Valentine's Day: A Straight-Up Misrepresentation | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

Valentine’s Day: A Straight-Up Misrepresentation

Comment Writer Rhi Storer criticises Valentine's Day's narrow representation of sexuality and gender

Just for the record: I don’t hate Valentine’s Day. There’s a place to roll your eyes at advertisements for shopping centre lingerie for that ‘special someone’, to rally against a holiday designed to prey on your modest, reality-check January savings, and to resent the smugness of the attached with their overpriced prosecco and overdone Pandora bracelets. Gross.

Why do I feel like I’ve been tucked away on the shelf?

But I, for one, would rather be using my time to revel in making love fun with a potential partner - handcrafted cards, poems on long sojourns, and chocolates in wonderful flavours. Why fight a day intended for spending time with loved ones (or yourself) when every other day is swallowed up by the demands of work and the solipsistic daily grind? You can wave your anti-corporate flag high on all the other 364 days of the year at Unilever or Facebook rather than at Hallmarks Cards. There is such a thing as the lesser of two evils.

Yet Valentine’s Day has become slightly awkward for me. In the past, I would have been suspicious of a day that commodifies love and relationships - I still do, to an extent. But as I’ve become more comfortable and empowered with my sexual identity over the last couple of years, my suspicions have evolved. Why do I feel like I’ve been tucked away on the shelf?

Think about it: LGBT people in Britain now, rightly, have legal protections and freedoms that acknowledge our demands to be treated equally and fairly. We now have a parliament which has more LGBT members than any in the world. Away from the politics, representation from a wealth of diverse Netflix shows and a boom in LGBT cinema show that is was never ‘not normal’ to be in a non-heterosexual relationship. There’s still a long way to go... that’s for a different article. But despite these social advances, one particular day of the year still caters to an overwhelming heterosexual and gendered experience.

I know what you’re thinking - that this might be part of some ‘gay agenda’. You might be thinking there are advertisements that represent the LGBT community. Or, for the percentage of human beings that are actually gay, there is a perfect amount of representation. But that’s not the point. The point is on Valentine’s Day any concept of love that is not outwardly heterosexual in appearance is continually erased by society, even if more widely accepted now.

Valentine’s Day, then, has a problem with heteronormativity. For a definition, heteronormativity is the bundle of ways in which heterosexuality is taken for granted as normal, ordinary, mundane, expected, and unremarkable. There are structures and norms that privilege heterosexual monogamy, while simultaneously stigmatising behaviour that deviates from this model.

When you walk into a store in the run-up to Valentine’s Day cards represent relationships solely between a male and a female lover. Valentine's Day adverts show a man and a woman exchanging gifts whilst looking lovingly into one another's eyes but never a same-sex couple. Never do the advertisers take into consideration that being LGBT is valid and normal, and therefore should be shown in advertisement.

It’s important to recognise that some LGBT people find a day like Valentine’s Day to be a complete erasure of everything that’s been fought for

From a gender perspective, Valentine commercials portray men as either incompetent when it comes to love, and so must be reminded to buy a gift to show appreciation towards their woman. They pressure men to do ‘firsts’: be the first to book a restaurant or the first to pay for the date. They pressurise women in a subtle manner - how many chocolate adverts have you seen directed solely towards the male market? Many are directed towards women - the stereotype being women eat their feelings. Most chocolate ads, if they are geared toward a male purchaser, are done in the context of romantic relationships and somehow ‘getting’ the girl.

Simply, what about non-binary people?

Then there’s dating itself. LGBT people still have the problem of determining whether it’s safe to hold hands in a restaurant... often when you and your partner are the only representation of an entire community right there in the restaurant. Or, from my experience, catcall or unwanted advances when you’re just trying to get on with your day. Imagine knowing there is a potential chance someone coming up to you and asking ‘Who’s the man?’ or ‘Are you really gay?’ because ‘Well, you’re too pretty to be gay!’

It doesn’t help, either, that places LGBT people flock to in order to fully express themselves with their partners are being forced to close - the result of unscrupulous landlords putting money before the community. So when we travel to ‘straight’ bars how will those who are not as welcoming to our PDA react?

I don’t have the answers to this problem, and we shouldn’t stop celebrating the joy that such a holiday brings whatever way that might be. But I think it’s important to recognise that some LGBT people find a day like Valentine’s Day to be a complete erasure of everything that’s been fought for. Because of this, we should keep fighting to dismantle these structures so that everyone can truly feel accepted.

After all, love wins.

final year political science student


17th February 2018 at 9:00 am

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