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November 13 is Sadie Hawkins Day

Sadie Hawkins DayToday is Sadie Hawkins Day, an American rite-of-passage for generations of teenagers. Misogynistic, antiquated and awkward for all involved, the Sadie Hawkins Dance supposedly empowers girls to switch gender roles and ask out the boys. Did we mention it’s misogynistic and antiquated? The true origin is much, much worse.

Sadie Hawkins was a character created in 1937 by Al Capp in a cartoon called Li’l Abner, set in the fictional hillbilly town of Dogpatch, Kentucky. Sadie was the “homeliest gal in all them hills.” She waited in vain for a suitor to show up at her door, but not a single prospective husband came a-courting. After fifteen years, Sadie was in full panic mode and her father didn’t want to support a spinster daughter for the rest of her life.

After fifteen long years, Sadie’s dad decided to get creative. He called all the unmarried men of Dogpatch together and declared it Sadie Hawkins Day. The town’s bachelors would run for their lives with Sadie in hot pursuit. The “lucky” man she caught would have to marry her. As her Pappy explained, “Th’ one she ketches’ll be her husbin.”

Sadie_Hawkins_Day origin lil abner comic strip

The rest of the spinsters in Dogpatch (how many were there?) thought the race was an excellent idea and made Sadie Hawkins Day a mandatory yearly event, much to the chagrin of the bachelors in town, who had no say in the matter.

The Sadie Hawkins Dance appeared in the strip sometime later, taking place the night before the race. The spinsters wore hobnail boots to stomp on the feet of the single men, potentially making them easier to catch in the next day’s race.

The Li’l Abner comic strip debuted in 1934. From the start, it was bawdy and filled with sexual innuendo, not to mention scantily-clad, pneumatically-chested women. But it was apparently considered wholesome family fare. In 1939, Life magazine ran a story stating that 201 colleges were celebrating Sadie Hawkins Day.  By 1952, it was reportedly celebrated at over 40,000 different locations. Capp wrote of the phenomenon:

It’s become my responsibility [to include Sadie Hawkins Day every year in the strip.] It doesn’t happen on any set day in November; it happens on the day I say it happens. I get tens of thousands of letters from colleges, communities, and church groups, starting around July, asking me what day, so they can make plans.

Eventually, it evolved into an all-day event that occurs during the second week of November.

sadie hawkins day life magazine

Li’l Abner was an enormous success for its creator, who grew rich from merchandising and movie deals, product tie-ins and a short-lived TV puppet show. In the 1960s, he underwent an ideological transformation from New Deal Democrat to hippie-hater and close friend of Richard Nixon. He became a highly paid speaker on the college campus lecture circuit. His routine was to insult and provoke his audience into a shouting match.

sadie hawkins day al cappCapp attempted to use his fame to “seduce” young women. The biography Al Capp: A Life to the Contrary characterized him as something of a failed serial rapist since the few women who reported him to the authorities always got away. (Capp had lost one of his legs as a boy and routinely removed his prosthetic leg along with his pants.) One would-be victim described tipping him over like a floor lamp, as he crashed into the hotel furniture.

Of course, grotesque slapstick aside, there was nothing funny about his sexual assaults on young women. In 1971, Capp succeeded in physically forcing a 20-year-old Wisconsin college student to perform oral sex on him. To her credit, and against overwhelming pressure, the student pressed charges.

Capp was not charged with rape, but with three lesser counts: indecent exposure, sodomy and “attempted adultery.” He was only found guilty of the latter. Although his career and reputation never recovered, he continued to publish the Li’l Abner comic strip until 1977. He died two years later.

Sadie Hawkins Day is not what it seems. She wasn’t a real person. It has nothing to do with women’s emancipation. Who uses the word spinster? What do you think? Does it matter what its origin is if no one realizes it–or cares, for that matter? Should it continue to be celebrated or be retired?

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays

October 27 is Sylvia Plath Day

Is it possible to wish someone a Happy Sylvia Plath Day? How can anyone celebrate the birthday of a woman who killed herself? Is this a joke? Is it sponsored by some brand of oven cleaner? We found evidence that this holiday exists:

From the Sylvia Plath Forum:

To all avowed Sylvia Plath supporters and admirers:

I am with the Sylvia Plath day organizing committee. Let me explain: over 1,000 people signed a petition just recently in the city of Northampton, Ma to have a Sylvia Plath Day. The Mayor, consumed by the irresistible force of Plath petition signers/supporters then declared October 27, 2001 Sylvia Plath Day. As you know, Sylvia Plath attended Smith College in Northampton. We are planning a big celebration of the life and legacy of Sylvia Plath on October 27 of this year. We can use your help!

