All across the United States today, retail employees have been taking down leftover Mother’s Day products and already have started unpacking boxes of graduation gifts and Father’s Day cards to fill the emptied shelves and store windows.
I’ve worked for Hallmark, in two states and several stores, on and off for the past seven years. Even since graduating college and getting a Real Job using my degree, I’ve done some side work there part time. It ain’t glamorous, but it’s an extra paycheck.
Handling thousands of cards, I’ve formed a few opinions. Retail associates aren’t supposed to admit they have favorites, but honestly, I love Father’s Day more than any other Hallmark holiday. Especially because it is such a welcome contrast to Mother’s Day.
Mother’s Day stuff is the worst. Those cards are boring. They are all the same, row after sappy, glossy, floral row. There is so much glitter. There are so few colors, mostly pink with a lot of purple and a few, isolated oranges or blues. And there are so many flowers.
I like flowers. I love pink. Not a huge fan of glitter myself, but hey, whatevs. Plenty of moms like flowers and sparkles, I’m sure. But it’s weird to me how narrow is the range of images deemed appropriate for mothers. Roses get a pass, and daffodils and petunias. Kitchen utensils or aprons, a thimble, sure. Maybe an occasional puppy. But that’s about as broad as its gets. All the pictures and patterns are passive and dainty, with a few hints of domesticity mixed in.
Father’s Day cards are way more awesome, and way more diverse. Sure, dads get plenty of Snoopy and Garfield, like moms do. And they get a fair share of muted-toned, masculine vines and stripes with sentimental messages – but those aren’t the bulk of the offerings. Traditional patterns sit next to modern graphics. Images of baseballs, fishing poles, Superman, trophies, grills, cameras, cars, golf. Images of men doing things. The cards are active, bold, colorful, and varied.* Dads get a bigger selection of funny cards, too.
This may be unimportant, or at least no more important than the way we gender-code toys and clothes. But a card celebrates something about your relationship with the recipient or something about the individual herself. Her personality, passions, character, jobs, accomplishments, hobbies. As far as I can tell, according to card companies, once a woman becomes a mom, her sole interests become schmaltziness and begonias.
Which is weird, because I know a lot a moms, and they seem as interesting and individual as anyone else. And motherhood doesn’t seem like a passive or dainty undertaking. Whether they balance family with work or focus on homemaking, moms do a lot. Mothering takes as much ambition, heart, and valor as fathering. It takes as much doing.
And women still have personality after they have kids, right? And interests, besides diapers? I know moms who golf. Why aren’t there Mother’s Day cards with pictures of women golfing? Why is golf just a Dad Thing?
I know Mother’s and Father’s Days are kind of silly, superficial events. Cards are nice and mean something, but they’re not that big a deal. Still, though, I think what is presented (and bought, by the millions) as small, printed representations of someone’s role as a mother or a father is culturally telling.
These cards say something beyond the words printed on them. Dad gets sports, the great outdoors, humor, and superheroes. Mom? She just gets flowers. Preferably in pink.
*I get that men’s cards are selling a specific view of gender roles, too. Not all men like sports or are driven by ambition any more than all women like girly things or are fueled by emotions. But the options presented to men, in card form, tend to be more varied.