A post today at SocImages about today’s Father’s Day doodle at Google talked about the class implications of using a necktie to symbolize “father.” As Lisa Wade discusses in the post, this directly positions “father” as a middle class, white collar person who is the family breadearner because of his office job. It also calls to the “tradition” (often mocked) of giving such a father a necktie as a Father’s Day gift. (One might recall an early episode of The Cosby Show where Cliff demands better Father’s Day gifts because of the plethora of tacky gifts his children have given, one of which was a necktie which had lights spelling out dad that blinked when a switch was flipped.) The necktie = dad idea suggests that the importance of a father is directly linked to his work outside the home, not his work fathering. Lisa asked: “Can you imagine a Mother’s Day symbol emphasizing her workplace instead of her time at home?”
This led to me wonder how Google has been depicting mothers, if dads are neckties and therefore breadwinners. Fortunately, I didn’t have to idly think about it, because Google archives their holiday/event related Doodle changes. If you go back, you can see the differences between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day doodles starting in 2000, the first year they had them.
Rather than steal Google’s bandwidth or download all their images, even though this is for critique purposes, I’ve instead linked to each doodle artwork in the descriptions below.
So over the span of 11 years of doodles, we see not a single depiction of Mother’s Day having anything to do with humans mothering. Mother’s Day is symbolized every year and in every doodle with a flower somewhere, and once with a maternal animal. Actual women, while still doing a supermajority of childrearing work worldwide, do not figure in Google’s representations of what Mother’s Day is about in any fashion, in any country, in any year.
Additionally, one Mother’s Day doodle is a retread of a “women’s day” doodle, neatly solidifying the overarching theme of the Mother’s Day doodles: feminized and pretty and floral, but not showing actual women, and not certainly not depicting women doing the work that earns them the honor of the holiday to begin with.
Father’s Day began with paternal animals, the mythical “papa bear.” Once the doodles segued to humans, for the first several years the men were not shown doing the work of fathering, but instead having a day off from any fathering duty and in two instances, not paying any attention to their children who were engaged in activity that requires adult supervision (using a lawnmower and snorkeling). Where human children are shown, the majority are depicted or coded as male; the only clearly presented female child is dressed in a bikini. Only one of the logos has a depiction of people who might not be white, but the people are very small and it’s quite ambiguous.
Several doodles go to the necktie (and hat) representation of a white collar and/or upper socioeconomic class breadwinner father. The hammock father doodles allude to a middle class homeowning family (with so much lawn the maintenance of it wears the father out) with a father who deserves to set aside all responsibilities, including the safety of his children, because he works so hard.
All in all, these holiday doodles are fairly problematic. They definitely portray a message about the merit of women and women’s work (little to none) to whomever in Google’s vast team is responsible for the doodles. They also show how easy it is (and how willing Google is) to reinforce stereotypical western societal stereotypes and privileged class mores with repeated depictions of white, middle+ class men who are only engaged with their kids during playtime.
Google has previously come under fire for their non-holiday doodles, which celebrate historical events and the birthdays of notable historical figures. There has been a stunning paucity of commemoration of women and their achievements, especially women in the realms of science or academia that has only recently began to turn around. Interestingly, Shelby Knox wrote in that critique:
…we’ve lived with the myth that men created the world and everything good in it for long enough. As long as men get to designate who and what in history is important, young women will continue to learn that all their sex has contributed throughout all of history is their wombs.
And yet here, on the day celebrating women solely via motherhood status, Google disappears the women, once more.
Google says that they take feedback seriously so I offer only this suggestion: either give mothers some parity of depiction or just admit that you’re not interested in even basic recognition of women via the Google Doodles, so that we’ll know.