Valentine’s Day used to be a big day for me when I was a teenager. While the original “cupid” is more than a little problematic and the capitalist, gendered and heteronormative nature of the holiday is absolutely real, in urban middle-class Mexican society it was often considered an “opportunity.” An opportunity to make your feelings for someone else known, whether they were your partner or not.
February 14th was a much anticipated day in both my junior high school and my high school. There was the year that a boy gifted me a Winnie-the-Pooh stuffy holding a heart that read “Be mine” (my dad laughed so hard). There was the year that my platonic love wrote me a poem and made me a painting. And there was the year that my 17thyear-old boyfriend got me an engagement ring (much to my parent’s dismay). Most of my memories of the holiday while I lived in Mexico are happy ones (or at least funny).
But then I moved to Canada, I met a Saudi and I became Muslim (all of those three things completely unrelated to each other). Having grown up in Saudi Arabia, where the holiday is “banned,” my partner had no idea what Valentine’s was about… of course he had seen it in the media and such, but he had never “done” Valentine’s. The first year we were together we tried it… and it just went badly. He got me heart-shaped chocolates and a stuffed bunny (I hate stuffed animals), and I got him a mini-cake and a card, that, in my opinion, was extremely cute… it had two piggies kissing… Again, being Saudi and Muslim, he was extremely offended by the pig-reference in the card, I was upset that I had to explain myself, and the day ended by some of our Saudi classmates reminding him that there were fatwas against Valentine’s and that it is “haram” to celebrate it.
That was the last time I did Valentine’s. After entering Islam there was a whole aspect of “haramness” (as I like to call it), that was very difficult to navigate. In fact, numerous Muslim sites have articles on why is it that Valentine’s is haram (here, here and here).
Yet, it is not only that some Muslim communities self-exclude from Valentine’s celebrations (which may be a completely legitimate religious or political decision), but that mainstream Western societies also exclude Muslims and other minorities, or use the holiday to “make a point” about the “barbaric” ways in which the rest of us practice love and romance.
For example, last week an acquaintance of mine contacted me regarding Valentine’s because the organization she works for wanted to publish a piece on violence against immigrant women by February 14th. I initially agreed to talk to her about immigration and gender-based violence, since it has to do with much of the academic work I do. She sent me a few leading questions, which I felt sought to have me demonstrate how men of color are the primary abusers of immigrant women. I immediately felt uneasy and told her so.
The reality of things is that gender-based violence is not only a “brown” problem, and immigrant women (and women of colour in general) tend to experience institutional and systemic violence where whiteness acts as a form of privilege. My acquaintance replied by sending me an image featuring potential immigrant women and Valentine’s (below).
She wanted to make a point of the fact that she was not the only one who thought that violence against immigrant women, including Muslims, was perpetuated primarily by how men in “those” communities understand love and relationships. The stereotyping in this image is incredibly racist and othering, but this image was created as a “feminist” Valentine’s card.
I conducted a search of “feminist Valentine’s cards” just to discover that the majority of feminist cards feature white-Western feminists and their interests… very few feature women of colour… let alone Muslim women. And even though we know that Muslim women partake in the holiday either through hijab tutorials, card making or taking the “opportunity” to express their feelings, main media sources, and more importantly, mainstream feminist “pro-Valentine’s” movements have failed to include Muslim women and generally women of colour in the celebration without questioning their understandings, experiences and desires around romance and relationships. So let’s ask the question: what would an inclusive feminist pro-Valentine movement look like?