14 February 2011

My Valentine

A lot of people don't like Valentine's Day. I can kind of take it or leave it, myself; you know, there are objections and crass consumerism, and I'm really against taking it too seriously, but there are certain things I really like. My family always takes the time to be affectionate on Valentine's Day, and on a personal level I like being reminded to appreciate the good people in my life. And it's a reminder to me to be good to myself, and take care of myself.

One thing that annoys me is the stigma attached to "taking care of myself" on Valentine's Day. You know, I've taken myself out to dinner and to the movies (hell, I've taken myself to a weekend in Paris), so maybe myself and I just have a bizarre relationship. But one of the tricky things to me about having an adult outlook is the apparent dichotomy between taking responsibility for a variety of things -- i.e., not being a slacker -- and saying no to overcommitment and putting one's health, including mental health, first. I struggle with this, and I know others do too.

So I like that there's a day when I'm reminded to not be hard on myself, and to appreciate the work that I put in to making myself happy. And yes, I agree with those who argue that you should remember to do that every day, instead of a greeting-card-mandated holiday. And I try. But there's nothing wrong with a special occasion, and there are only a few days a year when I make the extra effort to have that attitude.

Some of the ways I take care of myself are High Minded and Intellectual. Some aren't. I wish there weren't so much stigma surrounding the second kind.

I don't have a significant other right now, and I haven't for quite awhile. One of the ways I respond to Valentine's Day is by wearing one of my favorite T-shirts, the one that says "Explain to me again why I need a boyfriend." But that doesn't mean I don't like and appreciate romantic love, and if there isn't any in my life (and there's no rule that there should be) I can appreciate it in fiction. (Well, I appreciate it on behalf of my friends who have it, but there's a creepy line there.) So I like certain kinds of romantic entertainment; there's a lot I don't like but I enjoy the occasional romance novel or rom-com, and you know I'm all up in Castle and Beckett's personal lives.

Which brings me to the stigma thing. I'm allergic to cats, but otherwise I fit a lot of the "pathetic single lady" stereotypes. That T-shirt, that I love -- a character in a movie wearing that t-shirt can be assumed to be a man-hater (or maybe a lesbian, which is awesome, but which I'm not), or someone deep in denial about needing a romantic partner, or both. The Jennifer Crusie novel on my bedside table would signify being shy, awkward, and in need of a makeover. The amount of enjoyment I take from certain TV shows or movies -- well, that's a geek who will never interact normally in the world. And don't get me started on the fact that I knit.

I don't think those stereotypes apply to me. But the fact that they spring to mind immediately with a lot of the activities that give me pleasure -- and in hyper relief on this particular day, as opposed to any other day -- means I have spend some time defending my own fun even to myself. And that is un-fun.

I've been reading a lot about gender (and racial) stereotyping recently -- go nab yourself a copy of Fine's Delusions of Gender; it knocked my socks off -- and one thing that I find interesting is that the more mental energy you spend suppressing your worries that you may fit a certain negative stereotype, the more likely you are to fit it inadvertently, because you're uncomfortable and prone to mistakes. (In studies, men and women were given the same math test in two groups. One group was merely given the test. The second group was told that women often do worse on math tests than men, but that this test was specifically designed to compensate and women scored just as well as men. The tests were the same, but the scores of women in the second group were significantly higher. Interesting, no? While you're up, grab yourself a copy of Steele's Whistling Vivaldi.)

So I love that I'm reminded to take time for myself on this day, and I love that I am reminded to tell the people close to me that I love them and that they're special. And I love that I have really supportive people in my life, who do the same for me. And I don't like that as I take care of myself, the things I do to make myself happy stereotype me in nasty ways, and on this day of all days, I have to fight doubly hard to not let those stereotypes bog me down.

I fight it by taking care of myself anyway, and it teaches me a lot about owning the things that make me happy. And I can be happy about that, too.

(Of course, fighting it by ignoring the day all together is another solid strategy.)


