The Many Faces of the ‘Wine Mom’Historians in the News
tags: gender, social history, alcohol, family
Moms who enjoy wine certainly existed before the internet, but it’s the internet that catapulted the wine mom to meme stardom. In the mid-2010s, the phrase was popularized as it became commonplace for moms to joke online about drinking wine to cope with the stresses of motherhood: Self-identifying wine moms began to poke fun at themselves in viral videos, blog posts, and memes. “The most expensive part of having kids is all the wine you have to drink,” goes a particularly ubiquitous meme. “Wine is to moms what duct tape is to dads. It fixes everything,” says another. “Motherhood—powered by love, fueled by coffee, sustained by wine.” Google search interest in the term wine mom has spiked every May and December in the United States for the past several years. Maybe people are searching for “wine mom” mugs and T-shirts to give as gifts for Mother’s Day and the winter holidays, or maybe when mothers and kids spend time together over those holidays, one or both parties get curious about wine moms, and who qualifies as one.
Wine-mom humor can be cathartic, even empowering, for mothers themselves. Lisa Jacobson, an associate history professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara who researches families as well as food and drink culture, told me she recognized instantly why “wine mom” humor resonates with mothers. It “allows women to embrace their identity as mothers, while also refusing to be solely defined by that role,” she said. The memes, she told me, with their candid expressions of frustration at the somehow simultaneous monotony and chaos of modern mothering, struck her as “a vaguely feminist rejection of the vision of the traditional self-sacrificing ‘homemaker’ mom that’s been memorialized in the 1950s sitcoms.”
Certainly, anyone drinking to self-medicate or developing an alcohol addiction is a cause for concern. But the concern over mothers drinking has historically been especially fraught. Throughout modern history, it’s been “more culturally problematic for women to be drunk than men, because it’s a violation of all sorts of notions of femininity,” Jacobson said. On top of that, mothering is known universally to be a hugely important job, one that doesn’t end every day at 5 p.m. or offer any time off. “Moms are never off the clock,” Jacobson said, which means any drinking a mother does could, to a critical eye, be seen as drinking on the job. Plus, in the 20th-century concept of the nuclear family, moms raised kids while dads worked outside the home and then came home to relax until bedtime—so dads’ drinking time was built into the day from the start, in a way. “Beer dads” has never materialized as a polarizing internet joke, even though fathers are often stereotypically associated with beer.
To understand this most recent plot twist, one first has to understand the particular role of wine in American households in the past several decades. When winemakers were advertising their product to women in the mid-20th century, Jacobson told me, “What they were really trying to do is say, This is the beverage of moderation, so this is how you can be a sophisticated hostess.” So there’s probably a reason that today’s memes aren’t about “cocktail moms” or “hard-liquor moms”: Kicking back with a glass of wine, Jacobson noted, “is something that could signal that women might be slacking off but they still have good taste, and they still have possession of their middle-class identity.”
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