February the 14th, a day of stuffed toys, red roses, and chocolates, of course followed by a romantic candlelit dinner. While expectations are an inherent part of relationships, is Valentine’s Day still applicable? Does the holiday revert to the problematic gender stereotype and heteronormity? What value does the holiday still serve in today’s society?
After last year’s totemic lockdown hindered any plans of a restaurant reservation, this year’s Valentine’s brings with it more pressure than ever for men to shower women with chocolates and fluffy toys. Individual romantic acts, like a boyfriend buying gifts for girlfriend, taking her out to dinner, complimenting her pretty dress are not the problem. It is more that they reflect our society’s ongoing idea about the role of women. The idea that women need to be treated and protected, and that their appearance is their most important attribute.
I too am part of this institutionalized sexism, finding myself laughing along about what my friend is getting his girlfriend for Valentine’s Day. Speaking to another female friend, she admitted that on Valentine’s Day her boyfriend would probably pay for whatever dinner he had planned, despite both being on a student budget.
Google ‘Valentine’s Day gifts’ and you are swarmed with ads of floral push-up bras and plush toys, which reinforce the traditional views of women. Primark is full of pink lacey lingerie sets, which I assume are not targeted towards men. At the heart of the problem lies the retail industry’s identification of a lucrative commercial opportunity. To the detriment of the female population, who are portrayed as hopeless romantics, desperately pining after the attention of a man.
Targeting the problematic gender stereotype and heteronormity with colour coded cards is just another way to boost profit margins. Women are painted as the hopeless romantics, awaiting the courting of men. With even more pressure placed on them to have perfect hair and be cleanly shaven.
To those that say, what about ‘Galentines’, I say is this not just another way to suggest that women need emotional support? There is no ‘Ladentine’s’.
Do not get me wrong, as an avid ‘Parks and Recreation’ fan, I want to follow Leslie Knope in celebrating Galentine’s. However, where the day was originally supposed to be ‘ladies celebrating ladies’, it saddens me that it seems to have become another marketing ploy to advertise the fact that I am a woman not in a relationship, and I need to find another kind of comfort.
The holiday also alienates the queer community. With the assumption that women love to marry men, assisted with the extremely limited offering of LGBT cards and even fewer same-sex couple ads. Moreover, ‘Galentines’ seems to reinforce the idea of a heterosexual relationship, as it is for the girl who does not have a boyfriend, allowing her to celebrate her friends. Taking place the day before Valentine’s, allowing the women a fleeting moment to put her friend first, and then rush back to her partner.
Am I just bitter because I do not have a date this Valentines? Perhaps. Nevertheless, an awareness of our society’s reinforcement of gender roles is most definitely not a bad thing. While a desire to have a relationship and be treated is normal, can we not transform the day into a universal celebration of love?
Image via Hidden Edinburgh