For post doctoral student Michelle Powell, store-bought Valentine’s Day cards restrict her from expressing her cynical sense of humor.
“I feel like the ones in the stores don’t capture the sentiments I feel about the day,” Powell said.
The LGBTQ+ Culture Center’s card-making event Tuesday in the Indiana Memorial Union encouraged people to create personal expressions of love and appreciation for anyone who has a positive influence on their life.
“It's a day that can, commercially anyway, be focused on romance, and a specific type of monogamous relationship that not everybody has in their life,” said Jamie Bartzel, office supervisor for the LGBTQ+ Culture Center.
Powell used some of the stickers, scrapbooking paper and other supplies provided in the IMU Oak Room to make a card for a friend from graduate school who lives in Richmond, Virginia.
Everyone has a person who would appreciate a card in the mail, Bartzel said. The person may be a family member, friend, or even a cheery Uber driver.
“Sometimes, the love relationships we have in the traditional sense get more attention than the importance of friendship and a general support network,” Powell said.
Even for people looking to celebrate Valentine’s Day romantically, the commercialized holiday often inflicts feelings of exclusion among those not in heterosexual relationships.
“For a long time, Valentine's Day was one of those moments where if you were queer or gay or lesbian or bi, it was one of those days where you were really reminded of how massively heterosexual the world is,” Colin Johnson, an IU gender studies professor, said.
Johnson said he remembers walking into stores and realizing he would have to combine multiple store-bought cards to accurately describe his romantic life.
The Supreme Court’s 2015 landmark ruling to legalize gay marriage has recently contributed to greater inclusion in Valentine’s Day marketing. Johnson said recognizing gay marriage as a legitimate institution has likely made questions about the sexual aspect of Valentine’s Day irrelevant.
However, many commercial gifts still have gender-based assumptions. The tagline ‘For Him or Her’ can be seen at several drugstores.
Johnson said the concept of using Valentine’s Day to show love for people other than romantic partners isn't new. In elementary school students often make Valentine’s Day cards for their entire class, including teachers and staff members.
In the 19th century, when Valentine's Day was becoming a popular national holiday, Johnson said it would have been socially unacceptable to talk about love with sexual underpinnings. He said the focus then was more on sentiment than on eroticism or desire.
“Valentine's Day: What's it about? Is it about love? Is it about relationships? Is it about eroticism and romance?” Johnson said. “You could probably ask 20 people and they'd all have different answers.”
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