I’ve always been fascinated by media representations of “Mom” and the way the identity of being a mother is constructed in popular culture where its traded both for laughs and sentiment. Although this 90’s ad campaign for Robitussin is a clearly dated example of playing the recognizable “Mom” trope, its interesting to look at in now and note the ways that stereotypes about the division of domestic labor and the feminization of parenting and reproductive labor still persist in contemporary media. While these ads are styled with a winking tongue-in-cheek tone, its unclear where exactly the laugh is supposed to land. Who were these ads thought to appeal to when field tested by advertising execs? Were women or “Moms” (often spoken of as the ones with the most household purchasing power) the target demographic? Were they meant to laugh in recognition at the domestic comedy of being the sole care provider for sick children and slapstick husbands?
The unsettling subtext to these ads is the way that these women are in fact NOT doctors, precisely because they ARE “Moms.” They are not professionals, managing their family’s wellness with the help of over the counter products after a long day of being lawyers, bank clerks, nurses or actual doctors. They are portrayed only as “Moms,” existing in the home and cheered for their ability to synthesize the advice of medical doctors into their domestic sphere.
A two-part intervention, I both created the Twitter account (username Doctor Mom and the handle @DoctorMomIsIn) and physical calling cards in the form of miniature Robitussin boxes. Laser-cut and assembled into 2.5 inch high replica’s of the standard Robitussin package, the boxes contained an image and message inviting the public to tweet at Doctor Mom for a “personalized remedy”.
In a moment of recently re-awakened debates on working mothers (the so-called “Mommy Wars) and on women in professional spheres more generally (Lean-In, et all) I decided to try resuscitating this transparently sexist (but still fondly remembered) mascot for Robitussin on twitter. I conjured up the voice of “Doctor Mom” as an amalgam of all the long-suffering, suburban, white, domestic-comediennes I remember from advertising and pop culture and I tried to channel that voice into an advice-giving Twitter persona.