Motrin Versus The Moms: When Painkillers Are Attacked, Everybody Loses

November 16, 2008

It’s possible that you haven’t seen or heard about MotrinGate, but I’ll wager that if you haven’t, it’s because you have enough of a life to not be reading blogs or compulsively checking Twitter on a weekend. If you haven’t heard about it – and you aren’t interested in going to Twitter and typing #motrinmoms into the search box, at which point you will be exposed to a digital outpouring of maternal outrage the likes of which you have not seen since, oh, the last breastfeeding scandal or the Great Mommy War Debates, Parts I through XIteen, and so on – here’s the story: Motrin posted an ad on their website that suggests, none too elegantly, that moms who wear their babies a) are conformist sheep-moms who only wear their babies in order to demonstrate that they’re “official moms” (dick fingers implied), and b) need Motrin to help with the pain caused by all that silly babywearing. Because babies are the new Manolos, and are just as likely to cause you crippling pain.

(I’ve posted the video of the ad below, in case you’re dying to see what the fuss is about. You might also check out their ad for children’s Motrin, which implies, with insufficient subtlety, that if you’re not getting enough sleep, you might want to consider drugging your kids up. You know, with Motrin.)

Of course, the ad is stupid, and deserving of the scorn that has been heaped upon it. But I’m not sure that it’s worthy of the scale of outrage that I’m seeing. Which may make me unpopular for the three or four days that this scandal burns its swath across the Internetverse, but so be it.

What’s stupid about the ad, obviously, is that it belittles a standard practice of motherhood: carrying one’s baby. The suggestion – again, complete with implied dick fingers – that women “endure” babywearing just so that they’ll “fit in” with other moms is stupid and offensive. I wore my babies – sometimes with slings, sometimes with Bjorns, sometimes just freestyle – because I could not possibly have had (or have) a life without doing so. Especially with the second, the six-month old who I carry constantly: he loathes being put down, and so my ability to move about the world freely requires that I bind him to my body in some fashion – with fabric, duct tape, or just an old-fashioned curve of the arm – or endure high-pitched shrieking. I don’t do this to prove my mommy bona fides. I’ve got ample scars that prove my mommy bona fides, not to mention a wardrobe of spit and shit-stained clothing, a muffin-top, a short temper and an inability to concentrate on any conversation that doesn’t reference potty training or preschooler discipline techniques. These get the point across, I think. I’m so obviously a mom that I’m surprised that random children don’t just follow me home from the park. I am EVERYMOM.

But I’m also, in my capacity as a mom, plagued by backaches and neckaches and stiff shoulders and all manner of discomfort related to the toll of days spent packing anywhere from 23 to 60 lbs of kidmeat around on my person,* not to mention the constant crouching and bending and lifting and bending and hoisting and crouching and bending and lifting etc etc etc that comes with the endless cycle of diaper changing and toilet training and shoelace-tying and buckle-fastening and binky-fetching and all the other back-breaking little tasks that are part of motherwork. That shit burns you out, people. It’s hard work, and it leaves you sore. It leaves me sore. So the idea that someone might pitch painkillers to my particular demographic isn’t really outrageous. Hell, the Motrin people could get together with the Smirnoff’s Vodka people and maybe even the Xanax/Ativan people and do a whole collaborative marketing juggernaut aimed at tired/sore/anxiety-ridden moms and I’d probably just roll my eyes and make a note on my calendar to renew some prescriptions and restock the liquor cabinet. So, no, I don’t think that the substance of the Motrin campaign is all that worthy of controversy.

It’s their delivery that sucked butt, for the reasons I explained above. If you’re trying to win over a market, you should maybe try to avoid insulting that market. But we – the quote-unquote market that they’ve insulted – need to be clear on what exactly it is that we find insulting. The suggestion that packing our kids around might cause a backache or two is not insulting (nor is it particularly damaging, as I’ve seen some suggest, to the practice of babywearing. Knowing that carrying a baby might cause some shoulder pain won’t stop any reasonable parent from babywearing. Knowing that childbirth is painful hasn’t stopped women from giving birth, has it?) The suggestion that babywearing is some kind of Stepford Mom conformity exercise is insulting, and it’s worth protesting.

