‘Let’s use this time of the year to think about how each of us contributes towards building notions of loving and being in relationships that are positive, healthy and inspiring’
I am going to confess: I have been deeply suspicious about Valentine’s Day. In my twenties, I went around bemoaning the day, complaining to anyone who would listen that Valentine’s was nothing about a capitalist invention that fed normative and heterosexual constructions of romantic love. I’ve softened a bit over the years: I’ve come to find moments of mushiness when I see my daughter planning treats for her best girlfriends, displays of cut-out red hearts put up in an apartment window and my favourite, the cake with white icing and pink hearts at my next-door deli. I’ve come to accept that to each their own and to not begrudge those who go to bed on the eve of Valentines, bursting at the seams with excitement about what the next day might bring.
But in the recent past, Valentine’s has also become a heavy reminder of what can happen when love goes impossibly wrong. On 2 February 2013, 17-year-old Anene Booysen was raped and later died after enjoying a night out with friends. A few days later, on Valentine’s Day, Reeva Steenkamp was shot though a bathroom door by her boyfriend, Oscar Pistorius. Both women’s bodies became sites of horrific brutality. South Africa has exceptionally high levels of sexual and domestic violence, with over a million contact crimes reported to the police over the course of the past few years. Many South Africans have become desensitised to the horror of such violence. It has become so integrated into our social norms that there seems to be sensory fatigue when we talk about it. Yet for the Anene and Reeva’s family and the many other families of the women and girls who have died as a result of gender-based violence, their fatigue is a very different one, stemming from the deep-seated sadness of knowing that you will never see a loved one again, never hear their voice, never feel their love in tangible ways.
I think that it is very apt that whether or not you celebrated Valentine’s Day, that we use this time of the year to think about how each of us contributes towards building notions of loving and being in relationships that are positive, healthy and inspiring. We all have individual lives but we also have to step outside of this to contribute and shape the community and society that we want to live in. We have a role to play in defining how our society should perceive love and how we define constructive ways of being in a relationship. So in this month of February, I hope we can push the envelope and take a stand in the name of being healthy and well in our love.