Every February, my school’s PTA puts on a father/daughter dance (at the school). Even though my daughter always elects to go, I’ve never really liked the idea and here’s why.
Pressure to attend
Anytime the school puts on an event, children feel a lot of pressure to become part of that event. There are flyers, the teachers talk about it in class, and classmates begin to talk about going. And in some schools, the administration will push pretty hard for 100% attendance. Just for the father/daughter dance, we’ll get 2 or 3 flyers sent home and at least 2 email reminders about it. This all amounts to a lot of pressure on the child and the parent to participate in the event even if not really interested. School officials seem to be unaware of the kind of pressure they place on kids and families to participate in these events.
The cost can be prohibitive
There’s money involved in these school dances. You have to pay to get in (although that fee is often nominal). In addition, dad and daughter have to get dressed up because it’s semi-formal, which often means a trip to the store for a new dress, shoes, etc. Anyone living on a budget has to anticipate the event and work it into their budget. Our PTA in particular (and I’ve heard this of other PTAs) seems to be a group of privileged parents who have no idea how hard it is for some families to scrape together even 20 extra dollars from one week to the next. So the dance becomes a source of economic stress for some families.
It’s clearly advertised as a father/daughter dance. This has changed in recent times to where the girls of the school can bring a male escort like a grandfather, uncle, or cousin, but the dance is specifically for little girls and a male family member. The problem is family dynamics are complicated. What if dad or grandpa has to work that night? What if dad is a single dad and can’t find daycare for the other children in the house? What if dad isn’t around? What if the little girl is being raised by a lesbian couple? What about parents who are transgender? When you anticipate a certain family structure and try to promote it, you can inadvertently make children who have a different family make up feel bad about their family or make them feel as if they can’t participate.
And just an additional note here, what about kids who are gender queer and are not sure or are unwilling to classify themselves as boy or girl, and what about kids who want to present differently than their sex? Schools are not adopting policies to make it easier for these kids to explore who they are or feel comfortable with who they are.
What about the boys?
This one goes with exclusive, but I wanted to give it special attention. Any boy attending my school isn’t allowed to participate in the father/daughter dance. I have a big problem with this. What if a boy likes to dance and wants to go? There is no mother/son dance. At my school, there is a mother/son event, but it’s not a dance. It’s a game night with a big bounce house. My son knows the difference and expresses discontent with the unfair arrangement. And so does my daughter because she would like to participate in the activities at the mother/son event. In short, they both feel left out.
In addition, it sends a very clear message that dances and getting dressed up are for girls, and parties with bounces houses and other games are for boys. It’s a reinforcement of gender roles that we should be working to make archaic.
Even though I don’t think schools should be concerned about dances and parties, I don’t worry too much about them in general. I know that my children like to dance, and for my daughter, it’s an opportunity to dance with her friends. But the format of a father/daughter dance in particular should change. A friend of mine suggested that they become family dances where a child brings an adult member of their family to the dance, and it’s open to all children at the school. I also think the requirement of semi-formal should change to come as you are. Some girls will still wear dresses, but it takes the pressure off poorer families.
I’m noticing more and more as my children go through the public school system how much our schools promote tradition without thinking about the impact that particular tradition has on some student populations. Some traditions just have to change. It’s how we grow and become better as a society. When will we stop telling boys and girls what it is they should like?