But let’s keep our focus on the real problems here. The marketing of a painkiller to moms is not a problem. The suggestion (the appalling suggestion) that some or any of the practices of motherhood that might cause mothers to reach for a painkiller are in and of themselves stupid or risible or of dubious merit is a problem, because it makes a mockery of the work of motherhood and so makes a mockery of mothers. It demonstrates that advertisers are still unwilling, for the most part, to consider mothers as anything other than stereotypes: frazzled mom, harried mom, lonely mom, overwhelmed mom. These stereotypes have force because the life of a mom involves all of the components of those stereotypes – I am frazzled and overwhelmed and I will say here, frankly, that I have said to myself on more than one occasion, why the f*$# am I carrying this baby around every minute of every day oh my aching hell – but they become dangerous when they become the sole lens through which moms are viewed.

The only way to fight it is by reminding the culture that we are complex. We are not frazzled harridans griping about pain, but nor are we simply beatific nurturers whose deepest joy and pleasure is derived from carrying babies – light as farts with angel wings – against our ever-trilling mama-hearts. We need to keep broadcasting to the world that we defy simple characterization. Which means tempering our outrage with humor, and tempering our rebuttals with honesty: I’m a mom who wears my baby – and loves it but also sometimes doesn’t love it all that much and on those days maybe takes a painkiller or two or maybe just a hot bath and a martini – and I did not approve of that Motrin ad.

Now, somebody pass me the vodka.

*I know that babywearing doesn’t cause everyone discomfort. And I’ve heard it said a thousand times that if you’re doing it right, it doesn’t hurt. FINE. I’ve also heard the very same thing said about breastfeeding, and it’s just not true. Packing my kids around all day puts a strain on my body. Sometimes that strain is painful. Please do not tell me that I’m doing it wrong. It’s my babywearing and I’ll say that it’s sometimes painful if I want to.

** The ad was removed from the Motrin site while I was drafting this post. Behold the power of the momosphere!

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    Anonymous November 17, 2008 at 2:18 pm

    i’m appalled-it makes it sound like a ditzy teen created the ad or something. i don’t need anything to “prove” i’m an “official mom”. i’ve never used motrin, but you can sure bet i never will, either.

    Jenni November 17, 2008 at 2:23 pm

    wait a minute, wait a minute. you’re telling me babies ARE NOT the new manolos? well, there goes the last nine months and the next 18 years of my life. i’m never getting those back.

    Don Mills Diva November 17, 2008 at 2:46 pm

    Well you know I adore you and your writing BUT…

    I just can’t work up any righteous anger over the ad. In fact I just posted about how I think it would behoove us to yield the power of the momosphere a little more judisciously.

    Her Bad Mother November 17, 2008 at 4:02 pm

    Kelly (DMD) – that was kinda my point … (“I’m not sure that it’s worthy of the scale of outrage that I’m seeing. Which may make me unpopular for the three or four days that this scandal burns its swath across the Internetverse, but so be it.”)

    Angie [A Whole Lot of Nothing] November 17, 2008 at 4:14 pm

    Thanks for climbing in my head and writing everything I thought but didn’t manage to squeeze out.


    Booba Juice November 17, 2008 at 5:07 pm

    Okay, so usually I take the time to read all the comments and then decide if I have something to say that someone else hasn’t said, but today I am just to busy, and I do have something that I want to say.

    I sat there looking at my screen. And felt my jaw dropping. Not because I think its outrageous to think that I a mother who holds children 70% of a 24 hour day, I who stoop, and bend, and play, and crawl, and all those other glorious things, need pain killers. Sometimes you do. ***and I agree that sometimes you just need a vodka and cranberry and to sit outside hidding in the shadows of your yard, while your husband watches the kiddos…but thats another story****

    What suprised me was the way that it made out that babywearing was some sort of fad, something that you do just to fit in. When are we as moms going to say enough. We do not fit into the mold. There are all types of moms. And further more, just because I don’t bring in a 100K a year doesn’t mean that I don’t have something important to add to the converstation, but that too is another story that you can read about on my blog.


    MoveOn.Housewives November 17, 2008 at 5:20 pm

    Great comment, Bad Mother.

    I have several reactions to the ad. First, my youngest child has only been out of a sling for a year, and I find it amazing that the practice of babywearing has come to be considered so mainstream that Motrin is including it in their ad as if it were an inevitable part of motherhood. I was pretty much alone in the practice of babywearing here in Harrisonburg, Virginia, and in Philadelphia, some five years ago, when I was toting my eldest around in a sling, I felt very much in the minority of mothers. I even joined a rather fringe mother’s group devoted to promoting the sling, and I felt mildly uncomfortable with the earth-mother aura that surrounded it.

