Oh, Valentine’s Day.
I feel like there are a large number of things in my life about which I have to decide whether I care or not, and the examples that come to mind might only come to mind because of gendered society.
The first example happens on Valentine’s Day every year. I experience the same phenomenon yearly because V-Day is so clearly a holiday linked to gendered expectations of men and women in relationships. The feeling is this: a constant pull between caring about physical gifts on V-Day and thinking they’re a non-issue. Here’s what it boils down to for me from what I can understand. The rational, Marxist, intellectual part of me thinks material goods are largely bullshit promoted by a capitalistic culture, especially and almost exclusively regarding V-Day gifts. I know that V-Day in large amounts exploits women by co-opting stereo-typically feminine emotions, ideas, and stereotypes and marketing them back to us over and over again. I get that big companies profit off of a stereo-typically hetero couple behaving as society dictates on Valentine’s Day.
But there is another part of me that, on some level, understands why these things are stereotypes. That part of me regards it as nice that there is a special day each year on which to celebrate love, particularly the love of a significant other. That part of me forgets that the modern version of the holiday was literally created by these companies in order to turn a profit. (It originated as a Pagan observance, until a group of Roman priests rebranded it and V-Day cards started making the rounds in the late 19th century.) Hallmark doesn’t give a shit if you and your partner celebrate V-Day, or even have a valuable love worth celebrating. They care if you buy a greeting card which expresses that. But, on the other hand, just because large companies explicitly exploit emotions on this holiday, does that mean we shouldn’t celebrate it? Probably, and one of the many lovely reasons why I choose to date my partner is that he doesn’t give a shit about commercialized bullshit and materialism, believing full well that I didn’t either. And I don’t! But then, I might?
This is where a mysterious facet of my being kicks in, and I don’t want to say that it’s my womanly part because that supports the notion that there is indeed an essential essence of woman that some possess which others don’t. That may or may not be true, and I don’t have the data (yet) to back either position. What I have is my own experience on V-Day, as useful a piece of data as anything else- my experiencing of two opposing narratives simultaneously: that which denounces the exploitation of women via a bullshit holiday that perpetuates stereotypes and that which wants to embrace all of that and feel the warm and fuzzy that V-Day can cultivate in your gut. A difficult conundrum, one which leads me to say I don’t care about gifts on V-Day and then get upset when I don’t get a gift. Does this mean I’m believing the capitalist propaganda that gifts dictate or, worse, prove a person’s love for another? The possibility that some part of me believes the bullshit I’ve been fed re: this is inextricably linked to the way that V-Day is specifically marketed to me and to other hetero women, and femme identifying individuals, and men, and anyone who conforms to a masculine or feminine stereotype or role.
Women, femme identifying individuals, people who fit within the stereotype depicted in V-Day commercials, are trained to expect our men to go all out on V-Day, showering us with extravagant gifts. We’re supposed to appreciate grand romantic gestures on V-Day even if we are not usually the type to desire them. We’re told: what kind of young lady wouldn’t want to be swept off her feet? Presumably one who wants both feet planted firmly on the ground, thank you very much. We become trained to expect our lovers to act in these prescribed, potentially unnatural ways and we fault them when they fail to do so. This is because we’ve been conditioned to hinge our partner’s worth on the way that they perform this particular made-up holiday with all of the traditions and norms that go along with it, on how well they conform to gendered, capitalistic stereotypes.
I can go on this rant for days and know it’s true but still get disheartened when I don’t receive roses and chocolates even when I said I didn’t care about that shit in the first place. Sigh, capitalist white supremacist patriarchy (thank you, bell hooks.)