We've all done this, probably many times. Mother's Day, Mom's birthday, or Christmas comes up, and our first instinct is to get mommy some fancy bath stuff, or a foot massager, a nice robe, maybe some slippers, a new makeup kit, something sparkly - in other words, something a woman would want. A generic lady present.
We often do the same thing with our dads: we decide that the best gift is a tie, or a new tool kit, maybe a shaving kit if he's into that sorta thing (but that's pushing it a little). Something a man could use.
It's what we turn to when we don't know the person enough to know what they really want: reduce them to their gender, and go from there. I've had aunts just go into a store, say "I need a present for a teenage girl," and get whatever the saleslady picks out. Right, because it would be so hard to call my parents and actually ask what my interests are. As I've become more and more feminist, I'd get really pissed off if someone just gave me something any 'ol young woman would want - you know, because clearly we're all the same. I've thought of this recently, about all the gift bundles from bath and body stores I've given my mom, and about the tools I've given my dad. I didn't really know any better, I guess. Nowadays, I try to stick to books as gifts - ever since working at Borders, I've realized how easy it is to find a book tailored to someone's interests, and no matter what I've been into growing up, a Barnes and Noble gift card was always a sure bet.
Now, my rule is simple: try to look beyond the gender, and if you can't think of anything beyond a generic gender-related gift, just give them a gift card.