Gender roles and the day of Valentine
Men always lead relationships, I was taught to believe.
We are supposed to set the direction of the partnership. We decide on its tempo, its depth, its timeline. We always make the first move. Consequently, we can also decide when to stop making the moves. We are the hunters and the decision-makers. Most of all, we are the givers.
Which is why on Valentine’s Day, I used to walk on aisle after aisle of chocolates. I elbowed my way through the crowds over a limited supply of roses. And I had to come up with a deliriously romantic surprise not just for the sake of romance, but also to impress curious onlookers and classmates/officemates.
Fortunately, the past Valentine’s Day had given me no one to pour my efforts into. God bless my heart. This day is definitely the most stressful holiday for a man. It’s not just a day to bring out the romantic side of me. It is also an opportunity to display the dominant me, the emotionally superior me, the generous masculine me.
Because, paradoxically, while Valentine’s Day is the celebration of love, it has also become the banner holiday for the buzzkills of love—gender roles and heteronormativity. In the peak age of woke Twitter and political correctness, one can’t help but wonder: Is Valentine’s built on the principle of romance? Or is it built on the tenets of masculinity and heterosexuality?
Take a recent visit to malls, the ubiquitous temples of capitalism. They are decorated for this holiday, as usual, but the product offerings have always been targeted at women. Lace underwear and women’s jewelry take center stage. Fragrances for her are more abundant on store shelves. And must we forget the flowers, arranged and packaged to be as beautiful and as delicate as their intended recipients?
Take a walk down retail spaces and bookstores. From the flashy greeting cards to the grinning stuffed toys, they are all advertised for male purchase and for female consumption. As Mia Pskowski of Hype by Mic writes, “Men buy women pretty things. Women, as reward, sleep with men.”
Not only do Valentine’s Day practices reinforce the male-female dichotomy, they also assume that all relationships are just that: male-female. In other words, relationships are supposed to be heteronormative. Heteronormative is defined by Urban Dictionary as “a viewpoint that expresses heterosexuality as a given instead of being one of many possibilities.” And isn’t Valentine’s the most heteronormative holiday of them all?
This season highlights the role of men as the givers and the dominant ones, while women are on the receiving and submissive end. It characterizes men as the hunters in search for a Valentine, while women wait to be acted upon.
Likewise, Valentine’s is the anthem of heteronormativity by assuming that all relationships are between male and female lovers, or that someone always has the feminine role and taste. The Buchtelite’s Brooklyn Dennison writes, “The status quo runs the world and the status quo is not queer.”
In this day and age, we have updated our definition and concepts of relationships. Romance has gone mobile and digital. But why do we still have generic and archaic celebrations of V-Day? Why is the day of love the one aspect of love that we haven’t modified?
Men always lead relationships, I was taught to believe. But it’s not an absolute rule.
The pressure for men to give shouldn’t be too burdensome, because women are capable of giving just as much. Men don’t always have to act, and the women to be acted upon. Women can just as rightly create opportunities for love, too.
Men don’t always have to assume the masculine role, because masculinity can be exhibited by women as well. And, of course, men don’t always get to love women, as women don’t always get to love men.
Sure, Valentine’s Day has always been an homage to courtly love. But today’s V-Day tells us this: We don’t always have to mold our relationships according to expectations. We don’t always have to love according to convention.
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