Hey, ACLU: Father/Daughter Dances Are Not Sexist

Much of the time, traditions can be wrong, and I think it’s good that progress usually wins out in our ever-changing world. But sometimes traditions are harmless.

The ACLU says father/daughter dances not only play into an old stereotype of what kinds of activities “girls” enjoy, but they discriminate against girls who don’t have fathers. I disagree.

Months ago, father/daughter dances and mother/son baseball games were part of a school district tradition in Cranston, Rhode Island, until one mother called out the “injustice” that her daughter wasn’t allowed to attend the dance because she didn’t have a father present in her life. That’s when the ACLU stepped in and helped change the policy that would lead to a ban the dance.

Much of the time, traditions can be wrong, and I think it’s good that progress usually wins out in our ever-changing world. But sometimes traditions are harmless, and the negative impact of letting them continue is so small it should be overlooked. This — the father/daughter dance — is one of those instances.

The father/daughter relationship, as well as the mother/son relationship, can often be a strained one, because of the difference in gender. Dads typically like to do “guy stuff” with their sons and chances to bond with their daughters can be rare. A dance may seem boring to some girls, or a little old-fashioned, and with the changing dynamics of the American family not all girls have fathers in their lives — but banning a formal social opportunity for dads and daughters to hang out seems to miss the point. (It should be noted that for girls without fathers in Cranston, a stand-in was welcome to attend the dance.) Rather than cancel the event and treat it like a breach of human rights, the ACLU should have recognized it for what it really is: a community effort to promote family time.

A surprisingly low number of American households actually strive for quality family time these days, regardless of parent-child gender. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American watches television nearly 3 hours of every day. That’s about the total amount of daylight hours kids and parents spend at home together during the week before and after school and work. The average parent also spends about 38.5 minutes a week in meaningful conversation with their children. How much quality family time can you get on that schedule?

For me as a kid, bonding with my dad wasn’t as easy as bonding with my mom, but the opportunities that came up were always really special. I was lucky. My dad made an effort to make sure I knew that even though I was a girl, he and I still had similar interests and could be buddies. If my town had banned things like “Take Your Daughter To Work Day” (I always went to my dad’s office) or phased out the Father/Daughter YMCA group we joined, just because some girls didn’t have fathers and therefore couldn’t join too, I’d have missed out on a great opportunity to hang out with my dad as a pre-teen, and realize how cool he was.

There’s such a short amount of time when kids enjoy hanging out with their parents in front of their friends. Why wouldn’t school communities embrace those years while they can, and help build up the family/school/child relationship? Besides, the ACLU should have bigger fish to fry.

Reprinted with permission from The Jane Dough.