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Valentine's Day: A Symbol of Female Encouragement to Inequality
Valentine's Day was never a day that interested me. Yet, this year, I realized that February 14th is much more than just a day for couples, chocolates, and flowers. Valentine's Day in Japan symbolizes my nation's most significant issues.
As a Valentine's Day gift this year, my father gifted me some chocolate-covered almonds. As I munched on this treat, he explained an odd encounter. When he bought the chocolates, the salesperson confronted him, "These are Valentine's Day chocolates. Would you still like to purchase them?"
Anyone familiar with Japanese culture would understand that this question is interconnected with Japan's unspoken Valentine's Day rule: gifting chocolates is exclusive to women. Men receive them! Men do not give them!
Well, at least not on February 14.
A month later, on March 14, male recipients are expected to return the sweets to the women.
This day is called White Day.
White Day may seem like an acceptable approach to make up for the women-give-first concept of Valentine's Day. However, it is really not.
Firstly, women are socially "obliged" to hand out chocolates. They are expected to provide chocolates not only to their romantic partners but also to the men in their workplaces. This type of chocolate is called giri-choco, or obligation chocolate. Buying confections for male coworkers and bosses has become normalized, but so has the harassment in tandem.
76% of women in Japan have experienced some sort of harassment in their workplaces, and I believe that Valentine's Day traditions make up some of this statistic. Male statements like "Where's my chocolate?" or discrimination against female colleagues who did not give out giri-choco are only a few examples of this harassment.
Second, this tradition is simply out of date. Between heterosexual couples, women give in February and men return the favor in March. But what “rules'' are LGBTQ+ couples supposed to follow? This practice further marginalizes the sexual minorities of Japan.
According to TIME Magazine, "Japan is the only G7 state without laws to prohibit discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation." Japanese Valentine's Day and White Day traditions are certainly further hindering this issue.
Valentine's Day was introduced to Japan in the 1950s, and it reformed Japanese cultural norms. Before 1950, it was considered taboo for women to express their feelings for men. However, Valentine's Day encouraged women to confess their feelings by using chocolates.
A holiday introduced as a source of women’s empowerment has, in practice, become a means of maintaining gender inequality and LGBTQ+ exclusion in Japan. However, the holiday itself is not problematic — the “obligation rule” is.
To the readers living in Japan: we need to reaffirm the true meaning of Valentine's Day. It is not about validation or an obligation to male colleagues; it is about love! No matter who you love, you have the right to express your feelings, whether that be on February 14, March 14, or any other day.