Looking Beyond Good Intentions
“We are shaped by the world around us, and we shape it. It takes wisdom and courage to let go of what doesn’t serve us.”
- Carol Delmonico, author, Stoke Your Woke Interactive Journal
Last winter, a neighbor handed me a poster for a Daddy-Daughter Dance sponsored by the local Rotary Club. The poster’s imagery showed a princess theme with a castle, jewels, tiara and the familiar pastel blue and pink palette that one would come to expect. All proceeds went toward a major and much needed remodeling effort of our local homeless shelter, a noble cause. I thought about the places I frequent and where I could ask for it to be displayed. But something just didn’t sit right. Of course I wanted to support the homeless shelter’s remodeling efforts, but the thought of asking anyone who knew me well to display it felt off. So it sat on our kitchen counter until the day of the event passed completely useless. I tossed it and forgot about it completely. Until yesterday. It’s been a year since I tossed out that poster and as images of this year’s event enter my social media accounts, that unsettling feeling is back up. This year, I’m choosing to understand what has me feeling uneasy.
So here’s my story. A dear friend of mine who is a single mother posted images of her daughters all dressed up accompanied by two men from their circle of friends as escorts. This family of feisty and resilient women lost their partner and father several years ago and to fill this void for this Daddy-Daughter dance, two compassionate men stepped up. It was an absolutely beautiful example of extending care outside of our own families and showing up for the young people in our lives. They chose to take an emotionally difficult situation and turn it into an opportunity to show love for the people it their life. My heart swelled and my eyes teared up as I scrolled through the images. Here were my friends, who contribute in big ways to the community, showing up in big ways for each other.
I was moved by the experience and feel closer to these men for opening their hearts to these young girls. And I’m learning I can hold multiple emotions at a time. I can hold that emotion of love, support and compassion and also have a nagging lump in my gut of confusion and uncertainty. Without taking anything away from this beautiful story and the intentions and openheartedness of those involved, I believe it is time we take a closer look at the cultural ramifications of this event, most notably who it includes and who it leaves out.
To be clear, for those of you who do not know me (my name can be confusing), I am a cisgender female married to a cisgender male and the mother of a young son. The perspective I will share here will not include anything about mother-son opportunities (I know that has been addressed in response to this dance already), because honestly that scenario perpetuates some of the same challenges I am about to communicate. This is not about me defending my own feelings of exclusion. Being white and of privilege, I am rarely excluded.
So here is the troubling part for me about this dance:
Certain groups are excluded: The name alone implies that if you don’t fall into the category of “daddy” or “daughter”, you aren’t invited. It is another cultural reminder for the LGBTQ+ community that they are considered outsiders who don’t belong.
No dad, no go: If you have lost your dad to disease, suicide, the penal system or a divorce that has severed your relationship, you aren’t invited. Unless you have proactive men in your life like my girlfriend, this dance reignites feelings of loss and disconnection.
A troubling history: The not-so-distant history of women being owned by their husbands, this power-over, men controlling women seeps in here for me. What I know to be true in my lifetime is this cultural story that daughters need the protection of their dads until a viable (male) suitor comes to ask for her hand in marriage. The daughter is handed off to this new (male) partner who will take over protection duties. According to this piece of cultural inheritance, women are weak and in need of protection. I hope this tradition of “handing the woman down” ends at my generation. For me, there are rumblings of this history in this event.
“But it goes to a good cause”: Fundraising efforts that ask us to trade in our values for money, and that create division and perpetuate exclusion aren’t worth it. We can come up with better ideas or better yet, create a system where resources are more equitably distributed and fundraising becomes obsolete.
So the questions that bubble up here are these:
Who gets to participate and who gets left out?
What does this event say about what family type or orientation is “accepted” and who is an outsider?
As I work to live my life under the vision of creating a world that works for all, I can no longer let events like this and rumblings within me slide by. By blindly condoning this seemingly harmless event to happen, we are passively sending the message to daughters from families outside the culturally defined “traditional” family that their families are inadequate and lacking without a male presence.
As I described earlier, my identity falls within how our culture has defined acceptable gender and sexual orientation standards. Wherever I go, I almost always belong. I am white, privileged and becoming increasingly aware of how important it is that those of us who do have voice and power to disrupt and question the status quo when traditions and behaviors harm or exclude people. I know when I get that unsettling feeling of confusion and discomfort, I must dig in, write and have conversations with people I trust and get to the bottom of it. It is for my own emotional health and the well-being of those I live with, love and have yet to meet. Our happiness and prosperity are intrinsically intertwined.
This piece will likely bring forth defensiveness and feelings of fragility within those who are connected or participated in this event. It comes with the territory. I strive not to live in binaries of good and bad and work not to label people or situations in these ways. It’s not that easy and I won’t do that here. What I do hope is that a few people will read this and something will shift in them. That is the power of sharing our stories and perspectives. What I’m asking is for all of us, myself included, to look outside of our own experiences and before we take action ask the question, “Am I causing someone else pain?” Of course I want to support the shelter, and yes, the actions of those two men are admirable. What I am challenging here is how we support the shelter and the girls in ways that don’t perpetuate unhealthy gender roles, exclude populations and sustain existing power dynamics.
We are creative, inventive, compassionate humans who seek out opportunities for altruism and connection. I’m open to ideas and feedback that includes finding new ways to be together to support important causes that are in alignment with our community values and that include everyone. I am open to feedback from those who feel excluded by events or circumstances like these. I want to be helpful and if in my writing I have created even further damage, I need to know about it. I don’t want to passively participate (or in this instance, actively and unknowingly participate) in actions that oppress others. I’ve already unconsciously done plenty of that in my life. I want to learn something different and would love to hear from you.
Working toward a world that works for all,