It’s valentines day. Now, I probably didn’t need to point that out, given there is no way you have walked down a street without it being slapped in your face: “£5 roses bouquet” Can only imagine they are of the highest quality, nothing screams romance like budgeting and “champagne meals for 2” Because the restaurant doesn’t want your scummy single custom this weekend.
Valentine’s Day is like 24 hours where the consumer world reflects a Sunday meal with my family. A giant heart shaped microscope on your life, judging your singleton ways and your double bed with a single pillow. It’s like every aunty I know has suddenly set up an aisle in Tesco, so much so, that when I go to get a loaf of bread, I worry that at the end of the valentines aisle would be my aunt and the latest “eligible” Batchelor she’s found. shudder.
I’m not a fan, but equally I’m not a hater, especially when one of my younger nieces makes me a card with hearts and glitter (quite literally) falling off it. But my older nieces asked me- can you be a feminist and like valentines day? Immediately I wanted to say “of course” so normalised am I to coming to the defence of feminism and trying everything to make sure people get we are not what the Daily Mail told you we were. But actually, it’s a good question, and one that feminists haven’t quite worked out.
I asked my niece what she thought of it, and she said s0me of the girls (young women) at school were obsessed with knowing they had a date or boyfriend that day, so they knew they were getting gifts, which makes her think feminists can’t like it. There’s quite a lot to unpack there. Firstly, the obvious issue of “having to have a boyfriend” this is something that doesn’t just exist for 16 year olds, it follows many women throughout their lives. I can’t walk into a family event without someone tilting their head any asking me if I was struggling with not being married (little do they know I am often tilting my head and asking them why they bothered to marry). There is an acute pressure on women to be in romantic relationships, and on top of that for these relationships to fit
heteronormative rules and traditional gender roles. And Valentines Day obviously emphasises that. On top of this, I was taken by the part of her sentence that said “knew they were getting gifts”. Of course Valentine’s Day again emphasises this with it’s roses, chocolates, teddies and flowers. But this isn’t just reserved to Valentine’s Day, in fact young women and men are often told that their affection is equivalent to gifts and that empathy and love is an after thought. It doesn’t take much to go from thinking a relationship is about gift giving to thinking it is about getting something in return for those gifts, or thinking that the gift giving excuses any behaviour… the problems are pretty evident.
There is also a problem here about young women and self esteem, and that for some it is equated to boyfriends and gifts.
So ok, if you feel the need to run to find a man, Valentine’s Day is not so femtastic. But it doesn’t need to be, surely, in 2014 we can have a valentines that is about loving all those who are close to you, regardless of the romantic undertones (as if they are that subtle) of the day?? Apparently not. I started doing a little reading and there seem to be two extremes, neither of which I like:
1. You like Valentine’s; you capitalist anti feminist demon: So one of the first articles I came across told me to reject all things to do with love, romance and Valentine’s. It can only come in a patriarchal package and therefore love must be rejected in all forms for you to be considered a feminist. Now, I’m not keen on anyone telling me what box my feminism should fit into, given I am already trying to push my way out of the box patriarchy put me in, so this viewpoint can shove it.
2. Use Valentine’s to learn to love yourself; aside from the slight nausea this makes me feel, there is a point, take out the partner and make it about you and what you appreciate about yourself and your feminism. Aright, that’s fine. Until said article told me to write myself a love letter, or go on a feminist date to prove Valentine’s day wrong…I think we might be giving Valentine’s Day more importance this way, which was entirely the opposite aim. Also, I AM NOT WRITING MYSELF A LOVE LETTER. GEES.
I then realised that I was looking in all the wrong places and my niece can have her questions answered by the one and only bell hooks.
bell hooks is the only feminist writer I have had the privilege of reading who talks about love and what it means as a feminist. I’m pretty sure bell hooks wouldn’t really mind valentines day (admittedly I have never actually talked to her…one day). Bell hooks explains love in the clearest and yet most sophisticated way; that love removed from the facade of romance needs to be based on equality, empathy and justice. Without these pillars it’s a lie. And for a feminist what better definition than that?
In her book All About Love, hooks describes how patriarchy has distorted our view of love and taught us, both men and women to lie, to appear powerful or powerless. May not sound like the pink fluffy treat you were hoping for on this day, but it’s a necessary read. By no means is hooks saying that love doesn’t exist or that love itself is a terrible thing, she is in fact, explaining that the dominance of power and patriarchy is a disservice to love and an injustice to women in all types of relationships.
So all the roses, the chocolates and the nauseating pink might be nice, but essentially they only count if they are based on justice and equality. Hooks goes further to say love should be worthy of this foundation in all aspects of our life:
To love well is the task in all meaningful relationships, not just romantic bonds.
How about dropping the roses (alright ok, give in and buy them) but why not gift wrap a copy of bell hooks’ All About love? That’s my kind of valentine’s day…I’ll await by the door for all your gifts…