Gender and Sexuality Column

From Valentine’s Day to Galentine’s Day: Finding self-love this holiday season

At some point along the line, women started confusing V-Day with D-Day.

In a culture saturated with glorified, Instagram-worthy images of the “perfect” couples, it’s time we start looking at ourselves as “goals” rather than a pixelated image planted on our smart phones.

Valentine’s Day — the day Hallmark longs for 364 days of the year — has outdated itself in recent years with its sappy cards, expensive flowers and chocolate candies that make more of an impact on a wallet than a love life. In its wake, we meet Galentine’s Day, a cultural middle finger from women across the country directed at the social institutions that for too long have equated being single with loneliness.

The term Galentine’s Day was coined in a 2010 “Parks and Recreation” episode and has gained momentum in the last few years as a feminist alternative to a holiday that has utilized women’s self-esteem as a punching bag. Through the media and advertising, we’ve become accustomed to the sociocultural expectations that we aren’t enough for ourselves if we aren’t enough for someone else.

Rebecca Ortiz, a professor of advertising at Syracuse University who specializes in health communication campaigns, said the cultural expectations to be in a relationship on Valentine’s Day serve as unrealistic expectations as to what a true, happy relationship is.

“There’s always been pressure, especially when you’re younger and there’s this feeling of ‘you’re not as worthy if you don’t have a mate during this,’” Ortiz said. “If I’m in a relationship, I feel like I have to do something, and if I’m not, then I feel lesser than.”

As society has shifted toward viewing Valentine’s Day through a more satirical lens, Ortiz said the real challenge for advertisers has been to find a way to appeal to a new niche audience that hates the conventionalism of a holiday rooted in heteronormative traditions. Marketers have taken advantage of the fact that not only heterosexual relationships can buy into Valentine’s Day, Ortiz said, and have reached out to other markets to sell the idea.

“What’s wonderful about some of the openness in discussions about sexuality, gender identity and orientation is that it doesn’t have to be in the traditional sense of a man buying chocolates and flowers and those kinds of things for a woman,” she said.

There’s still value to Valentine’s Day beyond its marketing value, though, even if it doesn’t have a clean record when it comes to the cultural expectations of a good relationship. The key to mastering Valentine’s Day is finding a balance to enjoy the festivities — whether you’re single or cuffed — without feeling like your relationship status on Facebook is a testament to your worthiness as a human being.

Too often, we find ourselves seeking inspiration from social media for cues on how our lives and relationships ought to look. When we base our perceptions of relationships off of social media, Ortiz said we’re looking at the illusion of a coupling versus the reality of it.

“We’re constantly making social comparisons of ourselves to others,” Ortiz said. “There’s still a certain amount of pressure to appear as if you’re in some fantastical relationship where everybody is happy. The reality of it is, I don’t think that’s really happening.”

Women are often reduced to the sexual and romanticized versions of themselves, the ones that seem most compelling and alluring to men. As times and attitudes have progressed, there’s been a refreshing shift toward seeking out self-love in place of the romantic kind.

Like “Parks and Recreation” protagonist Leslie Knope said about Galentine’s Day: “Ladies celebrating ladies. It’s like Lilith Fair, minus the angst. Plus frittatas.”

Ladies celebrating ladies? Signed, sealed, delivered — I’m yours.

Kelsey Thompson is a sophomore magazine journalism major. Her column appears weekly. She can be reached at katho101@syr.edu.

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