Content Warning: stalking, rape culture
I love dressing up, chocolate, good food, romance novels, wine and other romantic things, so you'd think I'd be all over Valentine's Day. So not the case. Valentine's Day is not just "not for me", I have major objections to the method and meaning of the whole day.
The accouterments of Valentine's are problematic. Chocolate is often produced in slave like conditions by child workers. Flowers are grown in South America where women work for limited pay and in unsafe conditions. Then there's the prevalence of blood diamonds that make jewelry shopping ethically difficult. But, there are Fair Trade options, so this alone is not enough to ruin Valentine's Day for me.
However, there's also the problem with Grand Romantic Gestures and the stories around them. One day of romance, one grand gesture, isn't enough to make a good relationship. It's the everyday caring, support, and love that matters (and that Valentine's Day fails to celebrate). I don't like the idea that if you don't do something dramatic on this one day then you're a bad partner (partially because there's a certain amount of classism involved, though that exists with every material driven holiday). And then there's the stalking aspect of grand romance, which some people really went with this year.
Really Target? You think it's romantic to stalk? I have a close friend who'd disagree with you. But I guess it's hard to see the romance and humour when you sleep with a baseball bat because your stalker has access to your house. And easier when you're sitting in a corporate writer's room, and you (or a close friend) have never experienced stalking or partner violence (and apparently you're lacking in decency and basic empathy).
However, even this isn't my main objection with Valentine's Day. It's the more prevalent, and insidious, messages of gender roles and stereotypes that I really object to. It's there in all the commercials and the traditional gifts. Flowers, jewelry, and chocolates are all coded as feminine in Western society. The gifts of Valentine's Day are for women, and in exchange, men get us (our bodies and sex, really).
The BF sees this as a sex joke. Give (cunnilingus) and you shall receive (blow job, P in V sex). I really wish I could share that interpretation. Instead I see a sexy woman, dressing in very sexy clothing (thigh highs with garters, not standard wear), while being very aware of the audience and its male gaze. The gift she gets is flowers, and apparently she plans to give herself/sex with her in exchange.
This ties into traditional gender norms and stereotypes of men being providers of material things, while women repay with sex. The positing of sex as a transaction is deeply problematic. It's the idea of sex as a reward, something that is earned, deserved, if you do X, Y, and Z. If you buy the right flowers, take your partner out to dinner then sex is earned or owed. This leads to the idea that sex is something that should be/must be given in certain situations. And if it isn't then the person who has fulfilled the criteria has some (perhaps small, perhaps definite) right to take what is owed. And this idea leads to rapists being excused, acquitted, or receiving lenient sentences. It's this idea which causes people to say victims bear some responsibility or that it wasn't "real rape" (or rape rape). Also, the characterization of sex as something a woman gives to a man (instead of something she participates in and gains equal enjoyment from) is deeply problematic. It minimizes (or completely eradicates) the need for vocal and enthusiastic consent, since it suggests consenting to sex is something women do out of love, to please a man, or as a "reward" instead of because they enthusiastically want to have sex with that person. These ideas together are very tied into rape culture and a host of other issues.
And it's these things, this perpetuation of gender roles and stereotypes and rape culture, things that as a radical feminist and survivor of sexual assault I take a passionate stand against, that make me unable to celebrate Valentine's Day. Or approve of the celebration of it. A holiday that idealises grand romantic gestures (and all the unhealthy relationships and stalking that goes into that), that generally straight-washes and ignores the existence of queer relationships, and profits off slave labour is a deeply problematic (even unethical) holiday. A holiday which does all of that and also makes gender roles and stereotypes the very basis of how it is celebrated, perpetuates unhealthy attitudes to sex, and adds to rape culture is certainly not an ethical holiday. And as someone who strives to be an ethical person I have to take a stand against it.
I'm a fan of romance, but Valentine's Day can GTFO.