Photo: Rex USA.
For many a high school student, Sadie Hawkins is a kind of an introduction to first wave feminism. It's also more of a novelty moment than a true expression of agency and understanding of the nuanced gender politics of appropriate dating behavior. But, hey, if it gives girls the chance to assert their own sexuality without patiently and demurely waiting on the affections of a man, it's a good thing, right?
Well, we recently got curious and decided to dig a bit into the history of this age-old tradition of many American high schools. Turns out, Sadie Hawkins might actually be a feminist's worst nightmare. MentalFloss notes that it all began with a Lil' Abner comic about "Sadie Hawkins Day." It was a charming holiday coined by the character Hekzebiah Hawkins, whose daughter Sadie was shockingly unmarried at 35. Due to her extreme spinsterness, it was declared that all the men in the town of Dogpatch would run away from her, and whoever she caught first was doomed to be her husband. According to The Atlantic , the trend quickly caught on, and its widespread acceptance was reported in Life magazine.
The comic originally ran in 1939, so it's no surprise that it's not exactly a shining beacon of enlightened gender theory. Nowadays, it would seem that most people are unaware of the origins. Certainly, we're not here to say that any teenager who participates in a Sadie Hawkins dance is some horrible misogynist. But, even without the backstory, there's something to be said about the current state of socialized gender identity that we need a specially named event just for a girl to ask a guy out. As adults, we might be above that, but for teenagers at a particularly susceptible stage in life, it's pretty easy to see how that kind of thinking can sink in, and deep.
So, what's a forward thinker to do? If Sadie Hawkins is originally rooted in old stereotypes of women as clutching, desperate beings whose only value is their physical appearance and whose only goal is marriage to an eligible man, can it ever be reclaimed for modern sensibilities? It's a particularly important question today, one that is playing out with particular fervor regarding issues of race. Blackface has a very offensive, oppressive history that, in its original form, has no place in this day and age. Yet, many people consistently fail to grasp the fact that it is not a joke, and it really does evoke painful memories for a lot of people.
The question of Sadie Hawkins might be a less sensitive one, but in essence, it's the same. On the one hand, we have an automatic reaction that makes us want to leave any of these dated, oppressive relics in the past. With blackface, we personally are nowhere near ignoring the context and viewing it as just a harmless joke like any other. But, in the case of Sadie Hawkins, where the context is much less known and therefore doesn't tug the same emotional chords, is it okay to turn a blind eye to history in favor of a more optimistic future? At some point, we have to ask ourselves when "too soon" becomes obsolete, and when appropriation of previous social ills for more positive goals is a feasible and reasonable way of reinterpreting the past in the present.