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Grey Areas: Awkward Slow Dance Edition

Hey Garland. I am a student currently in high school and I was recently present when a friend of mine who is a part of that grand tradition known as the student council (read: dance committee) pitched the idea of a Sadie Hawkins dance. There was a little bit of an argument because it was my opinion that the exception proves the rule and that, if anything, a special dance wherein women ask men seems to only prop up the idea that that is not a normal thing for the ladies to be doing, and that if they believed that was the case then we should be working on that and not allowing a one-time exception as some sort of social loophole to patriarchal system. I suppose that is mostly a lady thing, but it is also a heteronormative thing. Even when things are reversed, they say, you’re not allowed to ask your gay sweetheart to the dance. Now, I didn’t mean to embark on a rant. I am more asking for your opinion. Do you think Sadie Hawkins dances are a good idea? I guess it is kind of a case of “do we redress the external imbalance with internal imbalance or try to correct it directly.” That in itself seems to be a point of contention in some conversations I have had, particularly on the feminist blogs. Could you maybe talk about that?

To be honest, until you asked this question I thought Sadie Hawkins dances were something the television made up to provide shitty sitcoms with mid-season plot fodder before sweeps. But the Internet tells me that they are indeed a thing. A thing where young people are encouraged to treat lady-initiated dating like a novelty. It’s like powderpuff football games. Or women proposing on February 29th. The point of the exercise is to highlight how topsy-turvy this scenario is, how outrageous it is for women to be anything but passive, not to empower women to be participants in their own courtship. The Internet goes on to say that the original idea came from the comic strip Li’l Abner – Sadie Hawkins was an unattractive woman past “the marriageable age.” In desperation, her father organized a race between his daughter and the unmarried men of the town. Whatever man Sadie caught had to marry her.

At one point it might have been somewhat provocative to pre-Deep Throat America for women to come a-courtin’, but now it’s a little too precious and gender normative for my taste, and rooted in the same terror of spinsterhood that tells women they aren’t complete unless they’ve caught themselves a live one. Temporarily switching the genders in the predator/prey erotic dynamic doesn’t reform that dynamic or make it any less skewed in favor of the desires of men. And you are correct, it is heteronormative. But as a recent marathon session of reality television reminded me, not homophobic and not heteronormative is not the same as not sexist or not gender normative. I was watching an episode of my new favorite show, Tabatha’s Salon Takeover, and Tabatha Coffey – an out lesbian – was berating a salon owner for not being manly enough and not taking control of his employees.

This is a lesbian lady who’s known for being forceful and uncompromising, who no doubt has run up against the “commanding male leader/castrating female harpy” double standard, and yet she’s telling him to “man up” and “grow a pair” (for added Ke$ha-flavored trans erasure.) That’s the problem with using queers as a yardstick to judge the gender politics of any given situation.  It is easy to imagine that once we’ve augmented these rituals to include queer romance that it will strip them of their gender normative elements, but sadly it is not so.


  1. a.b. wrote:

    People are still having those dances? If it actually happens, I hope that some teacher will bring up its origin and get some conversation started. Ugh.

    To the OP: I say they’re a bad idea, and that you are so incredibly awesome for recognizing the problem. Are you the kind of high schooler to write an article about it for the paper? If so, DO IT!!

    Thursday, January 13, 2011 at 3:53 pm | Permalink
  2. Jadey wrote:

    I wonder if the Sadie Hawkins could be reformulated and updated… Like, push it as “If you, personally, are not normally the ‘asker’, then we challenge you to change it up and ask someone! JUST DO IT.”, motivational slogan, etc. Make it an EMPOWERMENT DANCE. It’s just nerdy enough to work. (Or fail horribly – one of those two. I always mix them up.)

    But, yeah, having just “the ladies” ask as a fun way to “mix it up” is regressive.

    Thursday, January 13, 2011 at 6:20 pm | Permalink
  3. Napalmnacey wrote:

    Sadie Hawkins Dances were referenced in Star Trek. That’s where I first heard of it. I imagine that maybe it’s a thing where those who are usually too shy to ask (regardless of race, species or gender) get to ask without being made fun of or something. That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it!

