Thursday, February 17, 2011

Love is a Drag: A Valentine's Day Reflection

Valentine's Day is in a lot of ways, a perfect example of gender role expectations. The media presents the holiday as a time when partners show each other their affection through material products. Radio, television, newspaper, and Internet ads tell us that now is the time for men to splurge on fancy restaurants, chocolates, flowers and diamonds. The media tries to convince us that these things will make for the perfect date. A perfect date that "She" expects.

We hear the word she thrown around a lot in advertising. We hear about what she wants and how to make her happy. She wants flowers. She wants romance. She wants a perfect Valentine's Day. Conversely, we hear about him. He wants to show her that he cares by buying her expensive things. He wants to spoil her. Some ads go as far as suggesting that "he" needs to spoil "her" tonight so that she will spoil him after with what he really wants. These not-so-subtle allusions to sex are in some advertisements the selling point.

My question is, who are these people? Who is she and he? Since when is there a universal man and woman? These questions are hardly revelations. Americans live in a binary gender culture. We recognize in the mainstream only masculine and feminine individuals. Furthermore, we place harsh restrictions on what those gender definitions are.

From an advertising perspective, women are materialistic, vain, emotional, romantic. We are expected to demand gifts from our partners as proof of their affection. Men are expected not only to provide these artifacts of love, but also to do so in order to bribe their partner to sleep with them. Men are represented as shallow, manipulative, and insincere.

I am concerned less with the celebration of Valentine's Day than with the gender stereotypes that are reinforced. I am certainly not someone who dreads the holiday, bashes it, wishes it removed from existence, allows it to affect my entire February, etc. However, I do think that the media uses Valentine's Day as a vessel for enculturing individuals with dangerous and offensive gender stereotypes.

This Valentine's Day, I celebrated in a way that would not have occurred to me a year ago. Metropolitan State University hosted a benefit drag show for the Trevor Project. I went with a classmate of mine and ran into several more there. We watched as drag queens danced, lip synced, and strutted around the room. The event was immensely entertaining. I admit that much of my enjoyment came from the idea of the contradiction of a drag show hosted on a holiday that aggressively encourages binary gender assimilation.

Apart from the wittiness of the show's hosts, the glitz of the queens, and the beat driven music, the crowd helped make the event enjoyable. I noticed an overwhelming sense of inclusiveness. Everyone was smiling and clapping. Many of the audience members were people I have met. I know that they came from  a cornucopia of backgrounds and had diverse identities. We had all come together to challenge gender stereotypes in a positive environment.

All of the tips earned by the performers, (somewhere around $300.00) are being sent to The Trevor Project. This organization works with homosexual youth and their parents. They provide resources for accurate information as well as outreach services like suicide prevention programs. Below I have added a link for additional information on The Trevor Project as well as a link to the It Gets Better Campaign started by Dan Savage. It Gets Better seeks to send homosexual youth the message that life is worth living even though circumstances are difficult. I urge you to spend some time listening to the powerful messages at this site.


  1. The media and advertising perspective of Valentines Day is also incredibly heterosexist. I know that's kinda obvious, but the HE wants to buy things for HER to make the night special thing implies that HE and HER is the only way that romantic relationships happen. And they happen in this very socially constructed sexist way.

    And really, how many people can afford to get diamonds or really expensive roses for one day, that society says is the day to show your love. Classism.

    It's all so interconnected, and frustrating.

  2. Thank you, Jo. I actually meant to add a bit about the heterosexist nature of Valentine's Day, I regret not managing to touch on this. You raise an interesting point. Our society forces heterosexuality as the normalicy. By ignoring variation in sexuality, society portrays it as immoral, deviant, unhealthy, etc.