It’s that time of year again! The stores are filled with heart-shaped chocolate candy boxes, teddy bears, balloons, and flowers in every checkout lane. Street vendors are out with their customizable baskets, and social media is filled with ads recommending every bakery within a one-mile radius, showcasing their specialties for the amorous occasion.
For many, Valentine’s Day is a symbol of love and affection, but promoting romance without addressing the importance of consent and other hallmarks of healthy relationships is problematic. As advocates on behalf of those who have experienced many forms of gender-based oppression and violence, including forced marriage, we believe that full and free consent of both parties is paramount in every healthy relationship.
Especially around this time of year, we are saturated with imagery that glamorizes relentless attempts at “romance” as attractive. But some of the behaviors and attitudes that are idealized during this holiday are harmful. Making an adventure out of the constant pursuit of someone when they do not want to be pursued or a “suitor” being depicted as passionate for not giving up on the “chase” even when turned down minimizes the seriousness of sexual harassment and abuse. These actions are depicting borderline stalker behavior, in many instances using manipulative and intimidating tactics in attempts to obtain the desired outcome of one party without regard to the desires of another.
While we are putting romance at the front and center of people’s minds, we also need to talk about creating a culture of consent. Consent culture is the regular practice of asking for permission and enthusiastic agreement and respecting an individual’s personal and emotional boundaries. No one should be manipulated into agreeing to a date, feel guilty for rejecting a suitor or a gift, or be silenced during an uncomfortable moment.
What if Valentine’s Day glamorized consent at all stages of a relationship? We need to normalize the reality that everyone has a right to choose if or when they want to engage in any romantic relationship – especially marriage. We need to normalize the fact that people have a right to feel safe and express their feelings without being judged or harmed.
Valentine’s Day is the perfect time to discuss safe and healthy relationships and to correct harmful behaviors. Promoting a culture of consent is important for healthy relationships and can go a long way towards ensuring that everyone can live in safety and with dignity.
If you or someone you know is being abused, stalked, forced, coerced, or manipulated into marriage, or experiencing another form of domestic violence, please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or use the “Get Help” tab to contact us.