(Mothers Day Proclamation 1870)
Many of us who are mothers can remember lying in bed (as we had been sternly instructed to do the night before) on Mothers Day morning, listening fondly to the not-so-quiet kitchen sounds of breakfast in bed preparations (“Sshh! Don’t wake her up!”), even as we knew we would be greeted later with a sticky mess to clean up. We can also remember the bouquets of tissue paper flowers and the hand drawn and printed poems about what great mothers we were.
It is a long time since my children were young enough to present me with such offerings and, in the years since, I have become a Mother’s Day cynic, seeing it as little more than a crassly commercialized exploitation of what are, at heart, sincere human emotions. Indeed, according to the National Retail Federation, Mother’s Day has become a $15 billion industry in the US alone, as money is spent on such items as restaurant meals, spa visits, flowers and cards so people can convince themselves that they care about their mothers.
I was delighted to have my cynicism about Mother’s Day shaken last year, when I received a fundraising appeal from Inter Pares, a fantastic Canadian social justice organization (www.interpares.ca), that encouraged us to take back Mothers Day from the card manufacturers and florists by donating to IP’s work in the names of our mothers. I did, and have done so again this year.
Mothers Day, in fact, has revolutionary roots. It was inspired by Ann Marie Reeves Jarvis who, in 1858, organized women into clubs to improve the health and sanitation conditions in their community. Following the end of the Civil War, she called for the first Mothers Friendship Day to reconcile communities that had been torn apart by the war.
A few years later, in 1870, Boston suffragist Julia Ward Howe issued a Mothers Day Proclamation for women around the world to unite to end war.
Until 1914, when it became a national holiday in the United States, Mothers Day was celebrated in a non-commercial way, focusing on the role of women in working for peace, in Canada, Mexico and much of the U.S.
When it became a national American holiday, an apostrophe was added, turning what had been a collective event into “Mother’s Day,” a tribute to the individual mother and her work in the home. And it has been downhill ever since, with the gift and card industries the only winners.
What does Mothers Day 2010 bring with it?
Ironically, it is the 50th anniversary of the birth control pill, surely a double-edged sword for women’s freedom and autonomy if ever there was one. There can be no doubt that the availability of the pill was and continues to be liberating for many women. However, it allowed men to dismiss any sense of responsibility for their sexual activity even to the point that they could rape women without worrying about a resulting pregnancy. And, the pill has had negative health side effects for some women and is not financially accessible to all. Without meaningful access to abortion services for all women, the pill is only one part of liberating women from unwanted pregnancy.
Mothers Day this year sees more and more women’s equality organizations in this country being defunded by the federal government, even as that government funds Ontario Golf Magazine, a spinach-based cosmetics company, Chakam School of the Bible, Wycliffe Bible Translators and other such enterprises.
We can also reflect this year on the government’s continued moves to end the long gun registry, despite the clear evidence of the role of guns in the murders of women.
Quebec’s government is poised to pass Bill 94, a move that will further isolate and take away the possibility of autonomy from some of the most vulnerable women in that province.
It is not just domestic policies that should give us cause to pause on Mothers Day 2010. Stephen Harper’s G8 maternal/child health package specifically excludes funding for reproductive health care that includes safe abortion services for women outside Canada.
The response from Conservative Senator and self-proclaimed feminist Nancy Ruth to the outcry against this outrageous policy from Canadian women’s groups? “Shut the fuck up!”
Or what? Well, apparently, risk losing funding ourselves. Of course, this threat applies to an ever smaller group of women’s equality organizations that still receive federal funding.
It would be easy to feel nothing but discouragement this Mothers Day. That’s why it has taken me until early evening to feel enough hopefulness to sit down and write something today.
What brought me out of my all-consuming gloom was listening to the CBC radio interview with Ursula Franklin from last week. I encourage any of you who have not heard it to find it on The Current website and have a listen.
As she talked articulately and with passion about the loss of democracy in Canada and compared it to the rise of fascism in Europe in the 1930s, she also talked about peace and women’s work to create peace around the globe. In her words: “Peace is not just the absence of war. It is the presence of social justice and the absence of fear.”
An honourable thought and aspiration for Mothers Day 2010.