Heteronormativity of Valentine’s Day (From the Archive)

Sacchi Patel

Co-Founder MasculinityU

February 14, 2011

Today marks an important holiday for Americans as we spend close to $18,000,000,000 to make up for not showing others we love them the other 364 days out of the year. A simple Google search for “Valentine’s Day Gifts” promises to yield more red heart-shaped merchandise than even Cupid intended for. All this isn’t my issue as I no longer contribute to this substantial one-day consumer financial deficit due to low wages and no partner; aka I’m a broke and single grad student. What troubles me much more than spending my textbook money on a sterling silver necklace is the fact that one of our nation’s largest holidays (and one that most Americans seem to observe indiscriminately of religious affiliation) is only intended for part of our population. You see, Valentine’s Day only actually exists in a heterosexist and patriarchal framework also known as “everyday American life”. Valentine’s Day is one of the most Heteronormative displays of our country’s message: members of the LGBTIQ community are not welcome here. This of course is hidden behind chocolate, roses, hearts, and more chocolate.

Capitalism encourages websites and stores to neatly categorizes their items “Gifts for Him” and “Gifts for Her”. This makes life easier for many of us, however it does not make it easier for all of us. In fact, it can actually lead to people feeling out-casted and worthless. Today, I saw a “His & Her” matching pajama set for sale online. Though accommodating for heterosexual couples, imagine how some people of the LGBTIQ community would feel if they saw this at every store or every website that they visited to find something for their partner. Some relationships may have no one who identifies as either a man or a woman. What options would they have? Should this just be their problem since they are gay? Should they have to feel the constant disapproval of their relationship from all of our society with every offer of a blue and pink pajama set? In short, the answer is no.

The fact of the matter is that heterosexuality is a privileged identity, which by virtue of its definition encourages us never to think about anyone who isn’t heterosexual. Heteronormativity encourages us to live life with its advantages and never stop to think how those advantages come to us so easily nor does it allow us to think about who is systemically suffering when we accept those privileges.

Further, Valentine’s Day allows our society to harbor dangerous beliefs that contribute to a system of hegemonic masculinity. The holiday not only teaches us that boys must like girls and vice versa, but it teaches our youth that boys must be the providers for needy girls who must remain submissive. With this thought it is no wonder that these simple ideas can manifest themselves into adulthood that at times can be filled with violence. Additionally, we must challenge all the ways that Valentine’s Day forces us to conform to a binary system as it pertains to gender. We are declaring that only men/boys and women/girls exist or should exist, when in actuality we know that we are leaving many people out

Though it may seem that I am a bitter person who hates love, I assure you that my intent is to spread love. A love to be spread every single day of the year, to every one of us (without leaving anyone out).


What is Heteronormativity?

by Sacchi Patel

MasculinityU Co-Founder

Heteronormativity is a term that’s becoming widely used not just by the academic community, but by activists, social justice advocates and well, really everyone.

Let’s break it down. Hetero means “different” and even further in this definition it implies “heterosexuality.”

Normativity, or something being normative, means that it’s the everyday or mainstream way of life.  In other words, it is normal.

When we put these two concepts together, we can easily see this means that heterosexuality is the normal or natural way of life.  When we use the word normal to describe something we are not only saying that it is something that we are most closely familiar with, but we are also assigning a value system to it.

Heteronormativity operates in our society with the understanding that heterosexuality is the only natural form of sexual orientation and it is the only orientation that is of value to us. Value can then translate into the world being shaped with onlyone type of person in mind; heterosexuals.  Examples of this can be seen everywhere, including marriage and partner benefits, biology and psychology texts, restrooms, living accommodations and rules, holidays like Valentine’s day, and even who can be allowed to raise children.  All of these examples are shaped to only accommodate the “normal” people who identify as heterosexual.

Let’s imagine how difficult it may be to never have your state recognize you loving the person whom you are in an intimate relationship with, or school biology lessons only speaking to “two kinds” of people (male/man and female/woman) and absolutely nothing else and adding that according to nature, they should be having sex with their “opposite match.” Imagine a holiday not recognizing that you could want to give a card or gift to someone that you love intimately rather than someone who “looks the opposite of you.” Imagine getting dirty looks or feeling uncomfortable when using one of only two types of bathrooms “males only” or “females only”.

Heteronormativity assumes that all people are heterosexual. My advice? Let’s not be quick to assume. Use words like “partner” instead of “boy/girl friend.” Don’t assume someone understands your experiences and don’t assume what feels natural or normal for you is natural and normal for someone else.  Let’s be open to talking about this!