On Love & Labour
Let’s take a serious moment. Today is Valentine’s Day, a holiday with plenty of controversy attached to it. How can a celebration of love be controversial? Isn’t love a universally pure, good thing? Well, I want to say yes. But also no.
Love can be as draining as it can be energizing. It can be productive or destructive. And unfortunately, the type of love we celebrate most – especially for Valentine’s day – is alienating and unrealistic. In my last Valentine-related post I made an offhand remark about Valentine’s Day being a celebration of heteropatriarchal capitalism. I wasn’t wrong.
I’m a lesbian, so I am by nature unimpressed with the idea of a man presenting a bouquet of red roses as a declaration of his undying passion. But I’ve grown up, like most other girls, more or less conditioned to crave male romantic attention and its gestures like the bouquets of roses, the gold necklaces, those corny teddy bears holding stuffed hearts with the text B MINE embroidered on. I’m often flattered and automatically flirty when men show me sexual interest, despite having no attraction to them. It’s like an involuntary motor response.
So through my own experience of compulsory heterosexual behaviour (which, can I add, also affects women who are attracted to men) I feel very critical of Valentine’s Day, which only adds another layer of product consumption to this stew of heteronormativity – a day for women to buy lingerie and men to buy chocolates and jewellery. What I feel most of all is the division of labour. Gifts are presented once a year in return for constant emotional work – an exhausting task that is demanded of women in many respects, but especially in romantic relationships with men.
For fear of sounding like an angry feminist – which I am – it’s a form of inequality that is at the core of male/female relationships. I see this in my own family, in my friends’ families and relationships. It appears not only with male partners but with fathers, brothers, even friends. Now, my perspective is tainted by the fact that I grew up with an abusive father, where this inequality is dialled up to its most obvious. But despite the advanced grade of emotional terror I was under, I didn’t actually see it for what it was until fairly recently. Women center men in their lives at their own expense, downplaying their own emotional needs because they think that’s the only way to “keep the peace”. But the only peace being kept is his.
PS. Karin shared her feelings on valentine’s day in a beautiful post here. (It’s in Swedish)