    Friday, January 14, 2011 at 7:10 am | Permalink
  4. Ned wrote:

    We had these once a year at my high school. Accompanied by a carnival or a fair or something, as if the dance itself wasn’t bad enough. But then, that high school is in Baton Rouge, which is hardly known for its enlightened ways.

    Friday, January 14, 2011 at 9:23 am | Permalink
  5. Hobbes wrote:

    We had one at my Catholic high school my senior year (2003). It stands to record as the only non-formal dance that more than 10 people attended my entire high school career, and I didn’t go because I had rehearsal for a show I was in. No one really saw the point of specifying it as a Sadie Hawkins dance, because the girls asked the guys most of the time anyway…

    Friday, January 14, 2011 at 11:12 am | Permalink
  6. Karen wrote:

    People ask dates to high school dances? My high school experience was that if anybody went, we went as a group of friends. Maybe an alternative would be a no-date dance that’s more focused on spending time making a dancing fool out of oneself with friends rather than romantic partners?

    I do think that the concept of a Sadie Hawkins dance is silly, sexist and heteronormative. I hope the OP’s student council is open to hearing it.

    Friday, January 14, 2011 at 12:19 pm | Permalink
  7. Kiri wrote:

    Yay this post. Boo gender normativity and heteronormativity.

    Friday, January 14, 2011 at 12:31 pm | Permalink
  8. clairedeloony wrote:

    They should have a Sady Doyle Dance instead, where you can ask anyone you want and screw them if they give you any shit. Maybe “Eye of the Tiger Beatdown” for the theme?

    Friday, January 14, 2011 at 2:37 pm | Permalink
  9. elizabeth wrote:

    Perhaps, the Sadie Hawkins Dance is actually a good thing? It certainly doesn’t include anyone who isn’t straight in the scenario, but I’m trying find some good in this.

    Now, obviously a girl can ask a boy out any time, but the theory is that most of the girls wait around for the boys to do the asking. Perhaps a Sady Hawkins Dance is a good way to show girls that they can aggressively go after their boy of choice and it’s perfectly okay and not scary at all.

    That said, according to my 13 year old sister and her friends, no one takes dates to dances unless it’s the prom so maybe the Sadie Hawkins Dance is one big joke.

    Friday, January 14, 2011 at 3:14 pm | Permalink
  10. firefly wrote:

    We are having one…in my California, liberal, supposed-to-be-tolerant but makes rape jokes/calls people gay school.

    It’s killing me, though I believe no one in my school will sense the issue with it.

    Friday, January 14, 2011 at 7:09 pm | Permalink
  11. Maggie wrote:

    I often say grow up, get some balls to men, but I say the same thing to women. For me many things have become gender neutral… It may be that way with Tabitha too. (But I realize others might not see it that way.)

    Also a sad fact: I asked a guy to my prom and he made up some lame excuse. I ended up going with a friend, and I really feel it was some kind of pity date, which absolutely did nothing for my self esteem at the time.

    Saturday, January 15, 2011 at 1:49 pm | Permalink
  12. Cessen wrote:

    The problematic origins of Sadie Hawkins aside, I think the pro/con balance of a Sadie Hawkins dance is going to depend. Not all places are the same. We don’t live in one big unified culture, much as TV and internet sometimes make it seem that way. One size does not fit all.

    If you look around and see that girls at your school rarely ask guys out, then the dance might be a good idea. If, on the other hand, you look around and see that girls asking guys out is pretty typical, then it’s probably pretty pointless and only serves to anomalize the action.

    Saturday, January 15, 2011 at 3:48 pm | Permalink
  13. Helen wrote:

    I often say grow up, get some balls to men, but I say the same thing to women. For me many things have become gender neutral…

    So, testicles, which are a masculine trait, have come to represent courage in a “gender neutral” manner, as you see it. Can you not see a problem with this? It’s still assigning courage to the male group of characteristics.

