Burned Out

Brighton Fowler

Valentine’s Day is a notoriously gendered holiday, and one that, as a feminist, I should probably reject altogether. And yet for some strange reason I shamelessly adore it.
I love the chalky-tasting candy hearts with kitschy sayings like “Be Mine” and “Call me.” I melt for the pink and red decorations in store windows. I sometimes get a little choked up when I see a red light-up heart in someone’s window. I even get a little bit excited when I see valentines starting to go on display at the supermarket because it heralds the approach of this holiday. You know the cards I’m talking about — they are mass-produced and aimed at grade-school children, and somewhat implicitly force them to choose between two gendered options: the pastel pony/Barbie/Hello Kitty kind, or the primary-colored Spiderman/Spongebob/Lord of the Rings kind. My love is sick, and I hate myself a little bit for even writing this.
My perverse fixation with this “Hallmark holiday” may have a little something to do with my extremely artistic, creative and flamboyant mother, who made every holiday into an art project-slash-baking/decorating extravaganza (and still does). For Valentine’s Day she would not only bake an assortment of cookies and chocolates, but the house would also get a totally red and pink makeover, and inevitably there would be some sort of huge dinner party to top it all off. She’s a flag-flying Lawrentian, and if that’s not “the Lawrence difference,” I don’t know what is. Okay, so holidays were totally berserk and fabulous in the Fowler household, but that does not account entirely for my perverted obsession with this inherently heterosexual, hegemonic, stupid, depressing holiday!
You would think that adolescent scars etched into my psyche would be enough to make me reevaluate my devotion but it seems I cannot be dismayed. Like some sort of traumatic recollection, I remember quite vividly how flowers became a symbol of beauty, popularity, and acceptance on this day. How out of allegiance to your female comrades you sent each other those classroom-delivered carnations and roses in order to spare one another the utter humiliation of receiving none at all. I cringe at my recollection of Ali Baker, the girl whose desk was transformed into an altar on February 14 by worshiping teenage boys who covered it with chocolates, cards, and balloons, material symbols of her beauty and social status. This is a holiday curiously based around masculine recognition of idealized femininity.
The other day after a particularly lively FCC meeting (Feminist Conversation Club, check it on Moodle) I was asking a fellow member if it would be possible to “queer” Valentine’s Day, an idea I had gotten from the theory we were reading that day about the possibility of queer heterosexuality (“Virgins & Queers: Rehabilitating Heterosexuality, Kitzinger & Wilkinson). By “queering” it, I mean unhinging it from the traditional heterosexual romance narrative, where material objects come to symbolize an exemplary performance of traditional femininity. To “queer” it, my friend suggested that I send cards that with sayings like, “Be My Butch” or “Romance is Hegemony” or even suggested an S&M valentine. which I am still trying to rap my brain around days later. These suggestions, although lively and progressive, are not exactly the type of cards I was envisioning sending to Grandma.
My particular deconstruction is that Valentine’s Day is a holiday steeped in feminist objections. A celebrated day of “romance” wherein women give the gift of themselves (often in a pornalicious negligee bought from a global conglomerate such as Victoria’s Secret) and men give expensive objects (possibly jewelry from Tiffany’s or other blood-diamond retailers), and all the while the mainstream media, capitalist markets, and the “powers that be” profit from this seemingly sentimental campaign. From this radical feminist’s viewpoint, Valentine’s Day seems more like an economic exchange, than a romantic celebration. Yet believing all of this, until my feminist guilt supersedes my unwarranted, inexplicable, and disgusting adoration, February 14, I heart you.

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