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half enough

Cross-culturing Valentine’s

I don’t consider myself a feminist. Mainly because I am, painful as it is to admit, a hopeless romantic. When it comes to Saint Valentine’s Day, however, my cynical nature of male chauvinism and excessively commercialized holidays comes out full force.

I’m the type of female who is generally independent, enjoys the single life, and can’t stand male chauvinists nor the females who allow such males to be chauvinists. I define chauvinists as males who treat and expect females to be subservient to them; men who treat women as though they (the women) were inferior and therefore expect them (the women) to serve the man hand to foot. I’ve seen and subtly experienced interactions with such males. Fortunately or not, this has made me more cynical of the male species and holidays in which chauvinism (subtle or not) is encouraged.

I appreciate it and sometimes glowingly beam when I receive a thoughtful surprise note or gift from friends and admirers on Valentine’s Day—the admirers are rare. When I think about it long enough, though, I begin to get caught up with the “Hows” and “Whys” of the companies that market holidays so well that people living in contemporary commercial society are naturally programmed to purchase certain things at certain times of the year, every year. While it’s a fascinating phenomenon, I can’t help but feel that people, including myself, who blindly participate in these growingly commercial holidays, are being taken advantage of.

In Japan, Valentine’s Day is “celebrated” by the female giving chocolates to their significant other and all of the males they interact with, such as at the workplace. Giving chocolates to males is not a sign of affection necessarily, but a proper social act. This means that Japanese women spend a lot of money buying chocolate gifts for their male coworkers and others. (And subtly urging the idea—conscious or not— to Japanese men at least, to expect hand-and-foot treatment from females.) The males who receive chocolates from these females return the act of “kindness” on White Day (March 14), a month later. This is too much work for the female. The female is initiating and therefore, I feel, an element of chauvinism is involved. Why should the male wait to be given chocolate to return to the female a whole month later? It should be the other way around. Valentine’s, as I’ve been conditioned to believe, is centered on the female. Therefore, I conclude that Valentine’s Day in Japan is chauvinistic. I prefer an American Valentine over a Japanese one.

The one thing that keeps me from defining myself as a feminist (in the U.S. and elsewhere) is that I’m old-fashioned when it comes to how I believe men should treat women. I believe the male should ask the female (in a heterosexual relationship) out on a date. The male should ask for the female’s phone number if there is a mutual attraction upon meeting for the first time. I also believe in receiving flowers (as a female) without having to ask for them.

As an example, consider such a male-female relationship to be that between a tango dance duo. The male takes the lead in initiating many of the dance moves. The female usually follows through intensively and gracefully with her dance moves. This doesn’t mean that the male dominates the dancing couple. He serves as an equally vital component in making every dance move flow as his female counterpart, (she being the one, I believe, who does more of the work).

The male should always offer to pay for the drinks, dinners, movies, deserts, unless otherwise aforementioned in a conversation and depending on his and her economic situations. The female should occasionally accept but generally pay her own way. (If both male and female are students, always split the check and pay for your own movie ticket.) I also believe that the male should bring a flower or some small token of affection (i.e. candy, baked goods, origami flower) at least on the first date. Call it the princess quality (or me just being too demanding) but I believe, with the right intentions, the male should do such things for the female he is in a relationship with. These things should not be a sign of one’s virility or come from a chauvinistic attitude but rather, should be a natural act of kindness and appreciation.

While it’s nice to be a sucker for romance (receiving flowers, chocolates and other gifts), I feel gift-giving should be done with the right intention. By “right intention” I mean that it should come from the heart and sincere affection for another; not out of commercial holiday obligation or chauvinistic expectation.

My cynicism is beginning to condition me to believe that holidays are all just a smart collaborative marketing effort done by greeting card, candy and other gift companies to generate ridiculous amounts of revenue to sustain themselves during the slow seasons. (And to egg on the idea that males should be in control of a romantic relationship with a female). I just might be on my way to loudly declaring myself a feminist. And that wouldn’t be good on Valentine’s Day when everybody around me are exchanging roses and chocolates. I’m going to want my share, too.

© 2007 Victoria Kraus

feminism romance Valentine's Day

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"Half Enough" is Victoria's first regular column series. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of Discover Nikkei.