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February 11, 2005

A Feminist Perspective on Valentine's Day, Part II

I already wrote a post about Valentine's Day from a feminist perspective, but another unrelated post inspired me to write a second one.

I linked to an article about guys buying roses for their true loves from gas stations. I think that's tacky. I still do, even after I read my comments to that post. Maybe it's because I grew up in a working class home, and knew guys who bought roses for their true loves from gas stations. These are people who used to set off M-80s in their yards and throw them into the nearby river to hear them hiss. You don't want to know how many accidents my cousins have averted while setting off fireworks on the Fourth of July. One of my cousins used to get the hose out when her brother started the fireworks show. Once Bucky lit a fuse, everyone moved their lawn chairs back fifty feet. He usually caught at least one tree on fire.

So guys, would you buy your true love a rose from a gas station? And would you tell her you bought it after you filled up the tank? If so, why, and what was her reaction? If not, why not? How is this a feminist issue?

Maybe this is a class thing, and class is definitely a feminist issue. White, middle-class feminists have been criticized for being classist. It's a fair criticism. I wouldn't want to get a rose from a gas station because, I admit, I'm a snob. I'm solidly middle-class now (at least until Bush's "reforms" take effect. I could sink any moment now.), and I admit I have sometimes had a case of class snobbery. I like flowers from a flower shop, even if it's the flower shop at the local grocery store. The flowers at the grocery store in my neighborhood are more fresh than the roses at the gas station, and there is more variety. They are often on sale. It's convenient. You can buy your milk, bag of Reese's Cups, condoms, and porterhouse steaks, and stop for a bouquet of field flowers that are likely to be a dollar off without having to go near a gas station. One-stop-shopping is your friend.

Clancy from Culture Cat brought up something I forgot about. She mentioned rose peddlers in bars. I completely forgot about them, since I haven't been to a bar in years. I'm sure there will be plenty of couples in bars on Valentine's Day, and those peddlars will be busy guilt-tripping tipsy guys into buying a wilted rose for their women as they sit there listening to some lone guy on a guitar singing Bob Dylan songs. I remember these rose peddlers. They walk right up to you and ask for five dollars for a rose. When the guy turns away without answering, the peddler takes him to task for not buying a rose for his true love. The Poor Guy is guilt-tripped into spending a five spot for a half-dead flower. It doesn't help that the woman he is with often gets all moony on him when he won't blow the five bucks. She's frequently just as tipsy as he is. Those peddlers have quite a racket going. I saw them over ten years ago in bars. Business is booming after all these years.

Why so much focus on giving flowers for Valentine's Day anyway? Does the idea of buying an expensive dozen roses appeal to the snob in you (and me)? I personally don't want a dozen roses and the baby's breath that go with them. That's just not me. However, if I were given them, I'd gladly accept them. That appeals to the snob in me. That said, if I were to get flowers, I'd prefer either a live plant (I'm all green thumbs. You should see my garden in the spring and summer.) or unusual flowers like liatris and stasis. Plus, they're cheap. If you really want to go snob, buy huge white calla lilies, not roses. I think I'm reacting to the class issues inherent in buying something expensive like that. Likewise, I wouldn't have any idea what to do with a diamond tennis bracelet. Where the heck would I wear it? To the library? The grocery story? Blockbuster? I wear velvet stretch pants and stage union black t-shirts most of the time, so a diamond tennis bracelet would look very silly on me.

Feminism has long been criticized for being a middle-class white women's movement, and I think that in some ways Valentine's Day can bring that criticism to light. Some of the reactions against buying a dozen roses, tennis bracelets, $300 diamond earrings advertized by de Beers, and expensive dinners and champagne could definitely be about appeal to class snobbery. I'm very tempted to give in, but I and my husband really don't have the money for that. Still, the thought is there that "if you don't spend a couple hundred dollars on her, you don't really care."

Ah, the joys of marketing.

Also, the focus is on the guys buying expensive trinkets for their true loves. Women aren't marketed in the same way. Those diamond commercials always show a grateful, attractive, young, middle-class white woman getting an expensive trinket from a man who is (presumably) her husband. The guys are expected to dish out the cash. This is a very materialistic society, and Valentine's Day takes advantage of that.

So, guys, if you want to avoid the Valentine's Day classist hype, buy your true love a rose from a gas station. Pick up a few Necco wafers, Mallo Bars, and Moon Pies while you're at it. Pig out. Better yet, just be at home with her on Valentine's Day. Both of you could cook up a nice dinner - something you two should be doing all the time anyway, since I would hope that treating yourselves to scrumptious meals isn't something done only once per year. Watch a movie or listen to some nice, romantic music. Make love. I think the best way to treat Valentine's Day is to realize that you don't have to make things really nice only one day per year. Both of you could easily make every day Valentine's Day.

