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!