Smashing the Patriarchy on Valentine’s Day

If your Facebook feed looks anything like mine, you have seen A LOT of valentine memes this week.  I love this whole genre; the cute, weird, pun-filled images remind me of the popular cards made and bought throughout the Victorian period.  Years ago now I remember seeing the dictator card memes like this one:

benkling.com

And I used Puritan valentines like this one in class to talk about what Puritans REALLY believed. (hint: not what this meme implies)

collegehumor.com

Over the past few years, however, I’ve seen a different theme emerging in these memes. Instead of being based on historical characters and sterotypes, these cards encourage readers that:

https://www.etsy.com/shop/katkissickart?fbclid=IwAR0o-_C1XOlvt4GvBJRr_F9JVTge6EOBVEUL91-lV4utkLJ-WmfmBSHzrWo

And other similar sentiments. Joining the Vagina Monologues and Galentine’s Day, these memes indicate that many Americans increasingly see Valentine’s Day as a holiday that should be changed or transformed into a holiday that challenges institutions and norms.

Often, this kind of meme is accompanied by the assertion that the holiday is only a consumption-based, corporation driven, made-up holiday. There is some truth in that–companies that made greeting cards, chocolate and sold flowers were all eager to capitalize on the holiday even in the nineteenth century.

But, this argument flattens consumerism and assumes that the ONLY reason for the holiday is that companies forced it on Americans. Victorian-era Americans liked that Valentine’s Day gave them a day to express emotions and to play with the language of flowers and symbols. They used it as a day to celebrate handmade creations like this:


Unknown , “Poem with Lock of Hair,” Valentines Ephemera Exhibition, accessed February 19, 2019, http://www.americanantiquarian.org/valentinesephemera/items/show/56.

This poem and intricately designed lock of hair expressed personal feelings in a deeply personal way. It was not solely the creation of a consumption-driven company.

Plenty of people have objected to Valentine’s Day over the years. Some have seen it as too sentimental, others to consumerist, some as exclusive, others as crass or silly.

What kind of holiday will Valentine’s Day become? Will it continue to support the idea of monogamous relationships? Will it always be a “candy holiday?” Or will it become a holiday where people challenge norms and assert more universal notions of love and tolerance? I don’t know. But, I’d love to hear your opinions!

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