Welcome to Harpy Seminar, a regular feature we plan to have at regular intervals, unless we get too busy to have it at regular intervals, in which case it shall appear whenever we have time and inclination for it. Each Seminar begins with a question, which we discuss amongst ourselves, and we then edit the highlights of our conversation into a post. Please feel free to join in in the comments!
Valentine’s Day is upon us, and here at Harpy HQ, like everywhere else, we’re faced with the endless messages about how best to celebrate our love. So, today’s Harpy Seminar question is: What’s your take on Valentine’s Day, from either a personal perspective, a feminist perspective, or–if they’re different–both?
PhDork: Personally, V-Day makes me itchy. While I think that taking the opportunity to express your feelings to your loved one/s is never a bad idea, I have major problems dealing with the social pressure to do something big and splashy (or rather, since I’m a woman, something sexy-licious) to “prove” my love to my dude. The whole thing makes want to walk around wearing hole-y granny panties and belching, loudly and repeatedly, just to cut the treacle.
Becky Sharper: I also hate hate HATE the pressure V-Day puts on us. It’s a lose-lose for everyone: an anxiety-inducing challenge to have the perfect date/gift/candlelit sexytime for couples, OR self-esteem crushing sense of loserdom for the uncoupled. And woe betide anyone who falls in between. Last V-Day I had just started dating someone, and while it was going great, it was still early and both of us felt this ridiculous pressure to decide whether we were going to have a real V-Day date or not. Blargh.
Pilgrim Soul: In general, sentimentality smells like patriarchy to me these days, so as soon as someone’s getting all up in my grill about how to best Celebrate Our Love, he is unlikely to find me being very helpful. It’s hokey to me, and therefore insincere. I realize I am a pain in the ass to date as it is, and I therefore don’t expect to pile on a bunch of societal nonsense about things Dudes Must Do to Keep Me Interested.
Of course, I haven’t been in a functional relationship for awhile so this hasn’t been much of an issue, and usually there is some girlfriend around to spend Valentine’s Day with if I’m feeling the urge, or otherwise I generally deliberately read a book about someone who’s unhappy in their marriage or something to remind myself that my Lack of Dude is not a fatal condition. Schadenfreude is to Valentine’s Day what peanut butter is to chocolate. Semper fi, haterz!
sarah.of.a.lesser.god: I feel like Lack of Dude is not a dangerous condition in the slightest. A Dude for Dude’s Sake is a more nefarious illness. Trapped in a loveless relationship solely to fulfill society’s dictate that you have a romantic (hetero) attachment? Gee, that sounds like so much fun! And I feel that V-Day is similar: being romantic because culture tells us that we can never be unhappy with our significant others on February 14. Give lingerie and chocolates, even if the relationship is lukewarm at best! Everyone knows that honest declarations of love are most meaningful if they’re delivered on V-Day, accompanied by a Hallmark card and a Whitman’s Sampler box of chocolates! And don’t forget the crotchless panties!
Kitten Fluff: I actually really, really like Valentine’s Day, probably for the entirely superficial reason that I like pink, purple, hearts, and flowers. I never felt like it was intended to make me feel bad when I was single, and, looking back, my favorite V-Days have been the ones I’ve spent with friends. Also, Valentine’s Day was responsible for one of my favorite college pastimes — reading the arguments between feminists and antifeminists about The Vagina Monologues every February in my Catholic college’s campus paper.
PhDork: Hey, I did The Vagina Monologues one year! Yeah, that was probably my best V-Day, exactly because it wasn’t about my private relationship, gettin’ it on, and/or what I could buy to “enhance” the experience.
SarahMC: I do not have a problem with Valentine’s Day inherently, but with the way it’s framed in our capitalistic, patriarchal, heteronormative society.
Becky Sharper: The commoditized aspect of V-Day is so offensive, especially as the diamond/flower/chocolate businesses’ entire V-Day marketing campaign can be summarized as: “Hey dudes! Give a gift, get some pussy!” It only reinforces the whole idea of romance as a transaction, which is a huge feminist pet peeve of mine.
SarahMC: A few years ago, I got upset when I didn’t receive flowers at the office from my boyfriend on V-Day. I don’t even care about flowers that much, but all the other women with boyfriends or husbands had gotten flowers, and I had a boyfriend, so shouldn’t I have them too? I expressed my disappointment to the boyf and he dutifully sent me flowers for the few years that followed. But eventually I came to my senses (after getting more involved in feminism, actually) and realized that expecting flowers from my boyfriend because I am a woman and he is a man and “that’s what men do” for their sweethearts on V-Day is both sexist and materialistic.
Right now we are both unnecessarily stressed because we have not made dinner reservations for Saturday. We are both scrambling to find a place, even though neither of us particularly gives a shit whether we go somewhere. We go out to dinner all the time. Is it really important for those of us who are paired off to fulfill our American duty to celebrate V-Day by consuming expensive food? I wish people would just express their love on a regular basis and give the finger to gimmicks like V-Day, but even for me it’s hard to resist that socialization.
Kitten Fluff: I totally agree with SarahMC’s critiques of how the holiday is framed — especially vis-a-vis heteronormativity. And I think Becky is absolutely correct about the holiday being marketed in such a way that it reinforces the idea of romance as a transaction. Overall, now that I am part of a couple, I see Valentine’s Day as an excuse to try out a new restaurant and go on an actual date. Obviously, it’s stupid to wait until a Hallmark holiday to do that, which is another problem altogether.
sarah.of.a.lesser.god: I actually realized today that I had forgotten all about Valentine’s Day. In previous years, I probably would have started feeling empty for being single on Official Lovey-Dovey Day (TM), but this year I’m able to step back and see how crazy it is. It originated as yet another Catholic Feast Day to honor a saint whose legend is murky at best, and nearly two thousand years later, it has been twisted into a day of branding opportunities, cheap candy, and single-shaming. Are you in a relationship? Why not? What’s wrong with you? Do you have leprosy? Are you a hideous freak? How can you live with yourself? YOU ARE REJECTING THE SOCIAL DOCTRINE OF HAPPY HETERO COUPLEDOM!
PhDork: I love you, you hideous freaks. Happy V-Day, y’all.