Upfront, I'm not against Ring Dance existing or women making the choice to participate. I encourage those who feel that the evening means something to them to show up, if they can. They should be able to attend wearing whatever color dress, or even suit, they want. They should be able to choose who, if anyone, will walk them down the now infamous flight of stairs. (Yes, this is me throwing my hat in the ring after this weekend’s controversy with the new ceremony rules).
However, I also urge the University of Richmond community to foster an environment that is positive, safe and comfortable for those who feel Ring Dance does not fit them well.
I am one of those people. This past week made me especially aware of how against the norm it is to not attend Ring Dance as a junior woman. About two, if not more, times a day the question, “Why aren’t you going?” popped up. Even in spaces filled with people I know and trust, this question put me on the spot.
My personal answer is a moderately long one – too long for casual conversation. For starters, Ring Dance leaves me feeling unsettled and uncomfortable, even with its new updates. The juniors being celebrated usually get dressed up in a hyper-feminine way with all the accouterments of makeup, high heels and a formal dress. There are also traditional elements that are reminiscent of ladies being presented to society. Not inherently bad, but not my cup of tea. While there is still much more surrounding my decision not to show up at The Jefferson Hotel on Saturday night, sharing these additional reasons would leave me feeling vulnerable. So I’ll leave you with this: The gender norms involved do not make me feel comfortable, and I think that should be OK.
I celebrate my personal journey by bending the lines of gender norms. I have never been one to follow typical gender roles – I played baseball for nine years if that gives any indication.
Thus, conforming to the standards of traditional femininity that hold strong in environments like Ring Dance would cause me anxiety and discomfort. Alternatively, stretching the gender norms at such an event could disrupt the evening or the enjoyment of the people in attendance, as has happened in the past. Out of respect for other junior women to enjoy their night, I decided not to go.
Not everyone who skips Ring Dance has deeply personal reasons such as mine. Or if they do, their reasons might be different. On the other hand, the decision to attend and participate can be deeply personal as well, but rarely do these people get asked why they are going to Ring Dance. This double standard is an issue I feel strongly about addressing with the Richmond community.
Immediately asking someone, “Why aren’t you going to Ring Dance?” blatantly ignores the possibility that the decision is a highly personal one, and instead assumes that everyone has a right to know such private information. I want to encourage people in future years to be more respectful and mindful of this. There are several more polite and tasteful ways to respond to someone’s decision not to attend the event.
Ask what the person plans on doing instead of Ring Dance. The answer here is hopefully much less complicated (homework, getting off campus, etc.) and may even provide an opportunity to brag about that cool concert the person got tickets to or the amazing restaurant where they have reservations. Cool stuff happens on Ring Dance night that has nothing to do with Ring Dance!
Affirm their choice not to go. You could say something like, “I think it's cool you're doing your own thing.” For whatever reason they made their choice, you are telling them it is OK and you support them. Friend points!
Ask them if it is personal before asking, “Why?” This gives a relatively easy, casual “out” for someone who does not want to get into details right then and there. It also gives someone time to think of a response if they want to provide one. If you follow this up by affirming them, you definitely still get the friend points.
Finally, ask questions in a more private setting. If you are close to this person, it is quite possible that this will be a less intimidating question coming from you. But come on, personal questions are uncomfortable to answer in the dining hall with five other friends at your table. It makes it some weird pronouncement rather than just another conversation.
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It was my intention that my decision not to attend Ring Dance would benefit the juniors, whom I respect. In the same vein, we should also build that culture of respect for people who chose and will choose not to go. My greatest hope is that by surfacing this topic, conversations about Ring Dance attendance will be comfortable for everyone. As for the escort debates…we’ll see.
Contact Diana Reighart at firstname.lastname@example.org
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