My Not-So-Funny Valentine

Valentine’s Day isn’t a day where women can just forget about all the problems we face as a gender every day of the year. This parody of Valentine cards has a decent aim: to remind us that just because we may receive a card or some flowers one day out of the year,–or two, if you count International Women’s Day in March–we still have a lot of problems to face (domestic violence, for example).

But cartoonist Ann Telnaes’ Valentine is so off-putting that her message is nearly drowned out. Specifically, the one in the lower left-hand corner. The caption, “Be Mine” is a grim reinforcement to the shackle placed around this woman’s neck: “She’s property. Get it? GET IT?!”

Not only that, but she’s in full niqab. All you can see is her heavily-painted googly eyes, which signify that she’s brainwashed? Just plain stupid? I don’t know, but we definitely don’t get the impression that she’s in full possession of her own faculties.

What irritates me most about this picture of a shackled niqabi is what it stands for. Pictures of women in niqab are becoming cultural shorthand for both “Muslim woman” and “oppressed,” two terms which are not necessarily synonymous. Adding a shackle just concretizes the “oppressed” layer.

I’m not trying to downplay that there are women who have to endure (or fall victim to) the horrific things portrayed in these Valentines. But some of the pictures indicate a very narrow view of what a “liberated” woman should do or be. You can’t be liberated and be a Muslim woman who wears niqab, you can’t be liberated and want to have lots of children, etc.

In my opinion, a more effective anti-Valentine or violence-against-women-awareness campaign would ditch the cartoony stereotypes and feature pictures of real women who have undergone real trauma. Humanizing a problem is more effective than assigning it a mascot.

Telnaes’ work is often featured on the western feminist news site Women’s eNews. Let’s hope her narrow vision of liberation isn’t one that’s shared by her colleagues.

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