A Call to Revisit Valentine's Day Thinking
Let’s say that I’m an otherworldly creature, a six-eyed, four-armed purple alien from some other planet that’s decided to beam down to Planet Earth around February 14th, or, as it’s commonly known, Valentine’s Day. What sorts of interesting cultural patterns could I glean from the whole affair to take back through hyperspace in my weirdly shaped intergalactic spaceship?
I’ve read various different explanations of the origins of Valentine’s Day, and all of them seem to be a far cry from the commercialized and – you know I’m going to say it – sexist bend the holiday (or Hallmark holiday, depending on your opinion) has taken on over the years. I gather that originally, it was about certain Christian martyrs, maybe some paganism, and according to Wikipedia – I fervently hope this is true - on Valentine’s Day in the year 1400, Paris established a “High Court of Love” that dealt with “love contracts, betrayals, and violence against women.” Judges were apparently selected by women on the basis of their poetry reading skills. And then, somewhere along the way, Valentine’s Day turned into a celebration of romantic love. So, cool, you know? Two people in love have a day set aside solely to celebrate that! Neat!
And I bet, for a while, that’s what it was, and I bet it was awesome. But so much like the commercialization of Christmas, Valentine’s Day has turned into nothing more than an excuse (or rather, a very strong recommendation) to buy your significant other (“SO”) a gift. But if Valentine-related advertising is any indication, appropriate gifts are limited in scope, and all are directed towards the lady in the relationship. Leaving aside the obvious heteronormativity of the frenzy surrounding Valentine’s Day (but also working within it, since this article IS about Valentine’s Day), all the traditional gifts kind of suck, and the implied reason for buying these things sucks even more.
Flowers? Those die within a week since they lack roots and sit in vases full of stagnant, room temperature tap water. Is impending death and decay really the image you want to be projecting to your SO? Not to mention the obvious issues with allergies. No thanks.
Stuffed animals? We’re not in the eighth grade, guys. We had like twenty stuffed animals when we were younger, why on earth would we want more now? All that gifting a stuffed animal to someone says is “I really didn’t take the time to think about your interests. Here’s a cheesy stuffed rabbit that will sit on your bed and collect dust until we break up.”
What about jewelry? Obviously, some of us love jewelry. Accessories are like the sartorial equivalent of Botox. When you want to change your appearance without buying an entire new outfit, throw on some new earrings or a ring. Voila. You’ve just added some pizzazz and bedazzlement to an old outfit. That’s pretty full of win, I’d say. So what’s my issue with jewelry (or any of these other things) being hawked as great gifts for Valentine’s Day?
There’s a great example of the reason why I hate the commercialization of Valentine’s Day on the blog Sociological Images. The posted ad features a picture of a diamond ring, along with a picture of two pairs of feet at the end of a bed. The copy? “A Little Charm Goes a Long Way”. That’s right, guys – the point of buying your ladyfriend pretty things for Valentine’s Day isn’t to show her you care, it’s to get laid. Am I overreacting? Probably not. A quick Google search turned up multiple “Men’s Love/Sex” articles dealing with the ever-so-critical and pressing issue about how one would go about having sex on Valentine’s Day. I’d figure y’all just do what you always do, but apparently Valentine’s Day requires special tactics involving flowering plants, Build-a-Bear Workshops, and unnecessarily expensive gifts. Men’s Health starts their Valentine’s Day guide with the following “Valentine's Day is quite possibly the worst holiday for men. You have to make plans, spend money, and do everything 'right'-at least you know you'll have sex that night.” Oh, REALLY now?
So were I that six-eyed alien, this is what I would know: Valentine’s day is mostly for girls, not for guys. Girls want jewelry and flowers and girly things, and guys want to have sex, so they gift their ladyfriend jewelry and flowers and girly things in order to make her so excited and happy and overwhelmed that she’ll actually want to have sex! Is that really the impression that we want to give?
So, guys and gals, here are some Feminist Approved ™ tips to make your Valentine’s Day fun, inexpensive, and not creepy and sexist:
First, stay away from flowers and stuffed animals unless that is just one small part of your gift. Just because it’s pretty or adorable doesn’t mean we want it, and let’s face it – both gifts aren’t very functional. Don’t buy jewelry because you want to get laid, buy jewelry if you really want to, she’s a jewelry kind of gal, and you put serious thought into her preferences and tastes. For instance, I think gifting gemstone jewelry (diamonds, for instance) is horrifically overdone and way too expensive. Plus, a lot of diamond jewelry comes with bonus human rights violations! Free with purchase! Also, DO NOT buy lingerie unless she’s specifically requested it; everyone knows that’s a present for you, not her. My ultimate and best recommendation? Take her out to do something awesome. Which would you rather do – buy your girlfriend some dusty teddy bear or go to a shooting range or laser tag arena? Please. As if that’s even a legitimate dilemma.
And girls – don’t perpetuate the “Valentine’s day is for girls” thing by just waiting for the roses to come in, or getting upset if his vision of Valentine’s doesn’t match yours. Get your dude-pal something cool, or take him somewhere equally cool. Eastern Market has all sorts of nifty gifts – last time I went, I may or may not have seen cufflinks made out of Star Wars Legos. I know that’s not for everyone (but if I was a guy, Star Wars cufflinks would TOTALLY be the path to my heart), but creative gifts are usually the best ones. As far as places to go, well, it seems that I recommend laser tag to nearly everyone, but yeah. Laser tag is awesome no matter what. And if homeboy seems to think he deserves to “get some” since he got you something, fake a headache and reconsider your relationship.
Or just don’t do anything for Valentine’s. Disregard the Valentine’s Commercial-Industrial Complex. You can go out to dinner and shoot people with lasers any day you want.