Valentine’s Day is one of those weird non-holiday holidays. There’s issues with the ethics of cut flowers and a need to buy ethical fair-trade organic chocolate. There are those who complain about it making single people feel bad and others who say its all just a marketing scam. Yet this year, despite the strangeness, I’m drawn to the idea of Valentine’s Day.
See the 14th isn’t just Valentine’s Day. In Canada it’s the day of the missing women memorial march remembering native women who have been murdered and/or trafficked. In other countries it is the day for One Billion Rising, an anti-violence against women organization that has come under criticism by many women of color. And back when I was at university I remember people celebrating it as V-Day, a day when performances of the Vagina Monologues were performed. Here we have a holiday that on one hand is a celebration of romantic love, but its also a day of remembering violence against women. It is an interesting contrast.
So what do I make of it this year? This year the question going through my mind is, what expectations can we teach girls to have about potential boyfriends that would help protect them from violence? Does the theme of chocolate and roses at least raise girls expectations for their boyfriends? For some it genuinely might. For others it would encourage settling for special treats amongst misuse. A romantic story of chocolate and flowers isn’t enough. A potential pimp or trafficer can do that easily enough, but maybe its something. I don’t know but I’m appreciating the holiday this year as a time in which there’s some discussion about expectations and relationships.
In trying to write this post I googled “Feminist Valentine’s Day” and was pretty disappointed with the top-of-the-page results. I can understand the feminist urge to reject the presumption of heterosexuality and to celebrate non-romantic relationships but lists of things like “writing a love letter to yourself” or “listen to singers who are happy they are single” didn’t quite get to the questions I want. Yes, lots of people are happy being single, or in non-heterosexual relationships, or non-romantic relations. But there’s also a lot of people who want and are in heterosexual relationships and there’s got to be a feminist interpretation of Valentine’s Day that takes that desire into account.
Heather Laine Talley wrote on Feminist Wire about Valentine’s Day, looking at bell hooks’ description of love as something more than caring, as something that cannot exist at the same time as abuse. Her definition of love sounds almost impossible, with a presumption that most people live unloved most of the time. Is that true, or is that like Anne of Green Gables constructing some sort of high falluting notion of love that ignores the reality of the caring Gilbert Blithe right there before her. Yet with all the people in abusive relationships, divorced or otherwise uncontent, maybe she’s right that being truely loved is rare.
At the end Talley paraphrases Cornel West with “Dear Valentine, Justice is what love looks like in public. Thank you for doing justice with me. I love you.” What does justice look like within a relationship? And can Valentine’s day be a commitment towards that sort of justice?