    In the mother’s group that I joined, one of the benefits of babywearing that was pressed upon us was the natural “bonding” that would occur between mother and baby. Although I bought into the babywearing philosophy and it happened to work for me, in retrospect I have found the dogmatism of the babywearing movement offputting. We were told such absurd things as that the practice would lead to a happier, more confident and well-adjusted child later in life. We were told that developmentally, a baby needed to have the womb recreated for them for at least nine months after birth to compensate for the premature entry into the world that having a head necessitated, and that the sling (used everywhere except in the U.S.), was somehow “nature’s” way of compensating for this trauma. And as a final sales pitch to appeal to the self-interest of the mother, we were told that it would furnish the magical solution for all the age-old struggles of motherhood: not only could we could accomplish anything with a sling — cooking, cleaning, laundry, gardening, shopping, breastfeeding, eating, writing, reading, you name it — but our baby would be happy and we would feel no physical discomfort.

    I don’t know why, but there was definitely a sense in that babywearing group, that if you didn’t adopt the babywearing practice, you were somehow committing treason to the higher call of motherhood.

    I was uncomfortable with this propaganda, and not because there wasn’t plenty to recommend about a sling. Rather, it was the way the whole idea of babywearing was promoted like a typical American advertisement: YOU MUST HAVE A SLING AND WEAR IT. If you don’t, there’s something wrong with you and, by the way, something bad will happen to your baby as well. With respect to mother advice, my standard response has always been: every mom and baby is different and what works for one may not work for another. Thus, while I was proud of feeling like a superior multitasker as I toted my baby around in a sling, I always thought it important to recognize and respect moms who didn’t want to go that route, for whatever reasons — comfort, fashion, or out of concern for the preferences of the baby.

    What is interesting to me about the Motrin Ad is that it seems to tap into a reservoir of resentment that women have about doing what is “supposed” to be best for baby. It tries to win over our confidence by airing what it assumes to be our dirty secret: a skepticism about stuff that is touted as good for baby when it isn’t actually good for us.

    And then, paradoxically, the ad alienates us is when it tells us that we go to great lengths to serve our babies just to be cool, or to be perceived as good moms.

    Would we like the ad better if the narrating mom included in the list of problems attendant to babywearing the complaint that it can be viewed as a fashion requirement of motherhood?

    Instead, the ad goes wrong when it assumes that we delight in being slaves to fashion. Myth-debunking is an important activity for moms to be able to engage in vocally, not secretively and in guilt. The Motrin fails to acknowledge that, and suggests that, despite our efforts and our sacrifices, we are really no more than ditzy trendmongers.

    queenofspain, erin November 17, 2008 at 5:26 pm

    Great post girl. And I was glad to see many kept their heads. And I really hope those who didn’t learned from it.

    Don Mills Diva November 17, 2008 at 5:38 pm

    Yeah, Catherine, guess we are coming from the same place, but the truth is I can’t even summon enough interest to thoughtfully analyze the ad or the reaction. It’s such a tempest in a teapot, I just want it to go away and stop making mom bloggers look like they have WAY too much time on their hands…

    Miss Merry Sunshine November 17, 2008 at 5:40 pm

    “Light as farts with angel wings”

    LMFAO!! That’s how mature I am…but, good post as always! I’ve missed this drama, thanksfully…

    Shannon November 17, 2008 at 6:26 pm

    Please keep the video up, I want to watch it when I get home, in less than an hour. I dont want to feel like I am missing out :)

    b*babbler November 17, 2008 at 9:45 pm

    Perhaps I’m in the minority here… but..

    Honestly, I found the ad to just be tongue in cheek (even the tone of voice) Seriously. I didn’t really think that they were pushing the idea that baby wearing was only a way of fitting.

    I guess I just think there are better things to spend our resources and energy on, and this ad isn’t one of them. I wore my baby (and still wear my 2-year-old toddler). Hell yes it hurts sometimes (like a day spent tromping around the EX, for example).

    I guess where I’m going with this is that when we get our backs up over something as inane as this, it undermines the important things. Really, have we lost our sense of humour?

