It’s time to break up with Valentine's Day

Brands must move away from the heteronormative lens on love, into a broader celebration for all

Abbey Gaunt

Senior Strategist House 337


It's inevitable, isn't it? Everywhere we look, we are bombarded with performative displays of love during February. From balloon ceilings to a vibrator haul, Valentine's Day can make anyone envious of the relationship we have with our significant other, our friends or ourselves. Yet despite the cringe showreels of love online, February 14th has a much more sinister problem.

In recent years, we have watched capitalism manipulate the meaning of Valentine's. It has expanded the day beyond narrow borders which favoured a romantic, heteronormative lens on love, into a broader celebration for all.

With 398.7 million hashtags of 'Galantines' and 54 billion mentions of ‘self-love’ on TikTok, the adoption of a modern-day Valentine's is celebrated and recognised worldwide. However, whilst this progression has made more people feel seen and heard, it has allowed sexism to trickle further into other areas of our lives.

As much as we want to believe that society values all women’s relationships as much as their romantic endeavours, we cannot ignore the signs throughout the year which prove that this is simply not true.

Abbey Gaunt, Senior Strategist, House 337

Whilst brands haphazardly attempt to connect to a broader reach of audiences, they still hyper-focus on women through the male gaze and subject them to traditional sexist standards. For example, Primark recently shared its Valentine's in-store display on Instagram. The section contained lingerie, fluffy heart-shaped pillows, and millennial pink bed sheets. Many women unsurprisingly called out the double standards. One user commented on the post: "Where are the man's Valentine's preparation kits and clothes?" and another user stated, "All in the Ladies' department! Like we have to be the ones who wear all the fancy underwear & PJ sets!"

Regardless of how society and brands want to package up the notion of love this year, whether it is treating yourself to treating friends, the responsibility to carry out acts of love is still the responsibility of women to perform.

And where, might you ask is the male version of Galantines? Originally made famous by Amy Poehler's Leslie Knope in Parks and Recreation, Galantines Day went from a celebration of female friendships in the TV world, into capitalist commodification to sell back to women.

Female friendship is depicted in movies and books alike as a sacred bond. Women are each other’s ride or die in culture. We saw this depicted with none other than Thelma and Louise, the Desperate Housewives covering up a murder to protect each other; The quartet promised to be one another's "soulmates" in Sex and the City, and we blissfully watched three ex-girlfriends group together as they successfully got revenge on the evil John Tucker.

As we know in the real world, friendships are much more complicated than any form of culture can depict. More than ever, social media is presenting us with the notion of cutting out toxic people. This idea gained momentum during the pandemic which gave us the chance to reflect on our relationships. A simple Google search of 'toxic friend' gives us a black-and-white view of how to spot the signs of being in a negative friendship.  Depending on the source, the signs of a toxic friend differ and provide generalist traits such as being 'one-sided.'  Whilst this has helped some women recognise abusive friends or 'frenemies', it is creating a more cutthroat attitude towards our social circles. The bar to keeping each other happy under a generalist view of how a friend should behave is more complex than ever.

For some, Galantines's Day is an act of rebellion against traditional norms and values. For others, it is a chance to simply celebrate our loved ones beyond romantic relationships. However, when friendship is commodified and sold back to women, we shift the relationship we have with each other. It changes our understanding that the values which form the foundation of a friendship (e.g., mutual trust and respect) should not come as a given, but as acts to be rewarded. It further pursues us to create unrealistic and heightened expectations in the world of friendships. If we don't shower each other with rose-scented bath bombs, shiny trinkets, and loud gestures of affirmation on social media, we're somehow not appreciative of all that we do. This new form of expectation at the hands of capitalism only feeds into the level at which we hold friends accountable.

Despite the adaption of Valentine’s Day, the alternatives are just as toxic as the half-baked empowerment slogans of ‘Girl Boss’ and ‘Self Care,’ which appeal to an exclusive group of women. From sanitary brands selling discounted period underwear with a message of ‘treat yourself,’ to Asos selling water bottles for loved ones, the way brands use Galantines is a lazy, simplistic way of marketing. It's time they got more creative to truly resonate with women's hearts and minds.

Once we scratch the surface, the different ways to celebrate the day only cloud the attention and bias we still give to the elite few. Social media's algorithm during this period, for example, will typically favour content which is aesthetically tantalising for the eyes. (Think balloon-filled hotel rooms and flower walkways that fill up our socials). These posts only feed our biases of relationships back to us, centring on middle- and upper-class couples who can afford grand gestures during a cost-of-living crisis.

So, as much as we want to believe that society values all women’s relationships as much as their romantic endeavours, we cannot ignore the signs throughout the year which prove that this is simply not true. The commodification of Valentine's Day is one of the biggest red flags out there.

So, if I've not convinced you to stay the hell away from any form of February 14th this year, let me leave you with this. The standards for which we hold women in society are higher than ever. We do not need any other part of our lives commodified in a simplistic way which heightens expectations of women, yet benefits profits for brands. The least preferred love language in the UK is gift giving at a mere 7%. So brands, put down your candy hearts and leave the lingerie on the nightstand. Break up with Valentine's and swipe right on gestures which let women set their own standards.

Guest Author

Abbey Gaunt

Senior Strategist House 337


Abbey is a full-time Senior Strategist, part-time yogi, and culture vulture. From Rotherham to Peckham, Abbey aims to use her Northern graft to make advertising better from the inside out. With a passion for feminism, she has created brand campaigns that connect to the hearts and minds of female audiences; including Simply Be, Dr.Jart, CHANEL and ASDA George.

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