In one Rhode Island town, father-daughter dances are either considered a favorite tradition or a passe event that discriminates and reinforces gender stereotypes.
But on Thursday, a local radio station in Cranston, R.I., hosted its own father-daughter dance in response to the school district's decision to ban the event for violating gender discrimination laws.
"We were receiving an influx of emails and phone calls from our listeners who were just really upset about the ruling and you know, we really sympathize," Briget D'Antonio, a promotions director for Cat County's 98.1, told The Huffington Post. "We feel this is a time-honored tradition and, you know, we felt really bad that it was taken away from these elementary students in Cranston."
The staff at the radio station rented a private venue and hired American Idol winner Scotty McCreery to perform an hour-long acoustic set at the dance. The station sold more than 600 tickets, and though news cameras were not allowed inside the venue, they did show up to cover the event.
"I think in education, anything we can do to celebrate the family and the community should be something that we should put at the forefront instead of political agendas," one father told a local NBC affiliate.
The controversy surrounding father-daughter dances began last spring when a single mother complained to the state's American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) about an event billed as a "Me and My Guy" dance.
The mother argued that the event excluded girls who didn't have a close adult male in their lives. The dance also stipulated that girls -- rather than all students -- were invited. A mother-son baseball game was set to be the dance's counterpart.
The Rhode Island ALCU wrote to the school district, citing the activities as problematic, discriminatory and outdated. The letter, which was obtained by The Huffington Post, reads:
In addition, assigning girls to a “me and my guy” dance, while sending the boys to a baseball game, serves only to perpetuate outmoded notions of appropriate “girl” and “boy” activities. In the 21st Century, these stereotypes simply do not hold any force, nor should a school be attempting to promote them. We are sure that, contrary to notions that may have ruled the day decades ago, some girls would be much happier attending a baseball game than a dance.
The district's assistant superintendent responded to the ACLU and said that the parent group that organized the dance did not seek approval, and that dances of a gender-specific nature had not been condoned for years.
"Two years ago, the Central Office leadership directed all principals to work with their partner organizations to make all events, such as dances, be inclusive and not gender-exclusive," Judith Lundsten wrote to the ACLU following the complaint. Lundsten did not immediately respond to request for comment on the replacement dance held this week.
As the New York Times noted in September, last year's dance still took place, and the mother who complained attended the event with her daughter.
Nevertheless, the issue continues to draw controversy, and some in the community are still trying to get the Rhode Island General Assembly to make exceptions to gender discrimination laws for events like the dad-daughter dance and the mom-son baseball game.
In the meantime, the replacement dance held earlier this week by the radio station was able to sidestep accusations of discrimination by leaving the event open to all students, though boys were not their intended audience.
"Even though its inclusive of everybody, we feel that it is more geared toward the girls, especially with Scotty McCreery performing," D'Antonio told HuffPost.
D'Antonio went on to say that while they are not trying to make a political statement, the station is also considering planning an event directed at the boys in the community this spring.
Steven Brown, executive director of the Rhode Island ACLU, said he found it amusing that the radio station constructed the event in such a way that would prevent controversy in the first place.
"It's actually pretty funny," Brown told HuffPost. "We don’t have any issue with it because it wasn’t discriminating in any way. They called it a father-daughter dance, but they invited girls and boys to bring an adult of their choice. It was more of a PR thing than anything else, which is fine. But if the [Parent Teacher Organization] had the same event, there never would have been any issue."