Let’s be honest — America has a problem with sex. On one hand, we prudishly dance around the subject and never really share our innermost feelings and desires with our partners. We freak out over public breast feeding. We blame rape victims for provoking their attackers because of what they wore or how much they drank. Bold men are considered forceful and strong. Bold women are seen as pushy and brash.
On the other hand, we surround ourselves with objectified images of women. The media defines feminine beauty as being young and thin, submissive yet sexy, revealing just enough to titillate, but hiding reality under make-up, hair products, tight clothes and high heels. From winged Victoria Secret models to breast-enhanced pseudo celebrities on so-called reality shows, women get identified as angel or whore and not as human beings.
The common thread among all of these attributes is a fundamental disrespect of women. Our society routinely discriminates against women by paying them less than men, constantly attacking their rights and access to medical care, and minimizing their personhood. Almost a century after earning the right to vote, women still struggle for equal treatment in the workplace, the halls of government, the media and our schools.
In a few days, we celebrate the national holiday of women’s oppression in this country — Valentine’s Day. For too many people, this becomes the day that reveals our worth as a partner, as a spouse, as a lover. We reduce our emotions to the amount of cash spent on commodities — products conveniently highlighted in our stores just for the occasion. Candy and card makers give us a wide variety of inexpensive ways to display our affection. Florists tell us that only roses will show her that we really love her. Jewelers tell us that only diamonds demonstrate a true sense of commitment. Girls are conditioned to believe that buying such gifts is how boys should show affection. Boys are conditioned to believe that girls want these things as proof of their devotion.
How did we allow ourselves to become so manipulated? History reveals millennia of repression of women. From Eve to Mary Magdalene, women have been reduced to weaker versions of men incapable of anything but betrayal, fickleness and irrationality. History writers routinely ignore the accomplishments of women, often writing women’s names from the narrative entirely.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in our religious history. Women still cannot be priests despite the fact that the Christian church in Rome was founded by a woman. Unless you are a midwife, prostitute or property of a man, women are hard pressed to find their way into our sacred texts. Even in the essential unique role as child bearer and nurturer, women have been methodically reduced from the Goddess from whom all life derives to something to be feared and controlled by men. Over the years, men have converted the deities of fertility, peace and love to the supporting cast of male dominance and violence.
We have made much progress in recent centuries, but we still have a long way to go. Going further will require than men take up the responsibility of being strong allies for women’s equality. A simple first opportunity is Valentine’s Day.
Don’t measure your love for someone by how much money you spend. Don’t try to purchase affection or sexual gratification through chocolate, flowers or bracelets. Ask the women in your lives what they want. Many women don’t want sparkly trinkets — they want real commitment to their dreams and well being. They want to be heard. They want their accomplishments acknowledged. They want to know that you consider them special and important in your life.
You won’t find love at the mall. Give the person you love a long message. Cook their favorite meal and watch their favorite movie. Write them a letter and bare your soul. Look deep into their eyes and say “I love you.”
That simple “I love you” means more than any store-bought present. And you don’t need the excuse of a manufactured holiday to share that gift. You can give that gift every single day of the year.