Does Mother’s Day reaffirm gender roles or celebrate a long-undervalued role?

Vanaja Pillai, President, 22feet Tribal Worldwide and Head – DEI, DDB Mudra Group criticises idealised depictions of mothers in Mother's Day campaigns, advocates for gender-equal parenting, and calls for more relatable, human-focused motherhood narratives.

Social Samosa
New Update
FI 112

This is a tricky one. Not just because I belong to a marketing community that has created the need for ‘topical’ opportunities to fan talk-worthiness for our brands, but more importantly because my mother was my absolute favourite person in the world. And at a personal level, I recognize how little her life and her incredible qualities and sacrifices have been recognised. 

So are there stories, legacies and contributions that need to be recognized and celebrated? Absolutely. 

Is there a need to challenge beliefs around motherhood? Of course. 

But are our Mother’s Day conversations reaffirming more than releasing mothers from the confines of their romanticised roles, societal expectations and conditioned guilt? Often. 

The fact is most Mother’s Day campaigns sit in two broad categories. 

  1. Those that attempt to highlight and recognize motherhood’s incredible generosity; and in that process set the same standards for what motherhood must look like. 

  2. Those that challenge the stereotypes (as they should), but in the process make mothers look like victims without agency or strong women with a mountain on their shoulders. 

We are missing the various shades of mothers. 

Where are the flawed, fumbling, stressed, high-strung, emotional, funny, normal mothers that we have all come to know and love? 

Where are the confused ones who became mothers almost by accident, and don’t feel the exact ‘emotion’ towards the role, or their children, that society conditions them to expect to experience? 

Where are the bindaas, happy-go-lucky ones who laugh their way through parenthood - when they forgot the diaper, and used paper napkins instead, or left their baby in the day care an extra couple of hours, because they plain forgot. 

Let’s celebrate and role model the human mothers, instead of the superhuman standards. 

Here are a few things to consider – 

Women, mothers and unpaid work

According to research conducted by the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) in 2023, women in the working age category of 15 to 60 years spend 7.2 hours on unpaid domestic work compared to 2.8 hours spent by men. Even wage-earning women spend twice the amount of time on unpaid domestic work such as cleaning, preparing meals and caregiving. With the continued portrayal of women with superhuman abilities, we normalise this statistic, and give it our nod. 

Parenting doesn’t have to be gendered

In recent times, I have had many amazing young men talk to me about fatherhood, paternity leave, and their roles as parents. Perhaps a small proportion, but these invested and excited fathers are embracing equal parenting; enabling their partners to be equal parents too. Is it time to celebrate parenthood instead of motherhood and fatherhood? Notice how Father’s Day commercials tend to be less about the grunge work, and more about support, enablement and providing. 

Guilt-full or guilt-free motherhood

A theme that has emerged often in The Phyllis Project, DDB Mudra Group’s women’s leadership program, is that of experiencing motherhood guilt-free. The internal battle that working women feel when they choose time at work over their child – even for a moment - is real and heart-breaking. And it stems from the foundational belief that once a mother, at no point in time can anything else take priority. Mothers in the workplace perhaps need to hear new narratives - quality time vs always-on availability with children, guilt-less acceptance of a support system, or being new kinds of role models for their daughters and sons. The cycle of guilt and expectations will never stop unless this generation begins to actively deal with it. Bringing up a child is a family’s responsibility, not just a mother’s. 

So there are two possible shifts we can consider

The 1st of June is the Global Day of Parents as proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in 2012. Perhaps a new opportunity for brands to explore, and remove gender from parenthood? As storytellers, we have the opportunity and responsibility in advertising to challenge stereotypes and move societies forward, even as we sell our brands. Let’s not take this privilege lightly. 

The other is to shift narratives significantly this Mother’s Day and hereon. Last year, Bandhan Bank’s fresh take on motherhood as timeless was endearing; not just because of the choice of a completely new age group for whom mothers hold relevance and meaning, but also in the light and slice-of-life depiction of the moms – they are normal, affectionate human beings with shades!

About a year ago, TTK Prestige started a conversation around  #CookingHasNoGender on Mother’s Day. For a legacy brand to shift its narrative to a relevant and contemporary point of view on modern households has been rewarding.


Finally, what would we like to remember our moms for? What would our mothers like to be remembered for? The answer to this question will vary for each of us, and hopefully give us insights on how we must best leverage opportunities like Mother’s Day. For me, as I live each day without my most favourite person in the world, I celebrate not her immense sacrifices, but the simple everyday things that made my mother human. Her lack of agency compels independence in me, and her large heart inspires any generosity that I offer. 

Let’s make our moms human, shall we? 

This article is penned by Vanaja Pillai, President, 22feet Tribal Worldwide and Head – DEI, DDB Mudra Group.

Disclaimer: The article features the opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect the stance of the publication.

mothers day campaigns gender roles Mother's Day 2024 Representation of mothers in ads