MODERN MOTHERHOOD: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her daughter Neve Gayford. What constitutes motherhood has changed rapidly over the past decade but that doesn’t mean forgetting what your mother, or grandmother, gave up in the process to get here. (Photo by Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)
MODERN MOTHERHOOD: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her daughter Neve Gayford. What constitutes motherhood has changed rapidly over the past decade but that doesn’t mean forgetting what your mother, or grandmother, gave up in the process to get here. (Photo by Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)

OUR SAY: Happy Matriarchal Day!

IT'S Mother's Day tomorrow but what exactly are we celebrating these days? Is it as relevant as was when women stayed at home to raise the children and attend to their husband's needs so were bestowed a day, one day, to feel validated and relevant, or have we moved past viewing women like that.

I'm not so sure here in Australia.

But first a quick history lesson. While mothers and motherhood have been acknowledged throughout ancient history, the modern celebration of Mother's Day as we know it began in the early 1900s when American woman Anna Jarvis who, after her own mother died, came up with the idea as a way of honouring the sacrifices mothers made for their children.

Despite having no children of her own, Jarvis resolved to see her holiday added to the national calendar arguing that American holidays were biased toward male achievements. She started a massive letter writing campaign to newspapers and prominent politicians urging the adoption of a special day honouring motherhood.

Her persistence paid off in 1914 when President Woodrow Wilson signed a measure officially establishing the second Sunday in May as Mother's Day.

Jarvis would later denounce the holiday's commercialisation and spent the latter part of her life trying to remove it from the calendar but here we are still celebrating the day and exploiting it commercially to boot.

Anyway perhaps it is still popular because it relieves older children of some of the guilt of having busy lives of their own and being stationed all over the country and world. They now have three opportunities to touch base with their mothers apart from birthdays and Christmas.

On the other hand, today's younger mothers are much more likely to be have professional careers and full time jobs, alongside their husbands and partners, so the relevance of Mother's Day has lost some of its original intention, particularly in countries like Australia.

Do we still have enough women feeling invalid or irrelevant that we still need to patronise them with a pair of slippers or flowers once a day to tell them how much they are appreciated, or do we just appreciate them everyday. My money's on the token flowers and footwear but that's just the impression you get from living in regional Australia.

Mothers and women have sacrificed a lot to get where we all are today, not just on the family front, but politically and socially. They weren't gifted the freedoms of life as our male counterparts were.

There are still a lot of women who grew up in shockingly sexist climates, whose lives were virtually decided for them by men, fathers, and then husbands and then children. Sure that's the way things were but it doesn't mean you never have to acknowledge what they went through in order to reach this point in time.

One recent anniversary story in this newspaper featured a Clarence woman who was obviously very smart and destined to be a great educator had to give up her the teaching scholarship she won because the war ended and a soldier coming back home had priority (quotas anyone?).

So instead she did what most women had to do for men, walk away from their careers or give up any dreams of pursuing one. This was particularly prevalent after marriage, especially if the man was a professional, like a doctor or lawyer, because having a working wife was frowned upon by the patriarchy because it left the impression they couldn't provide for their family and that was not a good look for the male ego.

So while these days are mostly behind us in a legal sense, acknowledging that your wife or your mother was one of these women who made this sacrifice would be a novel gesture on Sunday while you hand over the bouquet and chocolates. Even if she didn't have a career as such, she certainly wasn't encourage to have one either.

Maybe instead of celebrating all the stuff she has done for all of you, maybe ask her what she had to give up in order to do that.

As the world gets used to mothers running countries and global companies while the dad might stay at home, perhaps we need to rethink the whole mother's day thing. I can't imagine what would happen in Jacinda Ardern's or Sheryl Sandberg's household but I doubt they need a special day for their family to tell them anything they don't already know.

Happy Matriarchal Day.

 



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