  1. That was an extremely nice post. Bravo! And a second bravo for having a happy Valentine's.

    A lot of stereotypes and a lot of base reactions tend to be (A) outmoded holdovers from our species' infancy; or (B) deliberate fictions designed to tap into outmoded holdovers from our species' infancy; or (C) in some cases a little of both. For instance prejudice against women in America in the 1900s alone changed its tenor dramatically during WWI, changed to something else entirely during WWII, and shifted once again after WWII. Same stupid schema manipulated into different conformations to suit the times.

    But the time has come to put away childish things (especially if they are being used to manipulate us).

    Afterthought: Never got around to reading the Fine book, although I have wanted to ever since I saw it in a certain bookshop in Santa Fe. Have heard varying reports on it and especially criticism re: using bad science to combat bad science and conflating sex & gender. But your endorsement is definitely enough to make it worth adding it to the to do list (y'know between all the exams and HIV research that are going to crush me like a bug this semester...).

  2. You mention the WWI and WWII stuff -- there's an example that I just found out about that totally struck me. Do you know the musical "Annie Get Your Gun"? Lots of potential -- Annie Oakley! the song "Anything You Can Do"! -- but if you watch the movie, the end will make you want to stab yourself. (Spoiler! She deliberately loses a shooting contest with her love interest, so that he'll think he's the better marksman -- despite an entire play's worth of evidence to the contrary -- because that way he'll marry her, and that's more important. It even gets explained to her by a magic savage.) Now, in real life, Frank Butler and Annie Oakley did get married, and he gave up his career for hers, because she was by far the better marksman (or at the very least the better performer). The original ending of the musical reflects that; when she begins to "lose" the shooting contest he realizes that he's being an idiot and blah blah blah. The ending of the movie was deliberately changed, because it came out in the fifties, and it was designed as a piece of propaganda to make women remember that no matter how good they might be at something, their place was in the home, and having a husband was the important part. Knowing all that makes it so much more interesting.

    As for the Fine book -- well. I'm not hyper in tune with the differences between sex and gender, so she very well might have conflated them; and I did not do detailed research into how good her science was. I do feel pretty confident that she was fighting bad science, and of course it helps that I agree with her premises. There are a couple of middle chapters that get a little repetitive, where she deconstructs a lot of neuroscience findings and doesn't seem to offer any alternative, and it ends up as preaching to the choir a bit ("You can't trust this study. Or this study. Or this one. Remember the reasons I gave you for not trusting the first one? Those same reasons again." Okay, I get it.) So I'm not equipped to argue too much in favor of her science, but her approach is good, her writing is very good, and she deconstructs some things that very much need deconstructing. My favorite part was actually the third section, about parenting and "gender-neutral" kids; that felt more solid to me than the neuroscience, for which I don't have a solid context. I just got her previous book from the library, but I'm not far enough in it yet to have an opinion.

  3. >_< Blogger just ate a lengthy response to this.

    That is a very interesting insight about the film, and it fits into the whole marginalizing women out of the workforce campaign that was in full swing after WWII

    As for the sex and gender thing, I'll do a write up on it sometime. Short version: sex is a binary biological distinction based on genetics. And there are legitimate hardline differences between male and female, including in neurobiology. Gender is a psychosocial, fuzzy, spectrum issue and man and woman are constructs within it. And moreover it is a concept that is falling apart. In an attempt to clothe its naked villainy with old odd ends, stol'n forth of the holy writ of biology, gender tries to conflate itself with sex. But it would be, in my opinion, in error to attack sex in pursuit of moving beyond gender.

    We could go a long way to making this muddy issue clear if we, as a society, would stop marginalizing the transgendered community. Just because you are male doesn't mean you are a man. Just because you are female does not mean you are a woman. And moreover it is a false dichotomy to pretend people have to choose.

    That's my 2 cents anyway. I will be sure to take a look at the Fine book if I can get my hands on a copy.

    Aaaaand now I am going to be late for class!!!