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14 Feb '17

Valentine’s Day is for Everyone

Valentine’s Day is what we make it

No, it’s true. Take off your romance- or cynicism-colored glasses, and listen up. I know many of us have horror stories about the Big V; maybe you’re lonely and call it Singles Awareness Day. Maybe you despair at the media onslaught of SUPER ROMANCE DAY sold you about February 14th. On the other hand, maybe all your Valentine’s Days have been all chocolate and roses and cupid-covered cards. Maybe you’ve always had someone to hold your hand.

That’s not all Valentine’s Day can be. It’s doesn’t have to be loneliness vs. coupledom. Check out this radical idea: Valentine’s Day is a day to celebrate love - in all forms. Brotherly and sisterly? You got it. Friendship? Definitely. Romantic? Get in here. Self-love? Honey, TREAT YO’SELF.

“But wasn’t Valentine’s Day always about romantic love, or whatever?” I hear you ask. Nope. In fact, we can probably blame Chaucer for that one - he was one of the first to write about St. Valentine’s Day and romance. Let’s look at the history.


Happy Valentine's | Nithi Anand | ISA Professional

Valentine’s Day probably has a partial origin in an ancient - maybe even pre-Roman - festival called Lupercalia. Celebrated in mid-February, this “Wolf Festival” was both a spring-cleansing and fertility ritual. Major features of the festival included a sacrifice of two goats, feasting, and young men running mostly naked through town. The streaking wasn’t just for fun, mind you - they carried hide thongs with them and whipped the hands of any women they passed. Allegedly, this ensured maidens became fertile, while pregnant women were guaranteed an easy birth.

That’s a far cry from a romantic dinner at a swanky restaurant. In fact, there’s no hint of Eros here; just a bad day to be a goat and a focus on reproduction.

As so many pagan festivals have been, Lupercalia may have been painted over with Christian celebrations. It generally starts with such rituals being outlawed, but regular people still practicing their old beliefs. Their attention needs to be shifted to another celebratory purpose: let’s meet St. Valentine.

A trio of St. Valentines

Valentine's Friends | By Ali (Takenbyali) | ISA Professional


The story goes that the 5th century Pope - that’s Pope Gelasius I - pronounced that February 14th would celebrate the Saint Valentine. The only problem here is that there may be three Valentines who were canonized as saints by the church - and no one now living knows which St. Valentine we’re meant to celebrate. Especially since all three of them seem to have met bloody ends on February 14th. (And you thought My Bloody Valentine was just a movie and/or band.)

One Valentine was a bishop in Italy, and another a saint who died in Africa - little known of him but his name. The third Valentine was a Roman priest, and he’s the one who generally gets the special day according to the Catholic church. He enjoys such symbols as birds and roses, and is listed as the patron saint of happy marriages and love (along with epilepsy and beekeepers). He was also martyred by being beaten and beheaded for refusing to stop sharing his faith.

So far, this holiday has been about cleansing, fertility, and being true to your faith. Still not really romantic, right? It’s almost as if this romance angle was completely made up.

Did you say commercialism?

Valentine's Day Hearts | By Julie (Roosterfarm) | ISA Professional

We already talked about Chaucer making up the connection of romantic love to St. Valentine’s Day in the 14th century; the connection appears in his poem “The Parlement of Foules”. The romantic angle caught on, propagated by poets and Shakespeare. Four hundred years later, young lovers were using February 14 to exchange elaborate cards, gifts of sweets and flowers, and declarations of love. The cards, of course, became known as “Valentines.”

Fast-forward to America in the mid-1800s: thanks to mass-production, these Valentines explode in popularity. Chocolate showed up to the party at this point as well, when Richard Cadbury had the brilliant idea to make decorative keepsake boxes for their chocolates - all featuring popular Valentine’s Day symbols, naturally. It was only a matter of time before all the other candies showed up, before all these mass-produced treats became affordable to more people, and before Valentine’s Day became the commercial spectacle of romantic love we know today.

Valentines Day is what we make it

Valetine's Love | By Blondinrikard Fröberg (blondinrikard) | ISA Professional

And there’s your proof: Valentine’s Day is what we make it. Don’t be suckered into feeling bad (or feeling superior) based on your romantic status on February 14th. Got siblings? Celebrate that love. A best friend? Send them something sweet. Are you aromantic? Hang out with someone you care about and be as platonic as you want.

