“Oops!!! Did I buy wine instead of milk again?” proclaims a meme recently unearthed during a Pinterest search for the term “wine mom.” The text accompanies a black-and-white image of a 1950s-style housewife, her face contorted into a mock grimace.
“What type of wine goes best with laundry?” ponders an e-card posted to the site. “Raising a teenager: The reason God made wine,” offers another. And another: “The doctor said I needed to start drinking more wine. Also, I’m calling myself ‘the doctor’ now.”
The internet is a vast expanse of such posts, each reflective of an unapologetic, alcohol-soaked brand of motherhood. They’re at once irreverent and confessional, meant to be funny, but nodding at the sort of exhausted domesticity that’s seemingly on the rise as the pandemic endures.
“I wish there were another way to communicate ‘This is so hard and I see you,’ without moms with wine glasses.” —Stephanie Harad, social worker and mother of two
Wine mom memes are everywhere. On the Facebook feed of a friend from high school. Emblazoned on sweatshirts hanging in rest stop gift shops. And, on Feb. 13, a Saturday Night Live sketch where Aidy Bryant is the recipient of increasingly bawdy wine mom-inspired decorative signs.
“I put wine bottles in other people’s recycling bins so the garbage men won’t know how much I go through in a week,” reads one sign, much to the distress of Bryant’s character. “Are you guys trying to tell me something?” she asks. “We’re all just moms having fun! Aren’t we?”
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It’s a joke, but it’s also one that gets to the essential question swirling around wine mom culture. Is it harmless fun, or a dangerous means of normalizing alcoholism? Who gets to be a wine mom? And whose drinking is deemed problematic and dangerous?
Wine mom memes likely debuted on the internet in the mid-2000s, says Amanda Brennan, former head of editorial at Tumblr and a self-titled “meme librarian.”
“I think that idea of like, ‘I’m not a mom, I’m a cool mom, I drink wine,’”—perhaps, one wonders, buoyed by Amy Poehler’s performance in the 2004 comedy Mean Girls—“comes from this kind of snarky e-card,” says Brennan. She points to the electronic cards popular in the early 2000s, like Bluemountain.com and the now-defunct “Awesome Cyber Cards” site.
Brennan also recalls the schticky stationary once found in checkout line displays at big-box bookstores like Barnes & Nobles and Borders. They were “kind of vintage postcards that have thoughts on them,” she says, many which poked fun at mid-century, June Cleaver-style ideals of motherhood.
“Like, ‘This is what we think of mothers. Why don’t I subvert it and use curse words or [references to how I] drink too much wine?,’ ” says Brennan. When viewed in a certain light, “it’s a very punk aesthetic.”
By the time “wine mom” hit Urbandictionary.com in 2015, Brennan says, it had already permeated mass culture. The site defines wine moms as “women who are in the older crowd (usually mothers) that sip wine throughout the night, and sometimes post on social media about it.
“Wine mom” posts, the entry continues, are “abnormally sincere” and demonstrate a desire to “stay classy, share intriguing quotes (usually decorated with graphics dating back in 2004), and to be the embodiment of Linda Belcher,” a character from the animated Fox show Bob’s Burgers.
Today, the meme’s widespread appeal is evident in the staggering reach of Instagram accounts like @mommywinetime, which has 221,000 followers, and @mom.whine.repeat, formerly @mom.wine.repeat, with 104,000 followers.
The demographics of these digital communities appear to skew white, female, suburban and middle- to upper-class, a characterization mirrored in the imagery that often accompanies “wine mom” memes. But what if the women pictured were predominantly Black and brown? Would the memes be viewed in a different light?
“Regardless of race, any moms who drink can relate to the hard parts of parenting that wine mom culture mines for humor,” says Tomi Akitunde, the founder of mater mea, a content platform for Black mothers. “But the insidious part of this meme is that Black and brown women, when deemed unfit parents, pay a steep penalty that is rarely meted out equally to their white counterparts.”
The same imagery that white wine moms deploy as comedy—the harried mother at the end of her rope, reaching for a nerve-steadying glass of Chardonnay—is often weaponized against Black and brown mothers, says Akitunde. Many are all too aware that child protective services could swoop and criminalize their parenting decisions, an occurrence nicknamed “Jane Crow.”
“Wine mom culture lets white women cosplay as ‘bad moms’ because they’re given the benefit of the doubt that BIPOC moms aren’t afforded,” says Akitunde. When white women share wine mom memes, the reaction is often, ‘Of course, you’re not really a bad mom, you just play one on IG.’ ”
Across the board, there’s a creeping unease that wine mom culture has gone too far, overshooting the subversive “punk aesthetic” Brennan describes and promoting alcohol as a stand-in for healthy coping skills.
“I hate it cause it’s dumb and ‘basic,’ as the kids say,” says Stephanie Harad, a social worker and mother of two based in Santa Fe, New Mexico. “I wish there were another way to communicate ‘This is so hard and I see you,’ without moms with wine glasses.”
This wine mom backlash was highlighted in a 2018 Washington Post story, “The cheeky ‘wine mom’ trope isn’t just dumb. It’s dangerous”, and a 2019 Good Morning America piece, “‘A pump-and-dump kind of day’: How wine-mom culture shifted from funny memes to unhappy hangovers.” Such pieces suggest that wine mom culture is damaging and should be fundamentally changed or abandoned.
