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The East Bay’s Premier Magazine of Culture & Commerce

Valentine’s Bitch

Valentine’s Bitch

Feminist critic Andi Zeisler ain’t feeling the love.

You’d think the editor of a feminist review of pop culture called Bitch might just have a thing or two to say about conceivably one of the most “unfeminist” holidays: Valentine’s Day. Turns out my hunch was right. In my recent call to Bitch World Headquarters, Andi Zeisler, current editor and co-founder with Lisa Jervis of the Oakland-based quarterly Bitch–Feminist Response to Pop Culture, was more than willing to weigh in on the topic. Started in 1996, the magazine recently published a compendium called BITCHFEST: Ten Years of Cultural Criticism from the Pages of Bitch Magazine (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006). Despite its name, there isn’t really a bitchy tone to the mag. As V-Day looms, Zeisler speaks her mind.

Paul Kilduff: What’s the appropriate feminist response to the whole Valentine’s conundrum?

Andi Zeisler: I don’t think there’s any sort of position paper out there. That’s the thing about feminism. It never was this monolithic ideology, but especially now. I can you tell how I personally feel about Valentine’s Day—that I don’t think it’s all that different from how a lot non-feminists feel—which is it’s like this big marketing holiday. It’s sort of designed to make single people feel bad. It’s like any sort of holiday that has become a Hallmark holiday.

PK: Any hot, hot plans for February 14?

AZ: I think my husband and I have made each other cards in the past and maybe we’ve gone to a movie. Valentine’s Day is kind of a catalyst for a lot of dissatisfaction. I actually once broke up with a boyfriend on Valentine’s Day because we went to see that movie The Wedding Singer with Adam Sandler.

PK: That alone would be enough to break up with somebody.

AZ: He hated it. I didn’t understand. It was so inoffensive to me. It was just so sweet and cute and it was just mind-boggling to me that he was such a film snob that he just couldn’t let it go.

PK: I didn’t think much of that movie, either, but I don’t know if it would have been worth breaking up over. Maybe there were some other issues going on there.

AZ: Well, yeah, clearly.

PK: It seems to me that Valentine’s Day is great if you’re still in that young-lover phase, but otherwise it’s kind of an afterthought. Do you really feel that the evil marketers want people who aren’t in a relationship to feel inadequate?

AZ: It’s basically a cumulative effect. I don’t necessarily think that there’s some big meeting at all the advertising agencies and TV networks and magazine headquarters where they’re like, “How can we maximize the shame of single people on this holiday?” It’s the tradition of the medium [television and the news media] to focus on extra-lovey episodes or issues or advertisements, and the overall effect is unfortunate in that way.

PK: Are there any feminist-friendly Valentine’s Day celebrations for singles?

AZ: Actually, there’s a local movement that was started by a woman named Sasha Cagen who wrote a book called Quirky Alone, based on the idea of celebrating the uniqueness of singlehood and the fact that not everyone is obsessed with mating for life. She founded International Quirky Alone Day and that’s on February 14.

PK: What are these celebrations like? Throw the box of chocs in the garbage?

AZ: No, that’s the thing. No one’s really going to object to chocolate.

PK: Even lonely singles eat chocolate.

AZ: It’s just for people who don’t want to deal with the pressure of, “Oh my god, what am I going to do on Valentine’s Day? If I go out to dinner by myself I’m going to feel like shit because everyone there is going to be a couple and guys are going to be whipping out diamond rings and I’m just going to be alone.” And it’s just one more way to say, “I’m conscientiously objecting to Valentine’s Day and I’m going to do this other thing instead.” And you get to do it with a bunch of like-minded people, so that’s cool.

PK: Valentine’s Day conscientious objector—that’s a new category of human being. Are women under more pressure than men to be in a relationship?

AZ: There’s plenty of pressure on men but our culture relies on the socio-biological explanation that men are inherently not cut out for monogamy so it’s understandable when they’re not in a relationship and it’s tolerable.

PK: Yeah, it’s called being a huge stud.

AZ: Anyone who’s not in a relationship for a significant period of time, male or female, is going to be under suspicion. I just think that our sort of pseudo-scientific understanding that women supposedly need to mate for life whereas men are biologically predisposed to spread their sperm far and wide kind of informs our judgment. People who are in relationships tend to want the people around them to also be in relationships. It’s our primal thing. We want other people in our cave.

PK: It seems like Valentine’s Day can be a real bummer. Thinking about the downside of it takes me back to my days as a charter member of the lonely bastards’ club when I lived in a cracker-box studio in Berkeley.

AZ: I think the prime moment of Valentine’s Day is when you’re in second or third grade and your mom goes out and buys little Valentines and she says it’s really important to give one to everyone in the class so no one feels left out.

PK: That is Valentine’s Day at its very best. I remember that, too, because you’d be getting cards from people you didn’t even know.

AZ: Totally.

PK: And they were all good.

AZ: And there was candy.

PK: Sweet.


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