Me? I prefer to make every day Halloween. You get more candy, and the dressing-up is more fun. :)

Posted on February 11, 2005 at 04:35 PM | Permalink


And the Halloween candy tastes a lot better than the goop-infested type that's out at VD.

Posted by: Jennifer at Feb 11, 2005 4:42:25 PM

Plus, they always have those big bags of Halloween candy on sale. I always stock up on Butterfingers and Mounds. Alas, they don't last long with me in the house.

Posted by: Trish Wilson at Feb 11, 2005 4:50:46 PM

Oh, Easter is fun too. I stock up on Rubber Bunnies (marshmallow peeps).

I admit it. I'm a candy snob too. ;)

Posted by: Trish Wilson at Feb 11, 2005 4:51:29 PM

She mentioned rose peddlers in bars.

Ah, yes, the rose sellers. I once went to a bar with a guy who felt it necessary to tell me that while I was in the bathroom, a rose seller came around, but he didn't want to spend the two bucks on a rose.

Aw, what a guy.

Posted by: zuzu at Feb 11, 2005 5:09:19 PM

Two bucks? The price went down. Those roses were five bucks in Fell's Point.

Maybe it's where I lived. The area was rather hoity-toity, even before Fell's Point went Yuppie.

Posted by: Trish Wilson at Feb 11, 2005 5:15:15 PM

I like your Halloween idea. It's my favorite holiday. Valentine's day is my least favorite. I hate it. It's really not much fun single or not single. If you're single you spend a week wondering what you're not doing right. If you're taken, it's too much pressure & too much materialism. Yet you pretty much have to go along, have to put a good face on it. I'm really not looking forward to it. Plus, buying flowers is a huge waste of money IMO. The only reason I've ever bought flowers is because it's been important to the woman recieving them. Still felt like chump about it.

Posted by: Ron O at Feb 11, 2005 5:32:32 PM

I think it's worse if you're single, Ron. You wonder why you aren't hooked up with someone. If you are hooked up or married, you can do what you want with VD, but there is still the pressure to spend too much money. I don't know what we're going to do for Valentine's Day. Probably the same thing we do every other day - watch my tapes of CSI and SVU and eat too much junk food. My husband hates holidays because they're commercialized. At the same time, he'll be pissed if I forget his birthday. ;) I like Valentine's Day because it's symbolic. However, like you, my favorite holiday is Halloween. Scary and fun. And I will use any excuse to watch a good horror movie.

Posted by: Trish Wilson at Feb 11, 2005 5:40:35 PM

I want to hear from more guys who bought their true loves roses from gas stations. I heard from one. The ratty bears attached to the roses wouldn't do it for me. It would have to be a plush kitty cat, but I'm obsessive about that. Everyone knows how much I like cats. I buy my son a plush kittie nearly every holiday, but I haven't seen any for VD so I might pass this time. He already has hundreds anyway.

Posted by: Trish Wilson at Feb 11, 2005 5:56:27 PM

I don't know if Hub has ever bought flowers from a gas station. I know he's bought them at the grocery store! I don't generally care for roses unless they're on a bush. Would much rather have a bunch of different flowers. My favorite florist closed about 5 years ago (they used to have those HUGE snapdragons....) so ever since then he's been at a loss, LOL...

Posted by: Moi ;) at Feb 11, 2005 11:51:35 PM

Hey BTW I have a friend who needs to get rid of her cat. Daughter's allergic. :( He's a nice cat.....goes outside, too....Want to give your son a Real kitty?

Posted by: Moi ;) at Feb 11, 2005 11:53:21 PM

"If you're taken, it's too much pressure & too much materialism. Yet you pretty much have to go along, have to put a good face on it. I'm really not looking forward to it. Plus, buying flowers is a huge waste of money IMO. The only reason I've ever bought flowers is because it's been important to the woman recieving them. Still felt like chump about it."

But isn't it obvious what a woman is looking for is some validation of the relationship itself, that the clump of flowers IS meaningless really?

It is...but I think guys do it to avoid the validation part...as it's easier to just grab some flowers, rather then to spend time...

I mean what about a nice restaurant OR what about taking a day off from work w/o telling her and buying and cooking a great dinner just for the two of you when she comes home? Why is doing things like this meaningless?

I'll agree flowers and even chocolates ARE meaningless, (and I LOVE chocolate so that's a big admission) but the validation part isn't...the time and effort put into doing something special isn't...

So the holiday's just an excuse to do something special for the woman in your life...do IT...don't buy flowers DO SOMETHING SPECIAL...

Posted by: NYMOM at Feb 12, 2005 12:38:48 AM

Moi, if we took in another kitty it would look like a cat rescue house here. LOL I'd have to call myself the "crazy cat lady." I hear that's a Simpson's thing.

