It’s Sadie Hawkins Day. You know, the day when the girls are supposed to ask out the boys. Like us, you may have vivid memories of those dreadful Sadie Hawkins Day school dances, where the pressure was on and the gossip was flying about who would ask whom to the dance. Although it may have seemed like a fun novelty then, knowing what we know now, we think… not so much.
The legend that we’ve always been fed about Sadie Hawkins Day is that it’s supposed to make girls and women feel a sense of empowerment. But knowing the ugly truth behind its origin, we’re not sure how this atrocious “holiday” is still being observed today.
So how did this day become so engrained in our American folklore? Here’s what you should know…
Sadie Hawkins was not an actual person. She made her public debut in cartoon artist Al Capp’s November 15, 1937 comic strip Li’l Abner, which was set in the fictional mountain village of Dogpatch, Kentucky. Sadie, “the homeliest gal in all them hills,” was the daughter of Hezekiah, the town’s most wealthy and powerful man. Because Sadie was so ugly, she couldn’t land herself a husband. It terrified Hezekiah to think that his “ancient” 35-year-old daughter would suffer the worst humiliation a woman could ever experience – being an old maid – so he took the matter into his own hands.
Calling all the bachelors in town, Hezekiah declared it “Sadie Hawkins Day” and ordered a race of eligible bachelors with Sadie chasing after them… when a man was caught, he would be legally bound to marry her. The other town spinsters loved this idea so much that they declared Sadie Hawkins Day a mandatory annual event, which was recreated in the comic strip by Capp every November… for FORTY years!
Sadie Hawkins Day wasn’t just a hit with the fictional spinsters of Dogpatch, it was also a hit with Capp’s real life readers. In 1939, two years after Sadie’s introduction, Life magazine reported over 200 colleges holding Sadie Hawkins Day events. It became a rite for girls at high schools and college campuses across the country.
Understanding that Sadie Hawkins was a craze during a very different time in history helps to put its popularity into perspective, at least a little bit. But now, 76 years later, you don’t need a Women’s Studies degree to know that the sexist foundation on which it’s based is outdated, to say the least.
As for the man who dreamed up this idea, Al Capp was apparently a known womanizer and misogynist, as well as an accused rapist. His reputation for “seducing and even sexually assaulting aspiring actresses, including a young Goldie Hawn and a distraught and disheveled Grace Kelly,” along with sleeping with the college girls he met on his Sadie Hawkins Day tours preceded him.
So today, on her “special” day, let’s liberate Sadie from her tragic life and discontinue these celebrations. By shifting the focus to teaching the significance of her story in American history and what it represents, we can better appreciate how far we’ve come.
NOTE: Although Sadie was first introduced in the cartoon on November 15, Sadie Hawkins Day is “observed” on November 13.