What are you doing for Valentine’s Day? If you don’t have an answer, mainstream culture certainly has one for you. If you’re a guy who’s in a relationship you’re spending lots of money on useless gifts. If you’re a woman in a relationship you’re buying lingerie and trying to look pretty.
Heaven forbid you’re not in a relationship. Although, fear not, mainstream culture has plans for you, too. Anti-Valentine’s Day parties, singles parties, and using the excuse “I have to work” are all feasible plans if you’re single and alone.
All of the pressure to conform to these gender stereotypes has turned a holiday that is supposed to celebrate love into something stressful. The original holiday, Lupercalia, came from ancient pagan religion and was a fertility festival dedicated to the Roman god of agriculture. As Christianity took hold in ancient Rome, the festival was outlawed and later replaced with Valentine’s Day. Either way, the holiday was meant to represent fertility and love, not consumerism and conformity.
If you can detach yourself from the pressure and stereotypes it can be a really interesting exercise to sit back and examine what Valentine’s Day reveals about our culture. For example, the type of romantic comedies associated with this holiday almost always depict successful, single people as having commitment issues; the reason for their success is because they had to focus on their careers in order to distract themselves from being lonely.
This concept is extremely misleading and harmful. All of the single, successful professionals I’ve met have earned their success because they are passionate about their careers, not because they have problems being in relationships. I also know a lot of successful people who are married; having a successful career does not mean sacrificing your love life.
More harmful is the idea that men need to be the providers (gift givers) and women need to be the objects (all pretty and dolled up). If you fail at either of these, you are somehow not fulfilling your “role” as a man or a woman, and risk coming off as insensitive, uncaring, and selfish.
Furthermore, these stereotypes do not take into consideration that lots of people are not monogamous and straight. Some women enjoy “playing the field” and being single on Valentine’s Day does not mean that they have failed at finding a partner and should attend an anti-Valentine’s Day party. What if you are gay? Who buys the chocolates and who wears the lingerie?
As someone who loves to celebrate holidays, I’ve always enjoyed Valentine’s Day, regardless of whether I was single, in a relationship, or dating multiple people. The fact that anti-Valentine’s events exist is proof that the holiday has become less about love (for who is anti-love?) and more about commercialism and reinforcing conservative gender roles.
Speaking of which, the Trent Queer Collective is hosting “Self-Love Week,” which is a much more appropriate way to celebrate Valentine’s Day than going out and spending a bunch of money on useless things or feeling depressed and alone. After all, celebrating love is what Valentine’s Day should be about. In the wise words of Arthur’s copy editor, “Love your friends and love yourself.”