Be my Valentine, please

It is soon to be Valentine’s Day and the air will be filled with what will be a blissful buzz in classrooms, humming in living rooms and bedrooms across Canada. It is the day when we are invited to express our feelings of affection for people we like, or even love and it is a fine sentiment reminding us of how much we do care about the people in our lives. But, the sub-text of Valentine’s Day is even more interesting and such rituals reflect just how our society thinks about love.

These days, it is a rare thing; sitting down and writing special note to others, expressing our deepest feelings and affections. With texting and e-mail letter-writing is sadly a thing of the past. Instead of creatively saying exactly how we may feel about others we buy a mass-produced Valentine’s Day card that may approximate our feelings, or at least the card will say something socially acceptable.

Such cards are an abbreviated, somewhat sanitized expression of our feelings while our deeply personal feelings are conveniently removed. While the cards’ messages may be drained of personal feelings, they are certainly required reading for an annual review course on the romance and the mysteries of love. Valentine’s Day cards reveal much about the social construction of love and romance here in Canada, and they may even tell us how to be men and women in love.

Spend a moment or two in front of those racks of Valentine cards and the first thing you do notice is that the color of love is pink or red, and such does suggest that even though a men may participate in Valentine’s Day rituals, it is essentially a day dedicated to women. Measure such feminine components yourself: red ribbons, red roses, red hearts, etc. And of course, there are bouquets of flowers (often red roses), fiery red ribbons, “teddies”, as well as those other adorable animal “crushables.” Yet, none of them suggesting animalistic urges, rather, they are irresistibly “Valentine’s Day” cute.

And the sentiments inside the many cards suggest, again, a feminine flavor to it all since we all know “Men can’t write poetry.” Look at the cards — rarely do they picture well-toned wrestlers, muscular boxers, “hard-hatted” construction workers, or soccer/football/hockey “hulks,” or even lawyers with briefcases or physicians with a stethoscope.

Some cards are honest enough to acknowledge the gender differences in this world of emotional expressions and feelings. In one card suggesting sibling affection, a sister tells her brother: “I know how much you hate those ‘mushy how-much-you-mean-to-me stuff’, so Happy Valentine’s Day, Butthead.” Another begins, “I hope you’re not embarrassed by a card that says something ‘warm and mushy’.” On the inside it simply says: “Oatmeal.” Clearly, men are emotionally repressed.

Another card has a more reassuring note: “To my husband on Valentine’s Day. I know men have a hard time expressing their feelings in words, but don’t worry, that’s what expensive gifts are for.” All of this reinforces the thought that women are in touch with their feelings and men are still at some Neanderthal level, groping their cave-ward way toward more open emotional expressiveness.

Valentines also have embedded in them certain social expectations regarding gender roles. For example, cards for mothers and fathers on Valentine’s Day differ radically. Both parents are appreciated for a general sort of love, kindness and support. But cards for mother often thank her for her hard work and specific forms of infant care, diapering, bathing, emergency health care, etc.; supposedly, things only she can offer her children. One card says, “For Valentine’s Day, Mom, here’s something you don’t have to dust, hang up, hose down or put away. It’s a heart full of love for the most wonderful Mom in the world.”

Cards for Dad are seldom as specific. It is as if no one of us is quite sure what Dads are good for, or exactly sure what Dads should do. When cards thank Dad for something specific it tends to be for hikes, camp outings and playing catch; all great fun. Mom seems to be the daily drudge while Dad seems to be the omnipresent, as well as perpetual, playmate.

Other gender roles emerge as well. On one card a casually dressed woman says: “Happy Valentine’s Day. I couldn’t have found a better husband than you.” Inside is the punch line: “And you know what an experienced shopper I am.”

Valentine’s Day card messages leave no doubt about where and how we can shop for the very heart of Canadian culture. So whatever your role and whatever your gender I wish you a very Happy Valentine’s Day.

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