    If the Sadie Hawkins legend – which I hadn’t heard of, not being from the US – springs from a woman being given permission by a father to do something because she’s failed the fuckability test, I’d suggest anyone trying it drops the Sadie Hawkins name and chooses some word less freighted with mysogynistic connotations.

    Monday, January 17, 2011 at 4:09 pm | Permalink
  14. Corny wrote:

    We still have them at my (Catholic) high school, where I’m a senior. Very few upperclassmen go because the dance is held in a very ugly, un-dance-like room, but tons of underclassmen (14-16 year olds) show up. They call it a Turnabout dance, which is no better than Sadie Hawkins, although it drops the relation to that legend. There are, however, several public schools in the area that have such a dance and call it a Sadie Hawkins.

    I should write to the paper about this.

    Monday, January 17, 2011 at 7:52 pm | Permalink
  15. Allison wrote:

    We had TWIRP dance. TWIRP = the woman is required to pay. Yeeeeah!

    Wednesday, January 19, 2011 at 4:47 pm | Permalink
  16. InfamousQBert wrote:

    we didn’t have a dance at my school, but i went to a baptist church camp one summer (it was weird. end of story.) and they had a “sadie hawkins day”, where the girls were supposed to ask a boy to accompany them to the various church approved activities of the day. we had prayer/preaching first thing in the morning after breakfast and they asked all the girls to stay behind for a few minutes. they were actually giving the boys a head start because the way you “asked” a boy, was to chase him down and actually CATCH him. then he was pretty much trapped into spending the day with you and sitting next to you at the TWO MORE prayer/preaching meetings that day. the whole thing was so f’ed up.

    so, basically, i vote NO to sadie hawkins in any incarnation. it was silly and cute in the 50s, which should give you some idea of how progressive it’s not today.

    Thursday, January 20, 2011 at 11:58 am | Permalink
  17. Nanasha wrote:

    When I was in high school, they called this dance “Turnabout” and it was, in essence, what a commenter before me suggested-people who didn’t normally ask out someone to the dance would be the askers. Of course, it was Heavily Implied that it was to be young women who were to be asking out the young men, but it was never specifically forced upon us.

    I grew up with severely fucked up gender issues (I was a very tomboyish kind of person and totally boy-crazy, yet because I was strong and often very outspoken and gregarious, my mother kept putting it into my head that I was making myself come across as a lesbian (which, according to her was THE WORST THING EVER AND NO ONE WILL EVER LOVE YOU), and so I was often terrified to be the “Caveman Lady Dragging Horrified Boy Off To Cave” sort.

    Somehow I grew up without being horribly sexist/homophobic and have generally accepted my gender differences without feeling like I am somehow a Freak with a capital F just because I don’t conform to traditional female behavior stereotypes but still find myself generally attracted to males.

    On a personal note, I always asked a guy who I could have fun with at the dance-either a guy who was fairly intellectual or a guy who was fun to dance with. I never really asked guys I was all OMG HE IS CUTE about because

    1) I didn’t want to be rejected and feel like crap about the whole thing


    2) All my friends were there anyway, so it was going to be fun whether or not I had someone with me, and I didn’t want to be all “ZOMG I AM WITH A HOT GUY CLEAR THE AREA” the whole time.

    Friday, January 21, 2011 at 10:49 am | Permalink
  18. roesmoker wrote:

    “That’s the problem with using queers as a yardstick to judge the gender politics of any given situation. It is easy to imagine that once we’ve augmented these rituals to include queer romance that it will strip them of their gender normative elements, but sadly it is not so.”

    YES. THIS. This is exactly how I feel about marriage. And because I can’t help but quote IBTP/Twisty at the slightest opportunity, her post on marriage is a brilliant deconstruction of exactly what is wrong with it:

    Saturday, January 22, 2011 at 12:40 am | Permalink
  19. Casey wrote:


    Even though I decided a while ago to forever be un-married and child-free by choice, that link (and many radical feminist spaces) is soul-crushing to me and I can’t properly articulate why…it just…I don’t want to be some lesbian separatist but it all feels so futile.

    Saturday, January 29, 2011 at 2:24 am | Permalink