This time of year can bring with it a warm glow of self-worth and validation to mothers everywhere as they stalk streets garlanded with banners and posters, proclaiming their value. Their offspring are encouraged to purchase wonderful gifts and plan celebratory feasts, make-overs and Mothers Day waxing offers because every mother must have a bald pudenda on feast days celebrated in her name.
Like the majority of my female friends, relatives and colleagues, I consider myself to be a 21st century woman with a long and sometimes successful history of being all things to all people. My interests are many and varied: some you might expect, some you might not, but I do not favour pink above all other hues. I do not like cupcakes or pink cupcakes or pink cake-stands. I do not especially want or need books on how to bake cupcakes nor do I want beauty bibles or style bibles or how to fucking lose weight bibles. I like chocolate but it is not a treat nor something I want as a gift,chocolate being an ordinary, staple foodstuff in our home. I love flowers (preferably growing in a garden) but they don’t have to be pink and after nearly fifty years on this planet, I have learned how to dress myself and find ‘how to’ guides on style a bit patronising seeing as I have yet to go out accidentally wearing just my pants in winter or confuse the beach with the office. I love reading: I live in a house that is insulated by walls lined with books but I don’t gravitate towards ones with pink jackets or glitter and the term ‘chick lit’ makes me want to hurl. Yet a wander around the nearest town seems to suggest that these gifts are what I, and other women, would most like to receive for Mothering Sunday. Even the champagne on display is pink.
Until the time of the first World War or thereabouts, the predominate colour for girls was blue- described as ‘more delicate and dainty for the girls’- which may be why Disney’s Cinderella and Alice still wore it. The Virgin Mary appears to us robed in the palest of blue. At first, whether a girl or boy wore pink or blue was often determined by hair and eye colour: brown-haired or brown-eyed children wore pink and blue-eyed or blondes wore blue. This was a terrible bugbear to the writer of the ‘Little House on the Prairie’ series of books, Laura Ingalls Wilder, who longed to see blue bows on her brown hair and rejoiced one day upon noticing that Ma had muddled up her hair ribbons with those of her blonde-haired sister. She railed against the Ma’s firm adherence to the belief that ‘Mary had to wear blue because her hair was blonde’.
Blue pigments were the costliest and the most long lasting, holding their tone and depth long after all other primary shades faded. In fifteenth-century Florence, even the least costly of the blues was more than three times the price of red or yellow pigments and the precious mined reserves of Lapis Lazuli, hewed from the rocks of faraway lands such as Afghanistan, had long been coveted and held in the highest esteem. Crushed into a clear shade of aquamarine, the precious rocks gave the Virgin Mary’s mantle its well known hue- the colour of the skies, the colour of Heaven- not the colour of all girls, but most certainly the colour for the wealthiest or most worshipped of them.
The decision to change this appeared to be a commercial one, and a relatively recent decision to boot, as the cost of making blue dyes collapsed and democracy in colour tastes began to impact. The seventies saw a firm rejection of pink for girls and blue for boys because of second-wave feminism and general consciousness-raising. The avalanche of pink for female toys, clothing, and even pens and hair straighteners, is a commercial construct and obviously makes handing that pink box of toys down to a son that much harder when he has been so firmly inculcated with the idea that pink is Very Bad for boys. So parents go out and buy new. Great for the shops, not so great for us.
This leads us right back to the idea of Mothering Sunday gifts. I am not so much of a curmudgeon as to advocate a return to giftless celebrations, being aware of the economic importance of such purchases to our regional businesses and the pleasure such gift-giving (and choosing) provides. The procession of children at schools end, homemade cards and gifts tightly clutched in glitter and glue-sticky hands is a fond memory and I can’t be the only one who hoards these precious potential family heirlooms, even if the 3D flowers and fluffy creatures on them are now a little balding in places.
No. What I would like to see is a little more thought and imagination as to what mothers might like to receive and a little more concern regarding the messages we transmit to our sons and daughters about gender roles. People choose gifts from the choices available. We don’t always have the time to forage about the High St in this busy old life so I don’t buy the argument of stores that this is what people ‘want’. In a shop containing thousands upon thousands of books, why is the selection chosen for Mothers Day displays so limited and limiting? We don’t need to spend a lot but we do need to be aware of the hidden cost of curbing and warping the aspirations of both sexes.
Ultimately though my message to families on Mothering Sunday is probably the reason why De Beers has yet to call on my services for their next advertising campaign. Bearing in mind that research shows a working mother often does the lions share of the housework, I suggest that ‘This Mothers Day, don’t give her a diamond. Give her a hand.”