[Ed. – No, not gendered tropes! Call out the National Guard.]
In the week before each parental holiday this year, I visited my local Target and CVS to sample the cards on offer. While there were a few that had expansive notions of mothers’ and fathers’ responsibilities, for the most part, the themes and symbols of both sentimental and funny cards reflected a stark division of gender roles in parenting: In card-world, mothers do everything, and fathers are an afterthought.
The messaging isn’t subtle, either. Some cards are very clear about which parent is considered more important. “Happy Mother’s Day to a woman who does it all!,” read one card. “You work. You cook. You clean. You nurture … You crazy?!” But the woman on the inside of the card has a happy enough expression, even though each of her limbs is engaged in a different task. A month later I found a Father’s Day card that said: “Father’s Day is in June … Because about a month after Mother’s Day, somebody went ‘Hey, wait a minute!’” …
A more scientific study of the themes of Mother’s and Father’s Day cards looked at a batch in 2010. The researchers, Carol Auster and Lisa Auster-Gussman (who, fittingly, are mother and daughter) came to this conclusion: “Ritualized holidays tend to support the status quo, and traditional ideologies of motherhood and fatherhood,” of mothers as nurturers, and fathers as providing more utilitarian support.