    Susan November 17, 2008 at 9:47 pm

    This “Motringate” brought out the worst in some people.
    In the end it wasn’t ad or the outrage of the ad that irritated me, it was the ego rubbing and the stat counting. The worst, how many people were taking this opportunity to inform and turned it into blatant self-promotion.
    Your right sometimes there is pain in Motherhood it happens, it doesn’t mean you are doing it “wrong”
    Motrin got it wrong because they didn’t “Feel Our Pain” What wrong with #motrinmoms, they didn’t “feel our pain” either!

    Anonymous November 17, 2008 at 11:30 pm

    Oh I can’t even help it, I was giggling at the end of that ad. Perhaps just the picture combined with the “tired and crazy” words. I’m not at all offended by this ad.
    Mind you, I don’t really get offended by much, but I “held” my baby for 10 months. All day, every day, and yes, we did have a snuggly, but it killed my back, so I never wore it. I remember being sore and just wiped out by the end of the day, but I’ll do it all over again with the next one if that’s what it takes. :)

    And if it’s hurting me during the day… yup, I’ll take Motrin, or Advil or Tylenol. Whatever I can manage to get out of the bottle while I’m wrangling a little body in my arms.

    Susan Getgood November 18, 2008 at 12:14 am

    I remain amazed at your writing. You are by far one of the best writers I read on the blogosphere. Have you considered writing a book? You should.

    Cat November 18, 2008 at 12:50 pm

    Wow, I missed the whole scandal, probably because all I carry around every day is my own tired ass and a bottle of vodka. Hey I do have something in common with moms! VODKA

    Her Bad Mother November 18, 2008 at 1:13 pm

    Susan – thanks (*blush*)

    anne November 18, 2008 at 2:33 pm
    Kim @ November 18, 2008 at 2:39 pm

    I hate to be conspiracy theory about it, but as far as I’m concerned it is more attempt by them to try to cause mommy wars. More attempt to point out our differences. My opinion? They don’t realize our sameness is we CELEBRATE those differences because as mothers we want that to be the world our children inherit. And that sameness says them? “FUCK YOU, ASSHOLES!” And that is as much business as well as attention I’ll be offering those sobs.

    Moronic. The whole lot of every media asshats.

    carrie November 18, 2008 at 10:05 pm

    Sling or no sling, you’re going to have aches and pains hauling a baby around – at least I did and I wish slings had been more commonplace back in 1997 and 1998 (I know! eons ago!).

    Anyway, I totally see your point. I felt that way about the VW Ruton (sp?) commercials even though a) I don’t drive a mini van and b) my kids aren’t babies anymore. I could see why a certain demographic would be irritated, but it really wouldn’t stop me from taking/buying Motrin if that was my anti-inflammatory of choice!

    Hopefully it will blow over soon, maybe it already has! :)

    Jozet at Halushki November 19, 2008 at 4:35 am

    “I hate to be conspiracy theory about it, but as far as I’m concerned it is more attempt by them to try to cause mommy wars. More attempt to point out our differences.”

    Pass the tin foil hat. I’m old school patriarchy blaming even for an ad written by a woman. Keep us bickering among ourselves – mainstream moms versus alternatives, middle class versus wealthy versus poor – and we won’t get enough of a power block to do the real damage to the big issues that everyone is complaining that we’re not paying attention to.

    It’s because motherhood is a second-class job description that doesn’t credit a resume line. Or so we are led to believe, told over and over again by one insipid commercial after another. Well, Motrin didn’t pull any punches in laying it all out there.

    I think the reaction was swift and big and I don’t think anyone lost much time out of their day in enacting that reaction. In fact, I got four loads of laundry done. Meanwhile, the “look over there” effect of pitting those crunchy granola moms against those eye-rolling hipster moms didn’t work. We’re coming for your corner office; we’re turning it into an in-house daycare with a breast pump station. Then, we’re coming for better childcare options, family leave, and equal pay. That’s for starters.

    courtney November 21, 2008 at 5:19 am

    Well, hey, I hadn’t even heard of or seen that Motrin ad. Shows how out of the loop I am. I probably would have been insulted, too. For the same reasons. Because duh, packing around a kid is harsh on your body. That’s all that there should be to the ad.

    cmwheeler November 25, 2008 at 11:24 am

    Have you seen this response to it?

    Good fun.

    Her Bad Mother November 25, 2008 at 11:34 am

    cmwheeler – I did see it (a friend of mine made it, actually) – it’s AWESOME.

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