It’s a familiar time of year when Hallmark cards are decorated with red hearts, beautiful bouquets of flowers line up windows and heart shaped chocolates fill store aisles. It’s Valentines Day and this long lasting holiday also brings about another thing of the past: gender roles.
The numerous stereotypes brought on during Valentines season are just another reminder of how men and women are “supposed” to act, especially in a romantic relationship. It begins from a young age, in countless school classrooms. Children participate in giving out valentines to all their classmates and we see the gender normative options they are given. Boys are given dark cards with superheroes and monster trucks while girls are offered cards painted with varying pinks and reds full of princesses and flowers. Young schoolboys give the best candy to their crushes and young girls hope the cutest boy will give them a valentine. It is planting the seed for what adult heterosexual relationships “should” be. We see countless images of the male courting the female as she waits, pining for a valentine.
We foster the idea that boys only like dark colors and traditionally masculine hobbies and that girls prefer light colors and have traditionally feminine interests. Why should we encourage a holiday that limits boys and girls in how they should act in relationships and what their interests should be? Children already feel the pressure of gender roles 365 days a year but it is only magnified during the Valentines season.
Rather than a day of love, Valentine’s day has become a show of the roles men and women are pressured to take on in this society. If a single woman does not have a man ready to shower her with affections and gifts society condemns her, she is viewed as alone and undesirable. Yet, it is not conventional for a woman to search for a Valentine because that is the role of the male, the dominant role. Men are not subjected to the same pressure to have a valentine because for them being single does not translate into being unwanted.
In established relationships, gender roles and stereotypes are even more toxic. According to numerous ads and movies, men are aloof and prefer not to showcase their affection and emotions, not even to their significant other—which is why Valentines Day is the day for them to finally do this. This in itself is a problematic concept, why do we assume that men are not as loving as women? Why do many not recognize that this is a troubling belief, which limits men and their actions in a relationship?
Men are human beings who need just as much emotional support as women and should be able to display their affections just as openly. Yet in the media we see many men dread the “mushiness” and “touchy-feeliness” of this holiday, while also being intimidated by the expectations of their female partners.
Valentine’s Day also reinforces the idea that women are emotionally needy and care more about the holiday than men do. The belief that women need their partner to show them affection and abide by the protocol of Valentine’s Day to prove their love. This is usually done through romantic gestures such as flowers, chocolates, jewelry and other.
When we portray women as individuals who need evidence of their partner’s love we tell young girls that their relationships need to function in the confines of dominant and submissive roles; with the man being assertive and courting the woman who stays flirtatious and ready for his advances.
Ian Morrison, professor of sociology at the American University in Cairo, talks about how the media perpetuates these ideas.
“Ads generally show that women care a lot about Valentine’s day, while men are prone to forgetting this holiday, inevitably angering their partner, which requires them to make a grand and expensive gesture. Thus the commercialization of the holiday reinforces and relies on a traditional, heteronormative understanding of gender roles and characteristics.” Morrison said.
It’s sad to see that a holiday meant to celebrate love has become a day to reinforce the ideas of how men and women are supposed to act. Gender roles are boxes meant to make society simpler by designating actions and personalities to human beings that are diversely different. Many of us are trying to destroy them but when you put people in boxes it’s hard for them to escape, no matter how hard they beat against the walls.