Ottawa XPress, March 23, 2006

I can’t have a baby now, my outfit is all wrong!

According to 99 percent of the television commercials featuring wives and mothers and laundry detergent or minivans, without high-waisted beige chinos, I’m nothing.

Add to that the absence of matching pastel knit co-ordinates and a delicate gold necklace to go with my precious diamond wedding band and what we’ve got here is a failure to assimilate.

I don’t look like the women Pledge-ing the oak dining room table, nor the one picking her husband’s clothes off the floor in the Tide commercial. And fuck if I aspire to being them. Granted, there’s nothing wrong with doing my share of the housekeeping or helping my honey with his laundry. I just don’t want to feel – and look – like a fucking cliché while doing it, thanks.

Neither do you, apparently, and that’s why you’re still here. But if you happen to fit in with what conservative folks would call “proper” or “presentable” then read on, ’cause I’ll need your help understanding why our society upholds lame-ass, cookie-cutter women as role model wives and mothers.

There is an entire demographic of mothers-to-be out there who can’t relate to these commercials. Show me a tattooed mother adjusting junior’s car seat in the back of a ’62 Plymouth Fury and I’ll bet you a fiver they’re a family that wouldn’t call Kentucky Fried Chicken a “treat,” or would rather a trip to southern France than Disneyland.

Oh, there’s my answer I guess, because from McDonald’s to Chef Boyardee, industry and our economy thrive on certain other mothers feeling insecure. Insecure about not feeding their kid the right thing. Or driving the right TrailBlazer. In one minivan commercial, mothers worldwide are warned that unless little Joey can play video games in the back seat, he’s going to abandon you for the mother next door who can give him that luxury.

There are enough things about motherhood that freak us out beyond an eight-pound greasy creature with eyeballs busting out of a vagina after nine months. Do we have to increase women’s worries by pummelling them with sanitized adverts of motherhood that they can’t live up to? that seem to limit their shopping experience to Zellers and their brain space to conformity?

Hands- and mops-down, the portrayal of vanilla moms with their business-casual attire, uniformity and listlessness packages motherhood into something marketable, and we’re buying it. How many of you are questioning it?

Any commercial you see nowadays is playing into stereotypes. Mothers & More (, an American non-profit membership organization that “cares for the caregiver,” compiled a good list of them. They are: Bonbon-Eating Mom (lazy TV watchers), Career-Crazed Mom (selfish careerist), Supermom (do-it-all), 24/7 Bliss Mom (always smiling), Martyr Mom (there for everyone), Glam Mom (always looks good) and Domestic Goddess Mom (loves housework). Have you been labelled one of these?

What also scares me, in addition to the message stereotypes send back to ourselves about how we’re falling short of some ideal, is the one they put across to eligible bachelors. I fear the clinical version of wife and motherhood brainwashes gents into believing polished Gap girls are superior. The misconception that plain equals stable is not far behind.

The danger is serious. Far from me to link Swiffer commercials to postpartum depression and infanticide, especially when those ads promote how easy your life will be if you used these products, right? But, what happens when life doesn’t get any easier for moms?

Well, Mom ends up fucking your boyfriend, like in Roger Michell’s depressing British film The Mother, that’s what happens. I rented the flick over the weekend, and what a warning to all wives and mothers about the consequences of settling and losing your identity to a prescribed role.

Prescribed roles are safe. Like vanilla ice cream. It’s plain and predictable until someone gives you a taste of the rocky road with nougat and marshmallows and all hell breaks loose.

Colouring the vanilla image of motherhood is not only the subject of many classics like Kramer vs. Kramer or The Hours, but a way to open up women right here in our own backyard to more choice.

A girlfriend of mine would have gone nuts if she hadn’t thought independently of commonplace notions of what it means to be a parent. Suburbs? Screw it. She recently took her eight-month-old daughter to Australia for a month. Next it’s Peru for a couple of weeks. Another took her tot to Japan and taught English.

Let’s see more examples of women like this, who follow the beat of a different drummer and who have Youth Brigade’s anthem “Punk Rock Mom” playing in the same CD changer as a little Kindermusik.

Yes, it takes courage to express yourself independently from a world where J. Crew Mom next to you looks at you funny. For those of us sensitive-to-criticism types, we sometimes can’t shake the need for society’s validation since we kinda live in it and all. But if Daddy wears a chain wallet, why the hell can’t Mom?

And if all this talk of clothing doesn’t matter, then I dare Pampers to throw Bif Naked into their next diaper commercial.

To me, fuddy-duddy telemummies of TV land scream “white Christian married woman with affluent background.” And while the whole fashion victim thing might be forgivable, there’s no excuse for mistaking a capitalist theocrat for the perfect mother.

– Sylvie Hill