truly, madly, unimaginatively

The commercialization of romance is a tricky business, but a booming one- something we realize anew every Valentine's Day, with all the cynical tweeting and blog entries. I personally have mixed feelings about it- while ideally people wouldn't need a romance reminder, they often kind of do, so it can serve as a socially acceptable kick in the ass for people (mainly men) who don't tell their lover they appreciate them as often as they should. I've also blogged before about how Valentine's Day is sort of the High Holy Day of Femme, a day when women's thoughts and feelings matter. Sure, I can get behind that.

So I was talking to a friend on Twitter about this stuff, particularly relating to the Valentine's Day Do Not Buy list I wrote for online sex toy shop Electric Lady Lounge. She suggested I add "motorcycle parts" and "paintball ammo" to the list- which, for her, is true, but I know other ladies who would be delighted with those gifts. Which brings to an important point forgotten by this Hallmarking of the holiday- not all women are alike. One lady might love practical gifts but hate chocolate that's not fair trade- another might not be too picky about chocolate, but be sensitive to certain chemical scents, so perfume is a bad idea. Still another lady might prefer a handmade card to roses. And never mind where guys fit into all this- I date the sort of guys who would like flowers and a bit of fuss made about them, and they're often more lovey-dovey than I am.

Which brings me to the ultimate issue with this media marketing frenzy- one size does not fit all, and if you assume it does, you will fail your mission here. If V-Day is a day where women's thoughts and feelings matter, this means you need to know the woman in your life well enough to seduce them in the way they want to be seduced. If she doesn't like expensive dinners, don't take her to one. And why just get a little something for your lover? Show the various people you love that you care about them- family, friends, pets- hell, maybe do a bit of trash cleanup or gardening to declare your love to the earth, too, why not? V-Day doesn't have to just be about couples and wishing you were in one, or in a better one, and to let the media win on that account is to passively let them define love in that way. Ugh. Laurie Penny says it pretty fucking well here-

Romantic ritual drowns the energy of solidarity, community and female independence, turning passion into a commodity and making us compete for our share. The rash of roses and restaurant deals that accompanies Valentine's Day has little to do with real passion. Rather, it nudges us into robotic ceremonies of spending and sexual bargaining. It turns love into a limited commodity when, in fact, there is more than enough to go around. And, to misquote Marx, it allows business to wield a grim control over the means of seduction.

Yes yes yes! The rest of the article had me nodding too, and reminds me of Bird la Bird's performance at Love on Trial- while the Society for Cutting Up Couples was satire, it did say a lot about the problems with how we institutionally validate coupledom and punish singles- as she said, and I'm paraphrasing here, "why give tax breaks to couples when singles are the ones who live alone and therefore need help with money?" And yet, read the comments on the article- saying that the rituals around Valentine's Day are problematic ends up with a lot of people sneering that you must not have gotten a card, then, eh? Which actually proves the point- we're so culturally programmed to believe love is expressed in certain ways (and let's face it- most Valentine's Day traditions are not only pretty gendered, but also pretty heterosexist) that we defend those ways blindly instead of challenging why we do it.

So what's a politically minded lover to do? Well, I really liked Ms Magazine's take on the holiday-

As a feminist, how about joining a political campaign in honor of Valentine’s Day?  Saint Valentine was arrested for marrying couples against the wishes of Emperor Claudius II, so what better way to honor the day than to continue fighting for the right to marry? Celebrate Freedom to Marry Week, which concludes on Valentine’s Day, by adding your voice to those supporting the freedom to marry or by asking Congress to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. You can also join or organize a marriage license counter action on Valentine’s Day to protest Prop. 8. Be part of a global movement to end violence against women and girls by attending a V-Day event–”The ‘V’ stands for Victory, Valentine and Vagina.” You can always send a Planned Parenthood Valentine’s Day e-card to your special someone. February 14 is also National Condom Day, so take part by being safe and using one.        

So to all the people complaining that examining these automated commercialized romantic rituals means that you don't love love? You can have your Paperchase cards and Marks and Spencers couple meals. I'll take my Sushi and Strapon Day instead.

And happy Valentine's Day.

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