Illustration by Lauren You
So, what are your plans this Valentine’s Day?
Have you already started elaborately planning how you want to celebrate the day of love? The classics — a candlelit dinner date, cheesy social media posts and exchanging heartfelt gifts — are a given. Yet, there are the many social conundrums that come along with these traditional acts of Valentine’s Day love.
Gentlemen, how are you going to pamper your girl and show her what a good boyfriend you are? Expensive jewelry, cute stuffed toys, red roses and chocolates may be a good start, but is that enough to fulfill your responsibility? Her ex might have taken better care of her, bought better gifts and done an overall better job of treating her like a princess. We are sure you won’t forget to insist on paying the bill yourself. After all, how else will you remind your girl of what a chivalrous gentleman you are and, consciously or not, assert your dominance?
And ladies, what are you wearing for your Valentine’s Day date? A cocktail dress, or something more casual? What about the shoes? They should probably be heels that make you look tall and slim enough, but still keep you shorter than your boyfriend. As for presents, the best gift you can give your man is your ladylike self— cross your shaved legs, eat gracefully and do not bore him with your impassioned rants. Focus on looking pretty so he can proudly show you off.
If you recognized the sarcasm, you might ask: what exactly is the problem with Valentine’s Day? Why is it such a bad thing to have an occasion for couples to celebrate their love for one another in a way that makes them happy? Is it wrong to want these so-called conventional romantic traditions?
The answer is no. The problem with Valentine’s Day is not that couples use it to celebrate and showcase their love for each other, but that it prescribes a certain set of norms that couples feel pressured to conform to. Creating a set of expectations often leads to disappointment, as reality rarely lives up to them. High hopes can be damaging to relationships. While expectations are an inherent part of any relationship, Valentine’s Day drastically raises the stakes for both parties in the partnership. It is therefore no surprise that one of the two big spikes of breakups during the year is immediately after Valentine's Day.
Another obvious problem is that these norms reflect deeply problematic gender stereotypes and heteronormativity, perpetuated by self-serving consumer capitalism. For years, advertisements have used Valentine’s Day to convince men to shower women with gifts as a way to make them capitulate to their every desire. Individual romantic acts, like a boyfriend buying gifts for his girlfriend, taking her out to dinner, or complimenting her pretty dress, are obviously not the problem — it would be myopic to think so. Rather, the issue is the larger system of assumptions underscoring such acts, which reflect benevolent sexism, the idea that women are ditzy, delicate creatures who need to be protected and treated gently, that their appearance is their most important attribute and that their affection can be bought with cute material things. In an age where perceptions of women are finally moving away from this skewed representation, why are we still giving into the institutionalized sexism that forces us to look at these archaic gender roles through rose-tinted glasses?
Besides the obvious sexism, shops also set aside aisles for color-coded cards, teddy bears, pyjamas and a wide range of other Valentine’s Day merchandise exclusively for him and her, completely excluding those who don't fit into the heteronormative and gender-binary archetype. Hallmark, for example, sells just one Valentine’s Day card created specifically with a homosexual couple in mind. It’s taken years for people to understand that sexual orientation does not define love, so why does the so-called universal occasion of love still celebrate only one particular kind of love: the heterosexual kind?
Finally, the Valentine’s Day narrative can be severely damaging for single people, as it reinforces the social pressure to be in a romantic relationship. It serves as a reminder for single people that they are alone and somehow incomplete, undermining the significance of all forms of non-romantic love. This occasion is SAD: Singleness Awareness Day. A day during which single people wallow in their misery at being alone and binge watch chick flicks. This is particularly problematic because it damages people’s self-esteem and fuels insecurities, which often results in bad choices. For example, Valentine’s Day leads to what one might call panic dating, a phenomenon seen from various dating websites experiencing a peak around Feburary 14th.
Ultimately, the issue lies not in couples using Valentine’s Day to celebrate their love and make each other happy, but rather in the various problematic implications that it represents. And all this for what? To make money. In the US alone, Valentine’s Day generates over $18 billion —around 66 billion AED— each year.
It is therefore high time we redefine the occasion. We ought to make it more inclusive and tear out the sexism, heteronormativity and consumer capitalist ideology that is so deeply entrenched in its celebration. Only then will it really be a universal celebration of love, as it is meant to be.
Kaashif Hajee is Deputy News Editor and Aasna Sijapati is a staff writer. Email them at [email protected]