Selling Old-School Motherhood With the Groceries

Today my mail included a supermarket coupon booklet which made me mad. I am a Mom seeking ideas for easy dinners and healthy snacks as I send my kids back to school. But before I could appreciate the helpful tips from Stop & Shop, the feminist sociologist in me was listing the things wrong with this booklet.

1) It is saying that children’s lives are the domain of Moms–not parents, not caring adults, just Moms.  Moms are mentioned three times before I even open the booklet.  No, Stop & Shop, you will not drag us back to the mythical 1950s. I resent this message, which is obviously seen not just by Moms, but also by Dads and by kids. The kids get another reinforcement about Mom’s primacy, and Dad gets another reminder of his irrelevance.

I might pass this booklet on to my husband–he’s the supermarket regular who has memorized which products are in which aisles. Embracing a booklet of “mom-inspired solutions and savings” wouldn’t faze him (I must brag), but this is one of a thousand examples of how our culture still marks involved parenting as being feminine. (For alternatives to that marking, see here and here.) As Gloria Steinem said, “Women can’t be equal outside the home until men are equal in it.”

2) It is saying that mothering is a competitive enterprise. The back-to-school season is portrayed as “the big test,” with readers invited to the website to “steal other moms’ back-to-school answers.” I get it: tests, school. But the image suggests the worst version of American mothering: an anxious, competitive, individualistic project that we’re going to be judged on.

3.) It is saying that Mom should put the lunchbox and the backpack on diets. The lunchbox needs a literal diet, so that kids don’t consume too much fat and calories; the backpack needs to slim down so it doesn’t injure its little carrier. The booklet provides “four weight-loss tips” for the backpack, including a purge. (Really!)  Then there are five easy steps to take the lunchbox from a “flabby” “blubber box” to “trim [and] tasty.” As the cover boasts, it’s “lunchbox liposuction.”  Really!!  Gosh, are purging and liposuction the reason that none of the anxious Moms on the cover are overweight?

In all, this little specimen of regressive advertising is emblematic of too much of the media aimed at American women.  Like a passive-aggressive acquaintance, it first takes a friendly stance, then feeds insecurities and enforces the most regressive gender norms. It feels liberating to recognize and reject the trickery.  [For alternatives to that trickery, see here and here–and get Ms. magazine!]

Image courtesy of Flickr user x-ray delta one under Creative Commons 2.0.


  1. heatheraurelia13 says:

    I am not a Mom, but this is very troubling! I always let my bf do all the grocery shopping, too. Geebus, I hate it!!!

  2. This is so gross. How the makers of that pamphlet didn't stop to think about how creepy it is to use ideas like purging, liposuction, and "flabby blubber box" in reference to little school kids is beyond me. I'm so glad the author called out Stop & Shop for perpetuating such antiquated parenting ideas and inappropriate weight-consciousness (obviously it's important that kids have healthy and nutritious meals, but the language and ideas they promote here are just extreme and disturbing). Is there any way for us to talk back to Stop & Shop, and enlighten them about their advertising?

    • But myself and others who had surgeries which put neurological implants into our bodies did need to cary lighter backpacks to not break those implants–and keep us alive while still attending school. I read the article and I did not find anything gross about it. It was the enlightened approach.

      It argues that an overloaded backpack is not good for kids physical health. Which yes is applicable not just for people with a condition, but would also apply to everybody. This allows kids to have strong bodies and strong minds.

  3. Right on, Jessica–a smart, incisive analysis. The rhetoric of disordered eating that infects even the (presumably well-meaning) suggestions for lower-fat lunchboxes and lower-weight backpacks is just too sad. And I'd bet money there were no coupons in that booklet for local, organic produce…

  4. But the image in and of itself does not say 'woman'. It could just as easily say transgendered person raising children or drag queen raising children.

    So I am seeing the image as counter cultural.

  5. Wow, this is really disturbing.

  6. As father-primary parents are becoming more common, you would think advertisers would want to be a little more forward in their tactics—not only is it the responsible thing to do, but also a male consumer is going to be less likely to read/buy into something that so obviously isn't intended for him. As a wife and mother of two boys, it irritates me that this kind of advertising is out there to reinforce the idea that the household/child-rearing duties are primarily female. All this gender-stereotype advertising really is picked up by children, and I know this because every once in a while my husband will do something that makes my oldest (he's 6) say "why isn't mama doing that? Dad's don't do…" or "girls don't do that, that's for boys." Parents have an uphill battle trying to raise children who are constantly submersed in regressive social expectations whenever you turn on the TV or leave the house.

  7. I don't understand how the advertising company can't portray things as gender neutral instead of just directing things at the mom's in the house. After my parents got divorced I lived with my dad and he did all the shopping in the house. I don't think that he would have appreciated getting this type of flier in the mail when it comes to coupons and groceries. I also don't think that this was an appropriate place to be talking about weight loss in children. One has nothing to do with the other.

  8. It is definitely important to take a second glance at advertisements and booklets like this. At first it seems to be harmless but clearly the majority of this material places women back into the housewife category. I would like to think that we have progressed from this 1950's notions. In many homes both parents have to get up and go to work each morning alongside making lunches for the kids and getting them to school. I do not think men would want to look at this booklet even though the information is just as useful to them. How the information is presented does not reflect how our society has changed.
    One part of the booklet that really bothered me were the tips on how to make a leaner lunchbox. The article focuses only on weight loss instead of the health benefits. It article shows how to make your "flabby" lunch, "trim and tasty." This language should not be used when referring to a child's lunch.
    I hope that readers of the booklet notice its flaws and it allows them to look other places for tips and coupons.

  9. Gloria Steinem said it best, “Women can’t be equal outside the home until men are equal in it.” In today's society there are not many women who can be stay at home moms, many are working full time jobs and taking care of the family. Therefore responsibilities need to divided up equally between parents. Just because women are motherly and lovely doesn't mean all the responsibilities of the children fall into her hands. Advertising like this reinforces certain gender roles and identities.

  10. wow…I do agree with you all guys and to this..not parents, not caring adults, just Moms. Moms are mentioned three times before I even open the booklet. No, Stop & Shop, you will not drag us back to the mythical 1950s..awesome post..thanks for sharing…

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