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March 23, 2013

Jail dance lets fathers, daughters take a few steps together

(Continued)

RICHMOND, Va. —

"The whole idea feels very 1950s," says Peggy Drexel, author of "Our Fathers, Ourselves: Daughters, Fathers and the Changing American Family." "I mean, do you invite your sperm-donor dad? Today's America has the daughters of donors, lesbians, two gay dads. . . ."

In October, school officials in Cranston, R.I., banned the dances — along with mother-son baseball games — after the American Civil Liberties Union filed a complaint citing discrimination against single mothers, as well as gender stereotyping. "It's 'Ozzie and Harriet' stuff — it shouldn't be happening in this century," says Steven Brown of the Rhode Island ACLU. "Not every girl wants to grow up to be Cinderella; some might actually more enjoy playing baseball. But these types of stereotyped events promote an opposite impression."

One indication that times are changing: The Girl Scouts of America have given some of the events new names, such as "SAM" — significant adult male — dances or "Someone Special and Me" dances. There are also new events replacing the dances, such as the "Daddy-Daughter Boot Camp" for Girl Scouts on Fort Belvoir.

"What's really new here is that people whose family forms were shoved under the rug, including those in jail, are increasingly saying we have a right to the same respect that everyone gets," says Stephanie Coontz, author of "The Way We Really Are: Coming to Terms With America's Changing Families."

The dance at the Richmond jail is less improbable than it sounds: Historically, the father-daughter dances have been used to help American families reunite. They became widespread in the United States after World War II as a way to reintegrate men into family life. It's too early to know whether this dance will have a lasting impact, but Richmond City Sheriff C.T. Woody says it's a start.

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