Every February 13th marks Galentine’s Day, a holiday popularized by the iconic NBC show Parks and Recreation to celebrate friendship, particularly amongst women. The meaning of Galentine’s Day started as a way to highlight women you love and respect – typically with thoughtful gifts doled out at brunch – to uplift them with kindness and support. What once was a holiday only celebrated in the fictional town of Pawnee, Indiana, became a feminist statement that women across the world take part in every year.
However, with its spread, Galentine’s Day has lost the feminist elements that made millions begin to celebrate. Now, big-box stores have begun heavily promoting and co-opting what was initially about small deeds in the same ways that they commercialized Valentine’s Day in the early 1900s, pushing their own party ideas, games, cards, and more, minimizing the day’s origin. Just like Valentine’s Day, Galentine’s Day has become completely corporatized and now falls into the same traps and criticism that have turned many people off Valentine’s Day in recent years.
In 2022, Galentine’s Day is no longer Leslie Knope’s day to leave your SO at home to kick it with your besties. Instead, stores are cashing in by badgering women to “spoil” their friends with high-value products rather than focusing on celebrating their strengths and connections.
The meaning of Galentine’s Day in 2022.
In the introductory celebration of Galentine’s Day, Leslie provides her friends with “a bouquet of hand-crocheted flower pens, a mosaic portrait of each of you made from the crushed bottles of your favorite diet soda, and a personalized 5,000-word essay of why you are all so awesome.” The gifts were handmade, intentional, and not something that they could get for themselves.
Today, stores across America make specific Galentine’s Day merch (these Galentine’s Day non-reusable water bottles from Target are both baffling and super unsustainable). If you search for Galentine’s Day on Google, the top results are all about what you should buy for your favorite ladies, rather than thoughtful ideas for creating your own surprises. Galentine’s Day has become a capitalist holiday just like Valentine’s Day, in which you’re expected to spend, spend, spend to show your friends that you care about them. With dozens of articles promoting only ways to pay for Galentine’s gifts (most articles hype up products and services that are well over $100 per person), this framing of Galentine’s Day encourages you to treat your friends with new purchases rather than by following the tradition of the holiday and making something meaningful.
Galentine’s and Valentine’s are not interchangeable, nor something to choose between.
This year, E News combined their articles for what to buy for Valentine’s and Galentine’s Day into one, implying that there’s no longer a difference in the way these days are being marketed. According to E, the gifts you should be buying for February 13th and 14th can and should be the same. The Washingtonian’s “Your Guide to Galentine’s Day Fun Around DC” also advertises Valentine’s Day events, even those specified for couples, because that’s precisely what you want to do on Galentine’s Day. NOLA Weekend and The Palm Beach Post each made one large listicle to find every Valentine’s and Galentine’s Day event in their respective cities. The language doesn’t shift between the Galentine’s and Valentine’s events because apparently, you can replace a significant other with your besties and call it a day. But your friends deserve better than the secondhand ideas your SO doesn’t want to do.
Treating the holidays the same also implies that Galentine’s Day and Valentine’s Day are something you must choose between, which paints the picture that they’re incompatible, like a woman must decide between her partner and her friends. A woman can have strong relationships with her friends and a supportive and loving partner. By marketing Galentine’s Day and Valentine’s Day as days that are almost at war with one another, it presents a regressive idea of feminism and is extremely patronizing, highlighting stereotypes that women in relationships ditch their non-partnered friends but also reigniting stereotypes that single women are bitter.
To be clear, Galentine’s Day was never supposed to be an anti-Valentine’s Day. Parks and Rec makes that explicit — you can have a partner and still can and should participate in Galentine’s Day. The two days shouldn’t be conflated, but that doesn’t make them mutually exclusive, either – it’s still important to cherish and celebrate your strong friendships when you have a SO and vice versa.
Corporate marketing makes the day feel inaccessible.
Often the marketing around Galentine’s Day highlights the single-women-only element, which decreases the accessibility of the day. With prominent “no boys allowed” decor, it not only excludes male-identifying friends but makes it feel like you can’t focus on your friends thanks to the constant references to boyfriends (or the lack thereof) waving above your head. By emphasizing this element, companies encourage the centering of male SOs into Galentine’s Day. While posited as a badass statement on strong womanhood, it’s a weak excuse for feminism – it pushes men to the forefront and does nothing to champion women.
This kind of marketing also doesn’t reflect the experiences of women in same-sex couples. Labels like “fries over guys” are supposed to signal that women should leave their (male) significant others at home for the night, forcing a heteronormative ideal and ignoring a large percentage of women.
Shower your friends with love in meaningful ways.
Not to mention, spending hundreds on your friends for Galentine’s risks your money going directly into the pockets of businesses that actively hurt women. Megastore Walmart, for example, has a large selection of Galentine’s Day gifts on its website. But while it promotes showing your gal pals love through gifts, Walmart is simultaneously fighting a lawsuit against its female truck drivers who allege the company refuses to provide uniforms that fit women. The same companies that don’t give their employees adequate parental leave and have few women executives sell shirts stating “girl power” each year, hoping to exploit the women that they refuse to uplift.
There are far better ways to make a feminist statement on Galentine’s Day than shelling out the big bucks and promoting harmful brands and ideas. Go back to the original themes and make your besties something they’ll adore. Or, if that’s not your thing, support women-owned businesses or find a class or service that will last beyond Galentine’s Day. In thinking about the future, also consider spreading out your gifts to your friends throughout the year. There’s no need to condense everything into Galentine’s Day just because it’s Galentine’s Day – just like Valentine’s Day is not the only day to show your love to your SO. Don’t relegate your affections to a single, made-up holiday; don’t reward the corporations that have usurped it.