Monthly Archives: February 2011

love, music, wine and revolution

Or: Why I don’t like Valentine’s Day.

Hmm, ‘don’t like’ is kind of not strong enough to express how I feel, but then ‘hate’ is maybe a little much. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone else if they are into it, it’s just really, really not for me. And when I talk about this I sometimes get some raised eyebrows, which makes sense, I guess; I’m not single, I haven’t been single for any appreciable amount of time in my adult life, I’m in a happy, stable, mixed-sex relationship, I was born to parents who were and still are in a happy, stable, mixed-sex relationship, I am in love, I love love, I love being in love. I am a hopeless ‘romantic’, in some ways. I love love songs and romantic old movies. I cry like a child at West Side Story (I watched it again last night, NO REGRETS. My partner had never seen it before!) and Carousel and South Pacific, especially ‘A Wonderful Guy‘. I cry at weddings. I cry at the last episode of Futurama. Heck, in the course of ‘researching’ this post (lulz, googlenews-ing ‘valentine’s day’ = ‘research’) I found this story: ‘Couple use the same recycled Valentine’s Day card for 70 years’, and greeted it with a huge DAAAWWWWWWW.

So I thought I’d be dead topical and write it down here: what is my beef with Monday?

Okay, deep breath. The most obvious one first: it’s consumerist as fuck, and I don’t really like consumerism. I don’t want to get labelled a terrible hypocrite here because as some of you will know I like shoes, a lot, and fashion and good food and music and gin and xbox games and books and lots of other things which are available for money and so I do buy things. I just don’t like getting told or feeling pressurised to do so, and I really, really don’t like the idea of someone I love getting told to buy particular things – roses, chocolates, knickers or whatever – for me on a particular day (it’s not even my birthday!) because Society Said So, or because Everybody Else Is Doing It, or because it’d somehow increase their chances of fucking me that evening — more on that later.

The dealio with everyone from stationery companies to salad vegetables desperately cashing in on something as beautiful, multifaceted, joyous and real as human interpersonal relationships just turns my stomach. It makes me sad (okay, I admit it, the ‘love cucumber’ makes me laugh, like a lot (NB: ‘love cucumber’ does not mean what you think it means), but the overall tendency makes me sad). A capitalist recuperation of something that should be uplifting and surprising and wild, reduced to something so uninspired, so tired, so obvious: how fucking romantic.

Furthermore? It’s heteronormative, and it’s boring. This particular commercial appropriation of a religious non-event (seriously you guys, unlike Christmas it is not even in the Catholic calendar of saints and hasn’t been since the 1960s) stares reality down with the faces of countless identikit heterosexual, young, white couples. I had a look at the Cosmopolitan and AskMen websites to back me up on this one and I can’t say I recommend the experience; it made me feel like vomiting, develop some new frown lines, and get so angry and confused I had to go for a walk round the block, seriously. If I may digress for a mo because this shit is bananas, please could you look at this ‘top tweet’ from AskMen:

Wow. I am literally speechless, which doesn't happen often.

WOW HOLY SHIT, I’d better go tell all the single straight guys I know. Guys, guys, Operation Cry Me A Ladyboner is off, abort, abort! It turns out that ISN’T the way to turn women on after all, those mysterious creatures! Because when men cry it isn’t a physical reaction to pain or negative emotions, it’s to get to the pussy. O-kay.

So yeah. I think before that BLEW MY MIND, my point was something about how all those ads and magazines and pop-culture fluffy things, that I’ve seen, are very much aimed at one gender with the aim of impressing, ‘snaring’, or ‘conquering’ members of the opposite one. (‘Make your man melt’ with… some Ray Bans? Erm no thanks Cosmo. Also it’s fucking February). Lingerie company La Senza illustrate my point with their subtle slogan ‘He ♥’s me, he ♥’s me hot [sic]’. Because every woman worth her salt has a male partner, right? And I’m sure we can all relate to that skinny, Aryan-blonde model, too. All of the people pictured on both the magazine pages mentioned above (there are 30 in total, I counted) are young, white mixed-sex couples, or on the AskMen site, young, white women lying around looking available. Yawn.

And dear Christ, the more I look at this fucking AskMen thing, the creepier it seems. Aside from the stunning advice above about crying, the second-most-questionable thing that caught my eye on that page may be “[Vincent] Cassel’s on- and off-screen personas are worth imitating if you want to score big with women.” O RLY, AskMen? Don’t get me wrong, I would agree that Cassel is definitely a sexy man, but the idea of some English loser reading this article and attempting to imitate him is toe-curlingly pathetic. Also, ‘on-screen personas’ that spring to mind: La Haine, Dobermann, Irréversible, Mesrine, Black Swan… yeah, that’s definitely what women go for, innit? Violent criminals, adolescent psychos and manipulative misogynists. We love that shit. It really does talk about ‘conquering’ a lot, as well. Actual quote: “Every girl can be a conquest if you use the Player’s technique.”

