Chocolates versus barbecue sets – gender stereotypes for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day

Mit dem Mutter- und Vatertag gehen oftmals genderstereotype Zelebrationen einher. Mit dem Mutter- und Vatertag gehen oftmals genderstereotype Zelebrationen einher. (Foto: Alesia Talkachova/Pexels (links) und Luis Quintero/Pexels (rechts))

While Mother’s Day often reproduces a reactionary image of women, Father’s Day marks  toxic) masculinity. The celebration of both days in Germany is permeated by gender stereotypes and could hardly be more different.

Mother’s Day was introduced in Germany exactly 100 years ago. It is celebrated worldwide, but how and when depends very much on the country. While Mother’s Day in Sweden, for example, is always celebrated on the last Sunday in May, in Germany we celebrate it annually on the second Sunday in May. Father’s Day, on the other hand, regularly falls on Ascension Day in Germany. But it is also celebrated on a different day in many countries. In France, Japan and the USA, for example, fathers are honoured on the third Sunday in June. But where do these traditions come from?

Founder of Mother's Day regretted her invention

Mother’s Day as we know it today goes back to the US women’s rights activist Anna Jarvis: she established Mother’s Day in the USA in 1907. It was intended to draw attention to the structural discrimination of women in general and mothers in particular and to strengthen their rights. Since she wanted to commemorate her mother, who died in May 1905, she designated the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day. In 1914, it was declared a national day of honour for mothers in the USA under President Woodrow Wilson.

Trade and industry recognised the potential of Mother’s Day early on and have exploited it for capitalist gain ever since. Anna Jarvis fought against the commercialisation of the day of honour until her death in 1948 and even called for its cancellation for this reason. Her original goal of strengthening women’s rights was increasingly overshadowed by the cult of flowers, sweets and greeting cards.

The Association of German Flower Shop Owners played a major role in ensuring that Mother’s Day was also celebrated in Germany from 1923. Later, the Nazis instrumentalised the mother cult for their propaganda – in the course of which they officially declared Mother’s Day a holiday in 1934.

Father's Day: between Christianity and the Bollerwagen party

Father’s Day, also known as Men’s Day, is nowadays mainly characterised by the collective and ritualised parading of men with alcohol-filled handcarts. What is not necessarily obvious at first glance: There is an assumption that Father’s Day and Ascension Day do not coincidentally fall on the same day.

The resurrection and ascension of Jesus to his Father, which is anchored in the Christian faith, has been celebrated by Christians on Ascension Day ever since. In the 16th century, processions took place in the fields on that day, during which heavy alcohol consumption was already recorded. From the 19th century onwards, the religious origins seemed to fade more and more and the first “gentlemen’s tours” were celebrated. However, the connection between Father’s Day and Ascension Day cannot be clearly proven. It is merely a matter of assumptions that seem plausible.

Father’s Day as a celebration to thank fathers (among other things with gifts), however, like Mother’s Day, goes back to an American invention: Sonora Smart Dodd created Father’s Day in 1910, shortly after Mother’s Day was established. She wanted to honour her father and war veteran William Jackson Smart. He raised his six children alone after the death of his wife – she wanted to thank him for this work in particular.

Chocolates versus barbecue sets

Boxes of chocolates in pale pink, opulent bouquets of flowers, pink heart-shaped cakes and sentimental thank-you notes printed in curlicues on greeting cards – these are all just a few prime examples of Mother’s Day gifts as they like to be staged in the brochures of discounters and supermarkets. But pink scented candles and small cushions with kitschy sayings and supposedly cute rabbits or bears hugging each other or holding a bright red heart in their hands are not uncommon either. The whole thing is then advertised under headlines like “For the greatest a little thank you” (Aldi Nord 2023).

Stereotyp aufbereitetes Muttertagsgeschenk in einer EDEKA-Filiale.
Stereotyp aufbereitetes Muttertagsgeschenk in einer EDEKA-Filiale. (Foto: Johanne Målin Bleck)
Stereotyp aufbereitete Karte zum Muttertag in einer EDEKA-Filiale.
Stereotyp aufbereitete Karte zum Muttertag in einer EDEKA-Filiale. (Foto: Johanne Målin Bleck)

The Father’s Day gifts – which are more like Father’s Day essentials in their presentation – are, on the other hand, advertised under the motto “Barbecue enjoyment for Father’s Day”: Barbecue sauces, beer crates, lavish knife sets, charcoal grills as well as oversized sausage packets are staged en masse. One headline, for example, reads: ” Barbecue fun with Dad” (Aldi Nord 2023). Shades of pink, purple or red, as on Mother’s Day, are not to be found on these brochure pages; instead, dark shades of green, brown and grey are used. The staging of “women’s and men’s colours” thus obviously contributes to the already very questionable gender construction in these brochures.

The brochures in the food retail sector make it clear: Obviously there are gender-specific differences between gifts for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day that reproduce role clichés. While it’s best to get “the greatest one” “a little thank you” (but only a little thank you, please!), you just spend a nice, fun barbecue evening with dad.

How feminist are the holidays?

On the occasion of Mother’s Day, there is often a strong biologisation of women: by addressing reproduction as a “biological duty” or as the “main task” of women, a reactionary image of women is reproduced. This promotes sexist and patriarchal structures. The consistent staging of stereotypical Mother’s Day gifts (colouring, content, expression, etc.) also reproduces and perpetuates role clichés.

Father’s Day, on the other hand, is more of a social event among fathers and non-fathers to mark masculinity: numerous men parade around in a homogeneous group of people and celebrate themselves. They are often heavily intoxicated, which means that the number of accidents is particularly high on this day every year. Father’s Day normalises and legitimises this behaviour to a certain extent in the course of its tradition. By constructing fatherhood or manhood through participation in this event, a toxic model of masculinity is created.

If the two holidays are celebrated and lived in this way, they contradict basic feminist approaches.

Mother's and Father's Day Opportunities

The commercialisation of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day has become seemingly irreversibly intertwined with the festive days. Yet the basic idea behind the two days is very important: the (care) work of parents should be valued appropriately and structural problems and disadvantages must be made visible. If the two days were decoupled from their commercialisation, especially Mother’s Day could fulfil the goal that Anna Jarvis originally pursued when she invented it.

The currently prevailing reproduction of gender stereotypes, however, rather perpetuates injustices than combating them. Just imagine: How big would the social outcry be if mothers and non-mothers were to mobilise on Mother’s Day and go around the houses in handcarts with alcohol?

Everyone should be able to decide for themselves whether and how they want to celebrate those days. It is perfectly legitimate for a mother to be happy about flowers or chocolates in pink packaging or for a father to have a barbecue – it is just as legitimate not to do so. 


This is not so much a criticism of the individual approach to Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Rather, it is about questioning the one-sided and fundamentally stereotypical commercialisation by industry and commerce as it is perpetuated year after year. There should be an awareness of this in order to be able to decide for oneself to what extent one does (not) want to support this.