“Wine mom culture lets white women cosplay as ‘bad moms’ because they’re given the benefit of the doubt that BIPOC moms aren’t afforded.” —Tomi Akitunde, founder, mater mea
Why, though, is it “wine mom” and not “beer mom” or “cocktail mom”? And why is there no equivalent “wine dad”?
The wine industry has longstanding history of marketing toward women, says Gabrielle Glaser, author of Her Best-Kept Secret. Following World War II, wine sales lagged behind beer and liquor, and sought to gain a toehold in the U.S. market. Wine brands often targeted women, usually the primary shoppers for their families, and enlisted “housewives throughout California, who they deployed at grocery stores” to influence their contemporaries, says Glaser.
“They would address other young housewives coming in and say, ‘Hi, honey, What are you serving for dinner tonight? Oh, well, then you need a taste of this,’ ” Glaser explains.
The tactic spread eastward from California and was bolstered by advertising that targeted women in shops and magazines. It proved overwhelmingly successful. According to a 2007 paper in the International Journal of Wine Business Research, women bought 80% of wine sold in the U.S. during 2005. By 2018, a Chicago Tribune story proclaimed that “women were buying and drinking wine more often than men and more often, in general.”
“Wine became the release valve for women, and that happened really significantly with the production and marketing of Chardonnay,” says Glaser. The word “Chardonnay” is easy to say and sounds feminine, she adds. Many of these wines marketed to women had a soft, buttery taste and a smooth, velvety mouthfeel.
“That was very deliberate on the part of the winemakers,” says Glaser. Wine, and specifically Chardonnay, “became a necessary symbol of what you needed to take care of yourself.” The world after 9/11 didn’t feel safe, but women could retreat into a glass of wine after a long day of work and taking care of their children, she says. “Wine became the de-stressor.”
Some contemporary brands even market directly to self-identified wine moms. Dear Mom, launched in 2020, is a line of canned, single-serve Oregon wines. “Dear Mom was founded to pay homage to moms everywhere because, let’s be honest, momming is hard work,” reads a press communication.
Is it fair to vilify women for embracing wine mom tropes, especially given these forces? It’s complicated.
“I hate the idea that being a parent is so hard we need booze to cope, but I also hate that there’s this policing of what women should and shouldn’t drink, which is how so many of these ‘wine mom culture sucks’ articles can come off,” says Mary Pagano, a mother of one in Jersey City, New Jersey.
“We’re grown-ass women,” she says. “If we’re not being destructive about it, let us enjoy our wine, or Bourbon, in moderation, in peace, the way men get to.”
Dr. Sashalee Stewart, a psychiatrist and lead clinician at the Women’s Center at Novant Health’s SouthPark Medical Plaza in Charlotte, North Carolina, wonders if wine mom tropes may actually help some women during the pandemic, particularly mothers whose social lives have nosedived amid extended lockdowns and the collapse of traditional childcare structures.
Stewart estimates that between 10% and 15% of her patients have reported an increase in alcohol consumption in the last six months, but she says that an equal number have conveyed a drop in such consumption.
“Some people are like, ‘I just used to drink socially and I’m not socializing as much anymore, so I just don’t drink,’ ” says Stewart. For these women, participating in wine mom culture may normalize taking time for themselves. But, it’s complicated.
“There’s no straightforward answer, because it’s beneficial for some, but could be detrimental for others,” she says.
Who gets to be a wine mom? And whose drinking is deemed problematic and dangerous?
Some of her patients are genuinely surprised to learn that downing an entire bottle of wine over the course of an evening isn’t healthy behavior. For women inclined to drink this way, wine mom memes are a potentially dangerous force.
“But we could say that about so many things,” says Stewart. Instead of denigrating wine mom culture, Stewart advocates for the promotion of therapy for women and the development of healthy coping skills.
Regardless of where you fall on the wine mom debate, the meme continues to evolve—and may soon represent something entirely different. Brennan has started to see wine mom culture co-opted by younger, single and often queer people.
“I just searched ‘wine mom’ on Twitter, and the first tweet is what looks like a queer couple sharing their Polaroids,” says Brennan says. “Happy birthday to the best wine mom around,” it reads.
Other examples abound. There’s a Tumblr image depicting a man in a Target uniform proclaiming that he’s “becoming the Wine Mom I always dreamed of being.” And, not to put too fine a point on it, an animated GIF that reads, “Just because I’m a guy doesn’t mean I’m not a wine mom.”
If wine mom isn’t necessarily a parent or a woman, who are they?
According to Brennan, it’s “a person who cares for others and realizes that you can’t serve others when your cup is not full.” After all, in a 2018 episode of NBC’s The Good Place, character Chidi Anagonye has a breakdown and dons a lavender tee bearing the slogan, “Who What When Where… Wine!”
“That’s a total wine mom moment,” says Brennan. “He’s having this mental break because he’s been the glue that holds that group of people together… His cup is no longer full [and] he has this breakdown as kind of a way to build himself back up.”
In a sense, this post-mom version of wine mom returns to the concept’s origins, says Brennan says. She imagines that wine mom will only continue to shift in this direction—and perhaps others still unknown. Culture, especially on the internet, is never truly static, she says. “It’s a lot about subversion.”