Advice for Valentine’s Day Lovers: Play Fair (for Loyar Berkasih)

First published for Loyar Burok, on 12th February 2012.

Recently, PAS managed to let their guard down with a statement saying that Muslims can celebrate Valentine’s Day … but strictly according to a moral guideline painstakingly spelled out by the head of PAS Youth, Nasaruddin Ali. A celebration of love, albeit a kitsch and mercilessly consumerist one, is at last okay for Malaysian Muslims.

Now that PAS has somewhat softened its image with this revelation, perhaps we should consider what it is about Valentine’s Day that PAS has been worried about all these years. Apart from the tenuous “Christian origins” argument, it is really sex and moral disorder that Valentine’s Day unleashes which poses as the bee in PAS’s bonnet. It is couples – read: unmarried couples – getting it on after a mating ritual involving uncute teddy bears, chocolates, and roses.

It’s easy to become disoriented by the now PAS-approved haze of romance blanketing across Malaysia next week and forget that even on special occassions, sex and romance are not necessarily played out on equal ground. Not all romantic relationships are equal, and most often than not, they reflect the gender inequalities of our society.

Now, I am supportive of sexual relationships outside of marriage so long as there is consent, the sex is safe, and those directly implicated are happy. But before there is safe sex, consent, and satisfaction, couples would usually engage in a complex ritual of dinner and movie-watching after which straight guys often expect to be “rewarded” for their company and sometimes, for their financially-enumerated generosity.

What’s a girl to do when culturally, we expect our dates to pay for everything? What’s a guy to earn by the end of the evening when they’ve shelled out most of their cash on their dates? I have found myself after several dates being “gently” pressured, rather than subjected to attempted rape, into having sex to “thank” my date. I am not representative of an isolated case, many young Malaysian women are bullied into having sex by their boyfriends. As the female of the species, we’re expected to please our partners by being agreeable, pliable, totally succumbed by male flattery, and easily charmed into bed.

On bigger and more “special” occassions such as Valentine’s Day, we will witness and indeed be treated ourselves to bigger gestures; maybe a marriage proposal, maybe a romantic declaration of one’s love, or maybe a spectacular reignition of long lost passion. But there will always be opportunists who use the occasion to pressure a woman into having sex. Can a girl or woman pressure a guy or indeed another girl into having sex with them? Of course, but since men are socially expected and accepted to be the active agent in sexual relations, men as a result often feel entitled to women’s bodies.

Pressuring, coaxing, and bullying women into having sex is a steep, slippering slope to committing rape. PAS may not have the interest of more vulnerable individuals in unequal relationships at heart when they warn us of its corruptive powers, because they are obsessed with assigning themselves as our moral guardians. That said, however, I hope this post bears little of PAS’s moralistic posturing.

So lest we forget that Valentine’s Day can be used as a tool to abuse one’s social and financial privilege and again sexual access. Too often we see love and romance as perfectly gift-wrapped entities, eliding the less savoury aspects pervading our culture that rewards male bravado and entitlement and demure female passivity. So have a fair and egalitarian Valentine’s Day, everybody; go dutch if possible, make it clear that Valentine’s is not a means to an end (read: sex) unless both parties find each other attractive enough to want to bump nasties.

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