Eat together, braid each other’s hair, do something fun, go to a movie - you don’t have to buy into the prevailing culture. Remember what Lin Manuel Miranda from the hit musical Hamilton said - “Love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love…”

Now, go out and celebrate it!

17 Jan '17

Superheroes Save Us from the World

Superheroes to the Rescue 

Representation matters. 

You might have heard that a time or two. Even if you haven’t, you innately understand it.  

Representation matters especially in the entertainment that we consume, particularly when we’re children; y’know, all impressionable minds and open hearts. The movies we watch, the books we read, all of these stories we consume are the building blocks of who we are. They define our world, building it character by story by stereotype. Who you are is what you understand the world to be.



I grew up with superheroes. Some of my earliest memories are of wanting to be Talia, going on adventures with He-Man… until I discovered She-Ra, and then I understood I could be the center of the adventure. Rainbow Brite also taught me a girl could save the universe from the back of a rainbow-maned horse. Then came the X-Men, and I met Jean Grey, who was intelligent and gifted and then the drowning heart of a god. She taught me the importance of humanity, of the core of self. By the time I found my way to comics, I was lucky enough to discover Generation X - full of complicated girls my age, trying to learn their powers and also better the world. Girls like M, a woman of color, self-possessed and confident. Husk, a down-home country girl with a spine of steel. Jubilee, with all her pluck and dedication, and Penance with her boundless sorrow and inability to communicate (an early avatar for my understanding of depression).  

 I grew up in a world that told me, as a girl, not to be - don’t worry about your brain, you just need to look good. Don’t eat… so much, anyway. Why do you wear pants so often? Why don’t you smile? Girls shouldn’t read so many books. Don’t worry about going to college too much, it’s just to find an up-and-coming professional husband. Keep your legs closed. If you must start a career, just let it occupy you until you get married. It’s a good thing I had superheroes as a counterbalance to all of that - my mom*, She-Ra, Jean Grey and others kept me sane. They gave me the horizon.




I went to college. I smiled only when I felt like it. I explored the world, moved to Tokyo, became a writer, and walled my apartment in books. I only got married when I was good and ready - which turned out to be over halfway to 30 and to my best friend whose only plan for me is to be me. 

Superheroes who are women can be our lifelines in a world that tells us to be less, but they can also betray us: for every character I found to identify with, I found two who alienated me by their mere presentation - a problem created by the minds and hands behind the comics. I never found out if there was a real character inside the pages of titles like Witchblade or Power Girl or Vampirella because the covers confused me. The superheroes were grossly hypersexualized, waving a flag to attract a very different gaze from mine. Their proportions were as unrealistic as their outfits were generally unsuited to their jobs.  

Some of you may be doubting how much these unrealistic depictions of female superheroes can truly impact our way of thinking about ourselves. I can understand where you’re coming from, and you don’t have to take my word for it. I invite you to check out “The Problem with Female Superheroes” over at Scientific American, which discusses one study researching how hypersexualized superheroes may not negatively impact our beliefs on gender parity, but do degrade our opinions of our physical place in the world.

We’re lucky. The world we live in is changing - that change is coming with great pain and terrible turmoil as so many disenfranchised people stand up and demand to be recognized. But the struggle, while hard, is producing genuine results. We’re holding creators accountable. Women, People of Color, people with disabilities, those who are neuroatypical, those who are not heterosexual, they are all demanding a voice and using that voice.



And now? We have Moon Girl, a black girl and supergenius who is saving the world with her partner Devil Dinosaur. We have Faith Herbert, a fat woman who is saving the world and being fabulous because “overweight” doesn’t mean anything. We have Kamala Khan, a modestly dressed Muslim who is Captain Marvel. Riri Williams is now Iron Man (and her ‘fro is amazing), and Thor is an office held by Jane Foster (who is also currently a breast cancer survivor). So many people, previously voiceless or shouted down, are now finding themselves on brightly colored pages as their heroes, saving the day and changing the world. There is still so much farther to go, but we have begun. We’re transforming our stories and saving ourselves.

So now you get it. Representation matters. When we see ourselves in popular stories, in our comic books, we truly understand that we matter. Our stories are worth telling, which means we are worth acknowledging. Recognizing ourselves in the world gives us the confidence to discover what we can accomplish, and the wisdom not to diminish our own horizons. Superheroes don’t just save the world - they save us from the world, and let us create a new one.  

 *My mom has seen things you wouldn’t believe, and saved more souls than you can imagine. She’s a real-life superhero, flaws and strength and all.

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