From Swallowtail Garden Seeds / Public Domain
One legend of St. Valentine maintains an imprisoned Valentine sent what would later be considered the first “valentine” greeting to the girl they loved prior to their execution, signing it “From your Valentine.” Regardless of the exact story, by the Middle Ages, likely on account of St. Valentine’s reputation as a heroic romantic figure, they had become one of the most popular saints in England and France. The legend of St. Valentine may be clouded in mystery surrounding their identity and the circumstances of their martyrdom. However, the contemporary celebration of Valentine’s Day leaves little to the imagination.
Winter holiday decorations have scarcely been put away before department and grocery stores are awash in an assortment of red and pink candy, cards, party supplies and even special treats for pets. Valentine’s Day-themed clothing — especially dresses and intimates — is omnipresent in advertisements and clothing shops; accompanying makeup looks prevail online. Jewelry retailers guilt customers into proving their love with heart-shaped gift sets and specials on engagement rings.
Stakeholders seek to appeal to diverse audiences in order to economically and socially profit from the day. For example, classroom activities permeate the primary education system while movie releases advocate for “romantic” evenings. Bouquets of roses often underscore passive-aggressive competitions between those with and without a significant other regarding the merits of being single versus in a relationship on this particular day of the year.
Notwithstanding the above debate, as a feminist newsmagazine, our concerns lie in the overbearing consumerism, pervasive heteronormativity, and policing of gender roles encouraged by the conventional, timeworn idea of Valentine’s Day. Each of these problems — not limited to sexism, classism, and erasure of the LGBTQ community — permeate politics and society each day.
The original Feast of Lupercalia, a pre-Roman pastoral festival taking place from Feb. 13-15, glorified domestic violence and the possession of women by men. According to historical accounts, Luperci cut thongs from the skins of sacrificial animals and struck any women who came near. Because the blows were espoused as ensuring a woman’s fertility, women would in fact line up for men to hit them. Young men then “drew the names of women from a jar. The couple would then be coupled up for the duration of the festival — or longer, if the match was ‘right.’” Following the integration of the festival with the official day of St. Valentine, it simply became a more theatrical performance of its pagan origins.
Nonetheless, as of Feb. 1, U.S. consumers were predicted to spend an average of $136.57 for a total of $18.2 billion to celebrate Valentine’s Day. The record of $19.7 billion was set last year, equal to approximately $146.84 per person.
The association of Valentine’s Day with “love” is still limited to that attraction between straight, often white, traditionally behaving men and women, symbolic of heteropatriarchal, capitalist power dynamics not far removed from those of the Roman Empire. We unfortunately cannot undo all of the problematic elements of the holiday at once. In the meantime, our staff at FEM Newsmagazine has a few ideas to make the day a little less normative, oppressive, and profitable for big business.
Alexandra Barraza (Copy Editor, Dialogue):
“My roommate and I are going hiking and seeing a movie together, something we’re constantly saying we’ll do but never actually make the time for. Using the holiday as an excuse to prioritize our friendship!”
Becca Vorick (Social Media Chair; Assistant Editor, Dialogue):
“My friends and I (no cis- or het- men) are all getting together at my apartment tomorrow night, and we’re cooking a big dinner to eat together, eating some sweets, and drinking! Focusing on celebrating our friendships since valentines should not only equal romantic significant others.”
Laura Jue (Assistant Editor, Dialogue):
“My roommates and I are planning a roommate date: getting dressed up and going out to dinner.”
Jenna Moorman (Copy Editor, Campus Life):
“My roommates and I are creating a tradition called ‘pint night’ where everyone brings their own bottle of wine and a pint of ice cream to the movies, and you have to finish both before the movie is over.”
Christine Nguyen (Staff Writer, Arts & Creative):
“Parks and Recreation-style Galentine’s Day. I like spending time with my family, since Valentine’s Day is about love and not necessarily romantic relationships.
I think self care is also a good way to spend Valentine’s Day! Treating yourself to a nice bath or food acknowledging how far you’ve come in life. Or just doing things to de-stress and relax.”
To which Tulika Varma, our Editor-in-Chief, opportunely replied:
“De-commercialize the commercial holiday. A good way to spend Valentine’s Day is to incite the revolution.”