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Sexism, Stereotypes Fill Valentine's Day: Are Americans Stuck in a 'Mad Men' Dating Mentality?

Although many complain about the cheesy nature of Valentine’s Day (or Singles’ Awareness Day!), my least favorite aspect of the holiday is not the overused greeting cards and chocolate. Rather, it is the fact that Valentine’s Day offers the media a chance to rehash every gender stereotype possible, and I have to sit and listen to every one. Some of the articles I’ve run across this past week have made me question whether I’m living in 2012 or the 1950s-era misogynistic times of Mad Men.

I get that some of these articles and ads are supposed to be lighthearted. I get that some of it is supposed to be just funny. But they’re not. They’re a perpetuation of stereotypes from another decade and I’m just sick and tired of advice that assumes all women and all men want the same things. Although we often talk about women’s progress in terms of representation in politics, business, and other professional spheres, personal relationships seem to be the area that we have made the least amount of progress in when it comes to breaking gender stereotypes and creating a more nuanced and realistic idea of gender roles in a relationship.

These stereotypes exist in everyday media as well, of course, but they come out in full force in particular every February 14. The first article that inspired my recent frustration I discovered thanks to a PolicyMic MicCheck e-mail. This gem, titled “How to Date a Wall Street Man,” I found hilarious based on the headline and forwarded to my investment banker friends. When I actually started reading the article, though, I ran across advice like “…you should be confident and avoid being a pushover but, at the same time, you shouldn’t be difficult. You need to be accommodating to his schedule and time constraints or he will get frustrated and find another woman.” By this point in the article, I assumed the whole thing was meant to be a joke poking fun at dating advice from another time; turns out, it wasn’t. It immediately reminded me of the widely-circulated “The Good Wife’s Guide” supposedly published in a 1955 issue of Housekeeping Monthly that gives advice to women like, “Greet him with a warm smile and show sincerity in your desire to please him.” (Though some think the guide was never really published and was a hoax, nobody can argue that it was not based off of real expectations and assumptions about a woman’s role at the time). Apparently, these expectations and assumptions have shifted little.

The other sexism-fueled stereotype that caught my eye was a Teleflora advertisement  first aired at this year's Super Bowl, and which has been played on various TV stations since, where a sensual Adriana Lima assures guys that “Valentine’s Day is not that complicated. Give…and you shall receive.” 

Lesson? Men buy women pretty things. Women, as reward, sleep with men. So many people found the ad offensive that the feminist organization MissRepresentation.org has instituted a boycott of Teleflora flowers for Valentine’s Day. 

The stereotyping does work the other way as well in some cases. An article on Huffington Post offered a guide to men for proposing on Valentine’s Day, which included the suggestion to perhaps employ a “proposal planner,” which is apparently an emerging sector of the wedding industry. A proposal planner? Clearly, a romantic show is the only way a man will be able to win over a woman and gain her acceptance, and he should feel pressured to pamper her in every way. And, of course, all women want and expect a romantic show, or it’s just not love.

I still just find it hard to believe that we have yet to move on from the 1950s subservient housewife/breadwinning, domineering husband mentality when it comes to relationships. I have yet to read a Valentine’s Day ad or advice column that acknowledges in any way that both sexes exhibit all kinds of personality traits, habits in a relationship, and can fulfill different roles. Can’t we still celebrate Valentine’s Day in a wonderfully romantic, cheesy way without the inherent sexism and stereotypes? When that happens, I’ll finally choose to celebrate the holiday with everyone else.                                                           

Photo Credit: maikcol

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