

Pathetic article! <---- I am a mom and I approved this message!