Sex & Relationships

An Open Letter to Gwyneth Paltrow, re: Valentine's Day

Hey Gwyneth Paltrow: planing Valentine's Day doesn't have to be the guy's responsibility

(Photo: JB Lacroix/WireImage)

Dear Gwyneth,

A few evenings back you attended a La Perla fashion show, and gave this interview where you discussed such topics as when you feel sexiest (“when you know yourself well and you’ve lived a life with lots of ups and downs”), the best baby gift for a mothers of twins (“a good foot massage”) and whether or not you had made any plans for Valentine’s Day. To that last question, you responded by saying: “I don’t think it’s the girl’s job to make the plan, right?”

Not to crush the fairytale here Gwyn, but no, not right. Actually kind of wrong.

We know, we know—it was an off-hand comment, and not one meant to do anybody any harm, which is why we hesitated about getting in touch. Lord* (*Beyoncé) knows that lately it has started to feel like it’s impossible to get through a day without confronting some harsh reality about gender politics and our society’s mistreatment of women. It’s relentless and repetitive and at times we wish we could just stick our heads in the sand. And then we take a deep breath, role up our proverbial pantsuits and #persist. (Because we can and because we want to and because Katy Perry said so).

But what does this all have to do with you? After all—all you said was that it was the dude’s duty to make the plan on Valentine’s Day.

No doubt this is an attractive proposition to a lot of gals in heterosexual relationships, but the trouble is that it can also be a damaging one. One that reinforces the notion that romance is something that men give and women receive; they act, we are acted upon; they decide, we delight (or disappoint) in their decisions. Sure, it’s 2017 and all, not a month after so many of us marched in support of female equality. But it’s also V-Day, which apparently means it’s time to put down those picket signs and start paging Prince Charming.

Let’s take a second to examine why that might be.

Possible explanation # 1: Because men are inconsiderate apes every other day of the year, and V-Day is the rare day when we ladies can count on being properly appreciated. Note that this is not *our* opinion, but when we did some asking around, it seemed to be a popular POV. Some iteration of “I pick up his socks/organize our social life/take care of our kids ever other day of the year—is it too much to ask for one day of worship?” The answer to that is obviously, hell no, but can we rewind to the part where 364 days of sock servitude is erased by some fancy underwear? (Surely this qualifies as treating the symptom, not the disease).

Possible explanation # 2: Because deep down every woman wants to be treated like a princess. To be worshipped and protected and put up on a pedestal. For the record, all of this feet up, bring-on-the-bon-bons-style pampering would sound just perf…were it not for the unavoidable reality that when we buy into a construct predicated on female passivity, we are relinquishing our power. When we assume the role of princess, we are trading in our right to rule like queens.

According to the theory of ambivalent sexism—like the crappy chocolate in the heart-shaped box—many of the damaging cultural attitudes that impede the advancement of women are delivered in positive packaging. “Benevolent sexism works to cement inequality through subtlety and stealth,” says Dr. Peter Glick, who first coined the term (along with his co-researcher Susan T. Fiske), back in 1996, right around the time you and Brad Pitt were debuting your matching, gender-irrelevant haircuts (you go, Gwyn!). So while the hostile sexist might say, “women with children don’t belong in the work force,” the benevolent sexist would say “women are naturally nurturing and naturally more qualified to care for their offspring, so they should stay home with the children.” Certainly the former sounds a lot more jerky than the latter, which may even be intended as a compliment. But in the end it’s two roads to the same destination: a patriarchal society.

And of course it would be easy to say that men being in charge of V-Day is sweet, men grabbing pussies is horrible. The trouble is that when we accept prescribed behaviour based on gender it’s a slippery slope.

Just look at the recent drama surrounding POTUS’s alleged declaration that he wants the women who work for him to “dress like women.” Because, you know, dressing to look pretty—pretty, according to a very narrow, male-centric standard of femininity, we might add—is part what a woman must do to establish her value. (Mad props to everyone on social media who reminded the Donald that “dress like a woman” has more than one meaning).

Or how about the fact that today, on February 14, 2017, Oklahoma state legislature is holding a hearing on a bill that would require pregnant women to get the signature of their male partner in order to have an abortion. Representative Justin Humphrey—bolo tie enthusiast and the guy who came up with this horrifying hogwash—has said that while he understands why women might *think* they are in charge of their bodies during pregnancy, we are actually just “hosts.”

Of course we’re not equating your comments to these horrific sentiments, GP. Just pointing out that unlike your favourite $25 salad bar, equality between the sexes is not a buffet (if it were, we’d obviously skip the part about killing our own bugs).

So go ahead and have a great V-Day. Here’s hoping your guy (what’s his name again?), planned something special, not because he’s the guy, but because you are in a caring relationship based on mutual respect, where who does what is determined by the two of you and not two thousand years of female subjugation, give or take.

And while you’re sipping bubbly and whispering sweet nothings and getting ready to take your sex dust, remember that your independence is a big part of what makes you sexy, and maybe take a second to consider what we talked about.

Roses are red, violets are blue.

All sexism is damaging sexism,

It’s exhausting (sigh), but it’s true.