Young Elected Officials Network, People for the American Way Foundation
Sociology & Criminal Justice Studies
Parent-child community events like father-daughter dances are a celebrated tradition in many communities. However, when these events specify the gender of who can participate, they exclude many families. They also tend to reinforce gender stereotypes (e.g., a dance for girls and a sports event for boys), and are legally questionable for public school and associated P.T.A./P.T.O. sponsors that may be violating federal Title IX requirements and for local governments that may be violating the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause.
Contemporary U.S. society is made up of families that come in diverse forms and structures. Two-parent households may have a working mother and stay-at-home father or two parents of the same gender. Some children live with only one parent, sometimes due to factors such as deployment, death, divorce, and incarceration. Excluding families from these events prevents them from participating in community events meant to foster and celebrate family bonds, ultimately adding unnecessary stressors and stigmatizing these families and children.
To address these concerns, over the past decade a growing number of communities across the United States have adapted their family events to make them gender inclusive. From Rhode Island to North Carolina to Wisconsin to Oregon, schools, local governments, and other sponsors of gender-exclusive parent-child events have adapted their events to be welcoming and inclusive. These communities strive to ensure the whole community is represented, and that they bring families in the community together, providing equal access to community events. Daddy Daughter Dances become Family Dances or Spring Flings. Me and My Son Bowling becomes a Bowling Bonanza. These events have been expanded to preserve the opportunity for parents and children to bond, including for fathers with their daughters, while also ensuring that girls who like bowling, boys who like dancing, nonbinary children, widowed parents otherwise considered the “wrong” gender, and other community members are able to participate in events that are designed for the community of which they are a part.
A number of organizations, from the American Civil Liberties Union (A.C.L.U.) to the American Association of University Women (A.A.U.W.) to PFLAG National to the National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education (N.C.W.G.E.), support communities making these events gender inclusive. However, these changes have not occurred without resistance, often rooted in an attachment to tradition, a desire to enforce values and normative gender roles in our society, and a fear that inclusive policies are part of a cultural politics they find troubling. However, public institutions have responded that they should serve their entire constituency, regardless of any staff or politician’s personal views. Regardless of who lives in their community, communities that have adapted their events seek to serve all the children and families who live there.
Being inclusive does not mean ending a tradition; it means finding a way to continue a tradition and bring more people into the celebration. A family dance that used to be a Daddy Daughter Dance still welcomes fathers and daughters to attend together. Families and community leaders seeking change want to be able to participate in community traditions with their family and for these events to be welcoming to their neighbors.
Across the country, gender-exclusive community events are being challenged. Some have changed and become gender inclusive. Others continue to exclude members of the public. Advocates, community leaders, and decision-makers in communities with gender-exclusive events seeking to create equal access to these community events can advocate for and adopt changes to specific events or broader inclusive policies that requires these events be inclusive. Community leaders can work to create inclusive policies that represent their whole community and bring families of all kinds together.
Temko, Ezra, Emily Love, Heidi Masching, Destiny Baxter, and Adam Loesch. 2022. "Communities Moving Past the Daddy Daughter Dance: Adapting Gender-Exclusive Events for the 21st Century." Young Elected Officials Network. https://www.yeonetwork.org/_files/ugd/d75f3e_e5d7c4bb319845bda6796c761a90daf8.pdf
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