Contrary to popular myth, feminists
do not spend Valentine’s Day committing cards and jewelry to a roaring
bonfire before an annual performance of the Vagina Monologues and a
rousing game of darts with a man-shaped board. But since this romance-and-capitalism
fraught holiday seems to cause anxiety for everyone, regardless of their
patriarchal or feminist bona fides, we at RH Reality Check thought we’d
compile a V-Day advice column. For your pleasure we offer you
this Q+A generously supplied for us by a columnist called "Dear Gabby" — the
feminist equivalent of a certain well-known syndicated advice peddler.
So why not chew on answers
to these questions along with your heart shaped candy? And have a happy
You’re writing this column
for a reproductive health site. What does reproductive health have to
do with romance and flowers?
- Irritated in Illionois
Well, along with the idea of
Valentine’s Day being a day where you assess how emotionally healthy
your relationship is and how comfortable you are together, it’s a
good time to remember that physical and emotional wellness often go
hand in hand. So while a visit to the doctor or a frank discussion of
sexual health issues may not be a thrilling way to spend your Valentine’s
Day, in the days leading up to the 14th turning off that
"He went to Jared!" commercial and assessing your and your partner’s
health isn’t a terrible idea, or a romance-killer. In fact, openness
in addressing these issues could lead to a much more romantic night.
And if you’re not in a relationship, of course, it’s just as important
to be informed and empowered about your sexual health.
What is your problem, man?
Why do your object to a day that celebrates love?
- Miffed in Massachusetts
No one objects to celebrating
love, Miffed. What some of us object to is the idea that on Valentine’s
Day love is celebrated in a very old-school way that ignores decades
of progress on sex, sexuality and gender. Suddenly on Valentine’s
Day we’re stuck back at the idea that if he gets her the right flowers
and diamonds and spends the right amount of money, she’ll be more
likely to sleep with him. It puts pressure on everyone, and even folks
in egalitarian or non-heterosexual relationships start to feel the heat
around Valentine’s Day after the 100th commercial seeps
into their brain. It’s even worse for single people who are likely
perfectly happy until the V-day hoopla starts telling them they are
failures for not having a date on the 14th. All these messages pounding
at our subconscious bring us back to the whole "health" question.
Having a healthy physical and emotional perspective on yourself and
in the context of your relationship can help you build up resistance
to social pressure and enable you find a nice, non-patriarchal way to
I really like Valentine’s
Day, and all this talk about transactional relationships and the patriarchy
is getting me down. Can’t I just enjoy a night of fun without losing
my feminist street cred?
- A Romance-starved Reader
We all have those moments when
we participate in or enjoy certain rituals that aren’t 100% up to
our ideals – heck, I catch "Wife Swap" every chance I get. Don’t
compromise your beliefs, but if you want to have a field day with
glitter, doilies and stickers and top it all off with oysters and champagne
so you can save your activist energy and righteous anger for the 15th,
that sounds okay to me.
What’s with Eve Ensler’s
"V-day?" Why do we have to talk about violence against women on Valentine’s Day? And why do I have to suffer through a play
every year where I listen to the word
"vagina" shouted loudly hundreds of times? That’s just gross.
- Boorish Ben in Boise
Well Ben, for a lot of women
in the world – many of whom are our neighbors and friends-the idea
of romance is far from their reality because they have few rights and
protections from sexual violence. For many women who are living comfortably,
Ensler’s quest to turn V-Day into a day of solidarity and sisterhood
has really hit home. Ensler and others believe that until all women are given equal
rights and control over their own bodies and sexuality, ideal romance
remains somewhat out of reach. So in other words, by granting
women equal rights and fighting against the too-routine abuse of women,
we’re also paving the way for more romance in the world – the kind
of romance that comes from two equals being attracted and interested
in each other and free to pursue that interest.
As for your critique of Ms.
Ensler’s play, the fact that is often performed by over-eager students
who enunciate the word "vagina" with the kind of ardor minted in
acting class makes it easy to mock, yes. But give me a break. It’s
a very well-done play, and along with Carrie Bradshaw, it has truly
changed the way we talk about sex in this country and really busted
through a taboo. If you think the word "vagina" is gross, you clearly
haven’t been watching any Judd Apatow movies, Sarah Silverman, 30 Rock,
or basically any popular comedy in the last five years. They all owe
Eve Ensler a debt for freeing that once-verboten word for use on everybody’s
lips, no pun intended. And something tells me you’re a "Knocked
What should I get my feminist
lady-friend for Valentine’s Day?
-Anxious A in Albuquerque
A pre-order of the forthcoming
book "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" of course. It’s on every
thinking girl’s wish list. What could be more romantic than Lizzy
and Darcy getting over their suspicions and falling in love while
simultaneously conquering an army of brain-eating undead? Hope that