There’s a phenomenon that you may have noticed around Valentine’s Day. Here’s how it goes. A man and a woman are dating and the woman says “I really don’t want flowers for Valentine’s Day this year”. The man nods and later mentions it to someone, who then tells him (in a tone of extreme importance) that she really DOES want flowers, but she just couldn’t tell him because she’s one of the crazy womenz. You know how they are. A Mystery. An Enigma. But one of the rules of lady brains is that when they tell you they don’t want something they really do and you better make sure you get it for them or they’ll have Emotions.
The man goes out and buys the flowers, the woman gets them and smiles and says thank you, you knew what I really wanted! and the world goes on thinking that all women want flowers on Valentine’s Day no matter what they actually say because that’s What You Do. But contrary to what this phenomenon might lead you to believe, there are in fact some people out there of the female persuasion who don’t want flowers when they tell you they don’t want flowers.So why on earth are so many people convinced that women are lying about what they want, and why do a fair number of women feel that they actually do need to lie about what they want?
I’m gonna bet the answer has something to do with sexism.
Let’s break it down. The first issue with this trope is that it assumes all women want the same thing and that we just have to figure out the super secret magic formula and then we’ll crack the woman and sex will come out (ew). Not all ladies want the same thing. I would be really disturbed if we did. Acting as if you can divine what we want by figuring out some amazing woman code is a bit dehumanizing. Acting as if we’re interchangeable robots with all the same feelings is a bit dehumanizing. Really, if you’re in a relationship with someone I would hope that you know them well enough to know whether they buy into certain cultural norms or not. I would hope you can be honest with your partner. But somewhere at the root of it the assumption is that Valentine’s Day is not about actually expressing some sort of love or emotion, but it’s about placating the romance monster that lives deep inside your woman by buying her things. Because if advertising wants us to know anything it’s that women can be bought and they’ll tell us how to do it.
But in addition to the mysterious secrets of the enigmatic lady, this trope relies on another assumption, which is that men (and advertisers) actually know what women want better than women do. Oh silly feminist, you may THINK you don’t want to be treated in a chauvinistic, misogynistic way, but at heart you really want to be dominated and then showered with girly pink things, amirite? Valentine’s Day, and these advertisements and stories about how women really want flowers remind us that there is a script. This script is for the best of all of us. If we all act in accordance with the script then everyone will be happy, and whenever we deviate from the script the women will go crazy and the men will be miserable. The script is more important than anything a woman says she wants because her lady brain is too simple to actually know what she wants.
However this brings us to point number two which is that sometimes women do lie about what they want. This may be part of the “I’m fine” phenomenon (in which women pretend they’re ok but they’re really not). Women, believe it or not, are under a lot of pressure not to seem crazy, demanding, or over the top in their requests of their male significant others. Believe it or not, women are often perceived as nagging, as princesses, as over the top pay attention to me all the time Valentine’s day is all for women and brides only care about themselves because romance is for women. So sometimes women pretend that they don’t want things. Sometimes women are conditioned to put others before themselves and not ask for things they want. Sometimes women are ashamed that the things they want cost lots of money. Roses are frivolous ya know? They’re coded as “lady things” which means they’re not really worth it. And so they say they don’t want anything even if they do because they know it’s what they’re supposed to do.
At its root, these kinds of tropes are really about getting men to buy more and more expensive things regardless of whether those things are wanted or not. Some women like flowers and find that they brighten up a space, or that they smell lovely. Some women don’t like to clean up dead things and would rather have something useful or personalized. Some people hate Valentine’s Day. Some people love an excuse to spoil their significant other. What seems really important here is that, like men, women are individual human beings with unique preferences and thought processes, and that if you’re in a relationship with someone it might behoove you to actually discuss what you want and like, and trust the other person when they tell you something. It might be a good idea to talk with your significant other about any pressures that you feel. This can be really hard, but if we want our relationships to be better we have to do some hard work. We have to be willing to actually open our mouths and be honest and enforce our honesty: if your honey buys you flowers when you told him not to, gently remind him that you actually said you didn’t want any.
If we don’t do these things, we’re going to risk perpetuating the idea that women run a script and they’re too stupid to figure it out for themselves. We’re going to continue to create an image of romance that doesn’t allow people without money (like those in lower socioeconomic classes or those who are younger) to live up to it. We’re going to continue to base our concept of deep relationships around buying rather than around doing or communicating or creating. That kind of sucks.
So instead of buying your lady-friend flowers this V-day, here are some other things that we at Skepchick offer as stuff we like more than overpriced roses we told you not to buy:
2.This fabulous poster
4.Lots and lots of Shirley Temples
5.Some lovely poetry (might I suggest Catullus?)
6.A large hammer with which to smash the patriarchy
7.The secret to beating Flappy Bird
8. A video of Benedict Cumberbatch reading 50 Shades of Gray
9.Some time without the kids
Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!