My daughter was in kindergarten when she came home with an invitation for her first father-daughter dance. I quickly stuffed it in the recycling bin and hoped she would forget about it. At the time, I was separated from her father and he hadn't seen her in months, so a father-daughter dance wasn't feasible. Even if we were still together, though, there was no way I was going to let my daughter go to a father-daughter dance. Not a chance.
I know most people probably view these events as harmless fun, important community traditions, or a sweet way for a dad to spend time with his daughter. I am not one of those people, though. I actually think they are anything but harmless, and I truly believe we need to stop holding father-daughter dances entirely. Their problematic message aren't worth the one-on-one time. I also have a huge problem with events that deliberately exclude some kids, or their parents, from participating. Why make it for just fathers and daughters, and not for all kids and their parents of any gender? What about LGBTQ parents, single moms, or transgender kids? Should they not get a chance to enjoy a special event?
Whether intentionally or not, these events are exclusionary and reinforce the problematic cultural message that fathers own their daughters. Regardless of what anyone else thinks, that's not OK with me. Besides, I think it’s creepy for adult men to take young girls on so-called "dates." I think it's weird for young girls to dress up and attend a dance as if they're adults. So for these and a mountain of other reasons, there’s no way I would let my child attend a father-daughter dance.
Because They Are Sexist
For me, father-daughter dances are right up there with "Rules for Dating My Daughter" t-shirts and purity rings as symbols of the patriarchal idea that men have a responsibility to protect or shield their daughter's virtue or control their sexuality. In fact, it's appalling when you think about it that way.
Because They Exclude A Lot Of Kids
Father-daughter dances are so exclusionary. Families don't always have a dad. Instead, sometimes they have two moms, sometimes they have a single parent, and sometimes they have two parents that don't identify as a dad. Sometimes they don't have any parents at all, but have other caregivers. If they are a blended family like mine, they might have two dads, two moms, a girlfriend, and five kids of both genders in the mix. It's really a shame that schools and communities decide to hold events that overtly exclude kids whose families don't match a certain stereotype.
Because They Creep Me Out
There's something seriously creepy to me about implying that fathers and daughters should go on dates, dance with each other, or have something that resembles romantic love. They totally creep me out.
Because They Don't Serve A Purpose
I just don't get why we need to have father-daughter dances in the first place. I mean, do we hold them because we've always had them, or is there a more insidious message we hope to reinforce about daddy being a little girl's first love? Ultimately, they don't serve a real purpose and might actually hurt someone. So, can we just stop holding them?
Because They Are Heteronormative
I am so tired of the underlying assumption that everyone is straight and identifies as either male or female. Furthermore, kids, and parents who don't happen to fit a cisgender, heterosexual mold, shouldn't have to miss out just because events are designed without even acknowledging they exist. What kind of messages do we teach our kids about equality, and what relationships are valid and "normal," when we hold events like this?
Because They Are Harmful
Honestly, our culture already sexualizes little girls in so many ways that a dance just isn't necessary. Every time a picture of a baby girl in a diaper is removed from Facebook for sexual content, a company makes push-up bras for pre-teens, or a child sex abuse survivor is victim-blamed for what she did or said to her rapist, we send the message that girls are here for men and boys. We don't need a special event to formalize these kind of messages.
Because They Objectify Girls
From the time they are babies, we treat little girls like property. Father-daughter dances seem to fall right in with onesies that read "Daddy Won't Let Me Date Until I'm 30" and threatening our daughter's prom dates. These seemingly "harmless" messages and jokes teach girls in subtle and not-so-subtle ways that they are under men's control. It's so objectifying to make girls dress up like "ladies," dance with their fathers, and sometimes even promise to not have sex until they are safely in the care of their husbands.
Because They Are Antiquated
I don't know about you, but I don't long for the "good old days" when things were supposedly more "innocent" and "pure." In fact, the good old days sucked for a lot of people, like women and girls, people of color, LGBTQ people, and people with disabilities. It's time we've made father-daughter dances, along with other misogynistic and problematic values, a practice of the past.
Because They Reinforce Problematic Values
So many things in our culture still bring up the age-old idea that girls belong to their fathers, until those very same fathers decide to give another man permission to marry them and "gives them away" at their wedding. I am not a fan.
My daughters are their own people. No one owns them. They get to control their own sexuality and decide when and if they want to "lose their virginity." It won't make them less than, or damage them in any way. So the underlying messages learned at a father-daughter dance are ones I don't hold dear or think we should continue to perpetuate.