Posted by: Trish Wilson at Feb 12, 2005 9:37:54 AM

Two bucks? The price went down. Those roses were five bucks in Fell's Point.

Maybe it's where I lived. The area was rather hoity-toity, even before Fell's Point went Yuppie.

Yeah, this was in a dive bar in the part of Connecticut that's NOT the stereotypical old-money part.

I've never had much luck with Valentine's Day. I never seem to be with anyone when it rolls around, except for the guy I broke up with on that day. And the won't-spend-two-bucks-on-a-wilted-rose guy, who nevertheless bought me some really tacky teddy bears, but that wasn't specifically for VD.

At least there's a good, bloody history to the day, between St. Valentine himself and the Massacre.

Posted by: zuzu at Feb 12, 2005 11:15:18 AM

haha! This reminds me that one time a guy called me from a gas station to make last minute plans. I was completely digusted by that and said so. He was confused as to why and assured me that the gas station was clean and well kept with blue tile, red brick face, and manicured grounds... and the pay phone was a white slim-lined telephone with last number automatic redial.. haha. (Or something like that, I'm embellishing of course - for those who don't recognize the Keeping Up Appearances reference.) Ironically, it was exactly this time of year. heh. He wasn't much of a gentleman though he worked very, very hard to pass himself off as uppity.

To be fair though, many men are so clueless as to appropriateness and niceties.
And a lot of people fail to realize that even the appearance of impropriety can be damning in such social situations.

That said, if a guy bought me flowers from a gas station, and I didn't know about it, how could I care? If I did know about it... It would depend upon how well-kept the gas station was. For example, if the gas station had well-manicured grounds, clean tile floors, and a white slim line telephone with last number automatic redial. hah.
Actually, I'm being serious in a way...

I think there's usually "extenuating circumstances". If the gentleman is generally half-assed and unconsciencious in his dealings with the lady, then flowers from a gas station might be "the last straw". And even flowers from the finest florist might not be able to make up for the rest of his ungentlemanlike behaviour.
Whereas a guy who's generally on the up & up, quite consciencious, very reliable, and very gentlemanly - flowers from a gas station might not be neither here nor there to the lady.

That said, I'm not big on flowers as romantic, even though of course I like flowers & plants. They're very pretty, after all. But I would much rather the guy spend any significant chunk of money on something more practical. A flower or 2 seems very nice to me... But when it comes to spending $60+ for a dozen roses, that seems terribly frivolous to me. Even if the gentleman has a very high income, I just think that money could be better spent - even if he was to donate it to my favourite charity in my name! And to me, 2 or 3 flowers are just as pretty, and wilt just as fast as 12.

And there truly are much better ways to show you care than making bad financial decisions!
So don't even get me started on the subject of diamonds! heh.

At any rate, I'm now hungry for pink marshmallow bunnies. Knowing the marketplace today though, considering Lent has started, they probably are available for sale already. haha.

Posted by: Chloe at Feb 12, 2005 11:19:16 AM

actually, i think you're dead on with the classism idea; VD advertising gets pretty snobby, uppity, "pretend you can afford to buy something tasteful", where "tasteful" seems to be defined as "something you can't afford" - at least from where i'm looking at it.

but then, i'm solidly lower-class myself. being an immigrant in the USA, it's not very likely i'll ever manage to do any social climbing, either. my wife did love the cheap, tacky, gas station-bought flower i gave her, but that may be because she's just as self-referentially ironic about our social status as i am.

(we're the sort of people who live in a trailer park and laugh at our neighbours. in case anyone has any doubts, most of the prejudices people have about trailer park dwellers are entirely true. i could tell some tales... or you could just watch King of the Hill. we do.)

i know if i ever gave her anything with a diamond in it, she'd hand me my head in short order. not just because i would've had to blow our budget to get it, but because it would mean giving in to some advertiser's notion of what a "good life" looks like - and making an assumption that she had given in, too - a notion so far removed from how we actually live day to day that our only connection with it so far has been to make fun of it.

Posted by: Nomen Nescio at Feb 12, 2005 5:31:56 PM

I used to get my gal roses on Valentines day, but then I went to Eve Ensler's V-Day and decided that I really should never buy a Vagina Warrior anything ever again.

Posted by: Iguana at Feb 14, 2005 4:39:27 AM

Nice post.
In Japan, where I live, only women buy chocolate for men on Valentine's Day. Then on March 19th, men are supposed to buy stuff for women. It's called White Day. It's over-the-top commercialism.

Posted by: JK at Feb 21, 2005 9:37:20 AM

"I used to get my gal roses on Valentines day, but then I went to Eve Ensler's V-Day and decided that I really should never buy a Vagina Warrior anything ever again."

For anyone who believes THAT story I have a wonderful bridge to sell you in Brooklyn...

Posted by: NYMOM at Feb 21, 2005 9:47:00 AM