Picture this: a fancy dinner with that special someone. You have the most perfect gift for him. And as soon as you are about to take it out, he says coming up with an elaborate excuse of why he doesn’t have a present for you. Typical. Don’t you love Valentine’s Day?
The former scene portrays the typical gender expectations during Valentine’s Day. Women are portrayed as the more emotionally- needy gender (that secretly have the highest expectations for the relationship). The general belief is that women should put all of their emotional energy in order to plan a perfect day. In the meantime, men tend to be more aloof, and are always depicted as the ones likely to forget the holiday. Essentially, Valentine’s Day is all about pleasing the women and men are expected to buy elaborate gifts. However, all of these ideas are merely social expectations that have been inculcated by years and years of media and advertising.
Alas, these stereotypes exist in our day-to-day lives, but they are deeply emphasized every year on February 14th. Don’t get me wrong— I love the idea of a day dedicated to our loved ones. The thing is, it’s important to acknowledge that the mainstream celebration of Valentine’s Day is certainly flawed. Not only does Valentine’s Day promote love through consumerism, but it also serves to hide men and women behind traditional gender roles.
Moreover, Valentine’s Day advertising highlights ads that show women that care a lot about Valentine’s Day. They are often examples of a continuation of stereotypes from another decade. Sure, sometimes I understand their goal is to be funny and entertaining, but honestly, it’s not. Some ads are absurd and serve as a reminder that perhaps the expectations of the1950s subservient housewife have not faded at all. For instance, the article by a professional matchmaker in New York City, titled “How to Date a Wall Street Man” proves my point. Her advice is: “…Yes, you should be confident and avoid being a pushover but, at the same time, you shouldn’t be difficult. You need to be accommodating or his schedule and time constraints or he will get frustrated and find another woman.” I found this ridiculous. It’s extremely frustrating to continually keep hearing commentary that assumes all women and all men want the same things. And no, the article is not a joke.
Nowadays, participating in Valentine’s Day has become a social obligation. The pressure of participating in Valentine’s Day starts from a very young age. I recall that growing up, I used to celebrate Valentine’s Day as Friendship Day in Latin America — it was traditional for children to give out Valentine’s Day cards and candy in their classroom. When I moved to the states, it was evident that the media culture put more pressure on the “love” aspect and having a Valentine.
Unfortunately, as women, we constantly hear that our success is due to our ability to woo men through our sexuality. Therefore, even though I applaud our journey and progress in gender equality, we have definitely made very little growth in upholding a more realistic idea of gender roles. So next Valentine’s Day, I challenge you to look closely at the advertising that you are exposed to. Now, this doesn’t mean that you have to cancel your romantic dinner plans; all I’m asking is for you to be more mindful of sexist stereotypes because we’re all unique and we can’t possible want the same things or share the same opinions. We have to ask ourselves: are we living in the 21st century, or in the misogynistic 1950s era of Mad Men?