By Arnie Seipel, NPR website, February 13, 2011
Though no one has pinpointed the exact origin of the holiday (Valentine's Day), one good place to start is ancient Rome, where men hit on women by, well, hitting them.
Those Wild and Crazy Romans
From Feb. 13 to 15, the Romans celebrated the feast of Lupercalia. The men sacrificed a goat and a dog, then whipped women with the hides of the animals they had just slain.
The Roman romantics "were drunk. They were naked," says Noel Lenski, a historian at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Young women would actually line up for the men to hit them, Lenski says. They believed this would make them fertile.
The brutal fete included a matchmaking lottery, in which young men drew the names of women from a jar. The couple would then be, um, coupled up for the duration of the festival – or longer, if the match was right.
The ancient Romans may also be responsible for the name of our modern day of love. Emperor Claudius II executed two men — both named Valentine — on Feb. 14 of different years in the 3rd century A.D. Their martyrdom was honored by the Catholic Church with the celebration of St. Valentine's Day.
Later, Pope Gelasius I muddled things in the 5th century by combining St. Valentine's Day with Lupercalia to expel the pagan rituals. But the festival was more of a theatrical interpretation of what it had once been. Lenski adds, "It was a little more of a drunken revel, but the Christians put clothes back on it. That didn't stop it from being a day of fertility and love."
Around the same time, the Normans celebrated Galatin's Day. Galatin meant "lover of women." That was likely confused with St. Valentine's Day at some point, in part because they sound alike.
There is an inexorable mating dance between men and women that has shifted through different musical rhythms and lyrics through centuries, depending on the current "style" of the culture.
Today, women around the world, are taking to the streets to protest the sexual antics of Silvio Berlusconi, demanding his removal from the highest office in Italy. Taking advantage of young women, literally still girls, is not a way to win the hearts of those girls nor of the 50%+ of the voting population.
Hopefully, the other 49%+ (men) do not approve either.
Watching men and women for well over a half century, there are some things that have stood out.
One is that men, while often responsibly 'bringing home the bacon' in the form of income from their work, do not "get" the psyche of the female gender. Our's is a more structural point of view, getting at the dynamics of the situation, and its significance for all in the family, while women seem to focus on their immediate feelings as their lens through which to calibrate their responses.
One of the more recent obvious cultural differences is the degree to which women "put men down" whenever there is a group of women meeting or working together, while men simply do not discuss how they feel about women; they would rather talk about their new car, their new fishing rod and reel, or their new piece of technology. On this Valentine's Day, the depth of this undercurrent of dissatisfaction with their male partners, among women, seems either to be just another topic like the weather that will not cease to fascinate, or a serious indication of how wide is the gap in appreciation of men by their female partners.
We men are hardly ideal, perfect or even exemplary. We are often frustrated and frustrating; we are often disappointed with ourselves and don't know how to deal with that; we are often impatient with both ourselves and others, given a different rhythm and clock for our lives than the one operating in the lives of those we happen to encounter. We often do not have a male community, except for the annual hunting trip, or the annual fishing trip, or the occasional workplace celebration, where we can let off "steam". We spend too much on tech gadgets, and on beer and liquor, and often even on cigarettes, if not hash. We are not much on formalities, or on theory or even very good at negotiating.
And, what's more, we are not likely to learn many new skills, attitudes or perceptions.
In short, we a more than a little stubborn, trying hard to make something of ourselves, of our families and of our work. And, if you women really want us to learn something, we can only ask that you bring us to that learning with gentleness, and compassion and sensitivity.
At the same time, we do not know, very well, just how to explain how we think and how we see things so that you will understand our point of view. We do not have the vocabulary or the confidence to do that.
We do not have mentors and role models to guide us to do that. We have role models who work very hard, and who beaver their way through their careers, without coming up for much interraction.
And we are more than a little nervous about just how unhappy you women are with all of us, collectively, and that makes us withdraw, often from the very conversations you seem to wish to have with us. We know that if you are unhappy with your male partner, that will reflect on each of us, every time you meet one of us and add a little more doubt to our sense of ourselves.
And the last thing you want is for your male counterparts to become even weaker, more self-effacing and less confident...and that is the direction we seem to be taking too often.
When we ask you to be our Valentine, we really mean it, even though we know that we are not exactly everything you would want in a partner. We really do appreciate your partnership, your support and your love and we often do not know how to say that we do.