On the evening of Feb. 13, students gathered, cookies in hand, in the sitting room of the Intersectionality House to discuss the heteronormativity and consumerism surrounding Valentine’s Day. Leaders of the off-campus event gave a detailed presentation highlighting queer experiences in order to promote inclusivity.
Residents of the house create a safe space for students of all identities and backgrounds to learn and discuss intersectional topics. Group leaders reflected this by ensuring that members of the audience were comfortable and understood the evening’s topics. The members of the Intersectionality House created the event, “Queer Identity and Valentine’s Day,” as a way to spread the core values of inclusivity, intersectionality and representation that prompted the establishment of the house through means of a non-traditional celebration of the holiday.
Heteronormativity and cisnormativity were linked to the celebration of Valentine’s Day, referring to common gender stereotypes that exclude queer representation. By definition, heteronormativity promotes a belief that heterosexuality is the preferred or normal sexual orientation, while cisnormativity excludes transgender or gender-fluid identities by assuming that all individuals identify as the gender with which they were born. Many members of the group highlighted the necessity for consumer-based change in order to eradicate underrepresentation of other gender and sexual identities.
Nadia El Mouldi ’18, a resident of the house, led a discussion examining the concept of Valentine’s gifts aimed towards a “tech-savvy girlfriend.” The results of pulling up a quick Google search of the phrase typical results revealed merely highly feminized options like feminine phone-cases or purses with extra pockets, whereas results for men’s gifts included presents that are actually relevant to a job in technology, like a miniature 3-D printer. Mouldi further explored the extent to which generalizations of interests based on gender are damaging and degrading. Obviously, according to Mouldi, this pattern “reinforce[s] the gender gap and impostor-syndrome” found within technology-based jobs or interests.
Upon further analysis of the romantic holiday, the group argued that consumerism-directed advertisements and publications within the media seemed to further employ heteronormative and cisnormative dialogue.
Resident Laura Tannous ’18 examined the emphasis of gender roles surrounding Valentine’s Day, such as the expectation for “men to put more effort into the relationship,” especially in regards to gifts and reservations.
Another member of the house, Nikki Lewis ’18, spoke of the tendency for “relationships to have extreme power dynamics” due to assumptions made by media outlets. In addition, there is often an added pressure to provide expensive gifts for Valentine’s Day, prompting an apparent need for lavish celebrations.
The residents then opened up the conversation to connect the audience’s personal experiences to the expectations surrounding Valentine’s Day. The exclusion of non-romantic relationships from the celebration was introduced, as the holiday seems to lack appreciation for important platonic relationships. Alongside the issue of cisnormativity, queer identities as well as aromantic identities and asexual identities (those without desire for romantic or sexual aspects within intimate relationships) are often excluded from representation. Additionally, typical marketing strategies include rhetoric and images that represent monogamous relationships; therefore, non-traditional relational dynamics, polyamory, for example could be represented more positively here. Audience members emphasized the need for a broader celebration of Valentine’s Day and a more inclusive perception of love and relationships within society today.
After the success of their first big event, the residents of the Intersectionality House plan to collaborate with other campus clubs and houses to continue the discussion of intersectional topics. A Woodstock-inspired event is currently in being planned, in which the Intersectionality House will partner with the Wendell Berry House in order to explore intersectional environmentalism. The event will include live music, activities and vegetarian foods, in addition to discussions of pertinent topics.
The Intersectionality House plans to host additional events this semester and strives to establish an inclusive environment in which all feel comfortable sharing and discussing personal topics.