بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
Capitalism has Hijacked Motherhood
Swathes of flowers, chocolates, cards, and gifts once again line the aisles of supermarkets, department stores, and card shops across the UK in preparation for Mother’s Day on the 30th March. Array upon array of merchandise with “I love mum” labels saturates the shelves of retailers, as if words and actions from children are not enough to convince mothers of the affection their offspring have for them, that they need to see it in writing. Motherhood has become a big and ever-burgeoning business within Capitalist states. Countries mark ‘Mother’s Day’ on different days. In the US and Australia, it’s on the second Sunday in May. However, there is a common theme that ties together its celebration in various states across the world and that is: Mother’s day has become yet another capitalist money-making gimmick that keeps the cash registers of retailers ringing and companies rubbing their hands in glee that they have succeeded in convincing cash-strapped consumers to part from millions of pounds or dollars of their hard-earned earnings, even in these economically challenging times.
In the UK, it’s an opportunity for big business to fill their commercial gap and line their pockets between Valentine’s Day and Easter celebrations. Marketing Week estimates that Mother’s Day is worth $409 million to businesses in the UK, while in Australia $1.36 billion is spent on the day. According to the 2013 National Retail Federation survey, US spending on Mother’s Day exceeds $20 billion annually, with more than $2 billion worth of flowers bought. There has been an upward spending trend on the day since 2009, and it is now ranked 3rd after Christmas and Valentine’s Day in terms of money spent by consumers in the country. In the UK, according to figures quoted by the Guardian, individuals are paying out twice as much on Mother’s Day as they were a decade ago. Expectations of what to buy are also changing – away from cards and flowers to expensive electrical goods, accessories, perfumes, and pampering sessions. Motherhood is therefore a lucrative business within consumerism dominated capitalist societies which have managed to market it as yet another product to increase profits for companies and generate wealth for economies, as one journalist writes, “For retailers Mother’s Day is certainly a cash cow”.
It is ironic therefore that within capitalist states that encourage individuals to celebrate and splash out on this day, they have simultaneously over the past few decades systematically undermined the status of motherhood within their societies for the remaining 364 days of the year. In the name of increasing economic growth, capitalist governments and systems have promoted the model of the working woman as the model of female success and the epitome of female empowerment. Last August, UK Chancellor George Osborne, when announcing new government plans to provide child-care support for families with two working parents, aimed at encouraging women with children into the workplace, stated, “This government is on the side of people who want to work hard and get on in life”. Subsequently, he received a wave of criticism from many mothers groups and journalists. They accused him of insulting and stigmatising stay at home mothers by firstly, failing to financially support women who chose not to work in order to raise their children, and secondly by suggesting that mothers who decide to take care of their children full-time are somehow failures who work less hard and have no drive to ‘get on in life’. Osborne also described the role of ‘stay-at-home mother’ as a “lifestyle choice”, insinuating that it held a secondary status compared to employment that should be viewed as the ideal path in life for women. The message was clear – that full-time mothers who chose not to work in order to raise their children were not deserving of the same financial rewards as working mothers; that the status of women correlates with the level of benefit they bring to the economy; that the role of mother is inferior to wage-earner; and that the contribution of stay-at-home mothers to the wellbeing of society is less valuable than the contribution of working women to the coffers and economic growth of the state.
Alongside the promotion of this erroneous template of female success, capitalist governments have moulded their benefits and taxation systems in a way to manipulate and coerce women to abandon their role as stay-at-home mothers and pressure them to enter the workplace to boost the economy, rather than supporting them in their vital role of nurturing and bringing up their children. In 2013, a study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development reported that in the UK, the average family with one worker and two children loses 27.9% of their wages in tax. In contrast, single people and two-earner couples have seen their tax bills fall since 2009 due to benefitting from cuts in tax-free personal allowances and other changes.
Additionally in the UK, there has been a drive by its government in recent years to ease child-care accessibility for families in order to encourage women with young children to enter employment. This February, Liz Truss, the childcare minister recommended to local authorities to encourage schools to take in 2 year olds to ease the childcare shortage in the country and for their nurseries to open for longer during working days. Legislation is to be introduced to enable this to take place. One wonders whether a time will come when childcare facilities are attached to maternity wards to facilitate women who’ve just given birth to re-enter work without delay! Included in the UK budget this March was also a £750 million a year ‘tax-free childcare’ scheme for all families with two working parents who will receive £2000 per child each year towards childcare costs. The plan again received criticism from mothers groups who accused the government of favouring working mothers over stay-at-home ones. In defending the scheme, Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury made clear his government’s priority with regards to the role of mothers, when he said that it was economically beneficial for mothers to return to the workplace.