Will from The Inbetweeners tells it like it is

So, ‘becoming a better man starts here’, eh? Not so much.

Will brings me on to my next point nicely: It has really questionable, divide-and-ruley overtones about how ‘different’ women and men are (women like flowers, men like fucking?), and, creepier yet, normalises unhealthy interactions by suggesting that it’s pretty okay to trade gifts for sex or intimacy.  You know the stuff I mean, those adverts and articles that helpfully point you to what you need to buy, wear, eat, drink to impress your date, ‘get her in the mood’, or ‘warm her up’ as AskMen so, erm, rapily puts it in this frankly baffling piece where the fashion editor seems to recommend that you ‘make the sacrifice’ of not having penetrative sex, for some reason that I don’t quite understand, but doesn’t go into whether either or both of you get to come.
Now, being prescriptive about people’s sexual behaviour is the last thing I want to do, but I’m pretty sure that in a healthy relationship the only reason you should be having sex is because both (or all) the parties involved want to have sex with each other. Not because they bought you dinner or some other gift, not because you’re wearing nice underwear today, not because you feel entitled to it, not because you feel pressurised into it, not because it’s the 14th of February, not because everyone else is doing it, and fucking definitely not because you want to ‘stand by the water cooler with a smirk on [your] face’ the following day, you creepy bastard. Any suggestion that you have to look, dress, smell or act a certain way in order to be attractive is at once absurd and infuriating to me. And I just despise this idea of love, or sex, being ‘given’ conditionally by one unwilling partner (stereotypically, this seems to be a woman – why? Did I miss the meeting where we don’t actually like fucking?) and guaranteed or recompensed with goods and services. It’s boaktastic, and in addition, as Will might say, it’s a little bit rapey. Normalising the idea of boning someone who doesn’t really want to do it is seriously not cool. And if you ask me, neither is ‘planning a night of fabulous foreplay and steamy sex’. You can plan a wank, if you really want to, but Dr Alice would recommend not ‘planning’ anything ahead if it involves mind-reading what your fellow-sexer will want and feel like doing at the time. Surely that way coercion or disappointment lie? (Apart from anything else, and on a lighter note, all that satin sheets and candlelight and matching lingerie sets nonsense kind of pales in comparison to proper spontaneous sex in my book; that ‘unplanned’, frantic sex when you’re in a totally inappropriate location and still have your jeans half on and, er, anyway, I’ve said enough, there’s a fair chance my mum will read this.)

Last but not least, then: it, and our society in general, centralises and over-emphasises the importance of ‘romantic’ or sexual intimate relationships at the expense of other beautiful and meaningful interactions (between men and women, women and women, men and men). There’s this ridiculous pressure, this idea that everyone should be or needs to be in a consistent monogamous sexual relationship, and it’s stupid and it makes people feel needlessly excluded and lonely and it trivialises how important and supportive and rewarding other relationships can be – friendships, both with and without ‘benefits’; relationships with family or colleagues or teachers, which categorically don’t involve sexual intimacy.
Some people are asexual, some people are celibate, some people want to wait until they’re older or until they get married, some people have lost a partner, some people aren’t monogamous, some people are just single right now, and that’s okay. It’s not weird or wrong or sad or perverse or uncool, and it’s not okay to make people feel like they’re any of those things. And it doesn’t mean they aren’t loved. Love is a lot bigger and deeper and more exciting than the subset of relationships that fit inside the neat playing-card heart shape prescribed for Valentine’s Day. I can think of five or six non-sexual relationships in my life that are vital and fulfilling to me and that I’d be devastated to lose. Sure I love my partner to the end of the world, but at the same time I truly, madly, deeply love my friends, too; I love my brother, my sister and my parents; I love my ex; hell, I love my cat, and she never buys me anything. I want to celebrate and value these relationships, too – although as you’ll have gathered, maybe not with chocolates and roses and the rest of the bullshit that seems to come attached to ‘celebrations’ in this world!
So, oddly enough for someone who’s just spent hours writing about it, I guess my point is: maybe we should all chill out a little bit about sex. Sex is great (in my opinion), but it isn’t everything. It isn’t love. You don’t love someone because they give you things, or because they touch your genitals, and you don’t stop loving them when they stop.

So, er, happy Monday everyone!