Michael
Northampton, Ma, USA
Friday, April 27, 2001

Unfortunately, we could find no Northampton public records to confirm the mayor was indeed “consumed by the irresistible force.” But if we still pore over her work and the minutia of her life over fifty years after her death, does it matter if it’s official or not?

sylvia plath day

Published under a pseudonym

Of course, we remember Sylvia Plath because she wrote The Bell Jar, required reading for many in high school. And, like it or not, we remember her because she committed suicide. We study her poetry and prose, trying to divine what fueled her despair, what caused her to take her own life. Plath wrote this in her journal a few months before her death:

I feel outcast on a cold star, unable to feel anything but an awful helpless numbness. I look down into the warm, earthy world. Into a nest of lovers’ beds, baby cribs, meal tables, all the solid commerce of life in this earth, and feel apart, enclosed in a wall of glass.

Plath wrote poetry in a confessional style, revealing intimate details about herself. She was driven, publishing her first poem when she was eight. She was the first poet awarded a posthumous Pulitzer Prize. She also wrote fifty short stories and one novel, The Bell Jar.

In February of 1963, her depression overcame her. For weeks, her doctor had tried to secure a bed for her in a psychiatric hospital. She sealed her children in their room upstairs, then sealed herself in the kitchen, put her head in the oven and turned on the gas. She was thirty years old.

On Sylvia Plath Day, instead of fetishizing her death or lamenting the loss of all she might have written, we can celebrate her life by learning about her, reading her work and being happy for what she shared with us in her short yet brilliant life.

It’s a day we should also acknowledge the brutal power of mental illness to damage and destroy lives.

Learn more at:
Neurotic Poets
BenGuinter.com
This Day in History
Sylvia Plath and the Mythology of Women Readers: 2011, Univ. of Massachusetts Press

If you are thinking about suicide, read this first.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website and toll-free telephone number: 1 (800) 273-8255

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays

September 9 is Tester’s Day

Today is Tester’s Day. This unofficial holiday for technicians everywhere is not without controversy.

The Story

On September 9, 1945, Grace Hopper, a computer scientist at Harvard University, was running tests on the Mark II Calculator (designed by Howard Aiken) when she found a moth that had landed between two solenoid contacts, shorting out an electromechanical relay.

Hopper removed the squashed bug—no one knows if she dispatched it herself—and taped it to the project’s logbook with the notation: “First actual case of bug being found.” Hopper had carried out the first “debugging” and coined the term that would become synonymous with the identification and elimination of the frustrating glitches that cause computers to malfunction.

Tester's Day

Flies in the Ointment

This story doesn’t pass muster for a few reasons.

1. The Mark II came online in 1947, two years later. That’s easy enough to explain: looking at the photo of the logbook, anyone can see that the time and date are included, but not the year. Fix that and the story’s hunky dory, right? Not really.

2. Hopper’s own description indicates that she didn’t invent the usage of “bug.” “First actual case of bug” [emphasis ours] implies that the term was already in use in a figurative sense. Nitpicky? Perhaps. The usage can be traced back at least as far as 1878, when Thomas Edison used the word in a letter to Theodore Puskas, a fellow inventor.

“‘Bugs’ — as such little faults and difficulties are called — show themselves and months of intense watching, study and labor are requisite before commercial success or failure is certainly reached.”

The meaning was also included in Webster’s Second International Dictionary, published in 1934. Okay, maybe Hopper wasn’t the first person to call a glitch a “bug.” But didn’t she find that moth, whether it was in 1945 or 1947? Probably not.

3. In 2007, the Smithsonian Institution honored the 50th anniversary of the discovery of the bug. Curator Peggy Kidwell, who included the logbook page in the exhibit, noticed that the notation wasn’t made in Hopper’s handwriting.

Ingrid Newkirk, director of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), objected to the display, urging people not to use animals’ names as pejoratives, stating:

“We discourage people from saying things like ‘kill two birds with one stone.’ The manner in which we’ve been taught to think of animals is mostly negative. We need to be more respectful.”

PETA is concerned about the defamation of insects, an important part of our ecosystem. So Newkirk is essentially telling the Smithsonian, “You give bugs a bad name.” We imagine her leaving the museum to deliver a speech touting all the good things about, say, hookworms. They probably don’t get enough good press.

Amazing Grace

In our opinion, none of the nonsense above detracts from the accomplishments of Grace Hopper. In 1943, she left her job teaching mathematics at Vassar College to join the Navy. She was turned down but was admitted to the Naval Reserve after receiving special permission: She weighed 15 pounds less than the Navy’s 120-pound minimum.

After the war, she helped program the Mark I, predecessor to the Mark II of bug fame. She co-authored three papers about the computer, also known as the Automatic Sequence Controlled Calculator, with designer Howard Aiken.

She later joined the group building the UNIVAC I. In 1952, she invented the first compiler, for use with the A-O computer language, but had difficulty convincing anyone it would work. “I had a running compiler and nobody would touch it,” she said later.”They told me computers could only do arithmetic.” Ultimately she prevailed and was given her own team, which produced programming languages MATH-MATIC and FLOW-MATIC.

In 1959, Hopper served as a technical consultant to the committee that defined the new language COmmon Business-Oriented Language (COBOL). Her conviction that programs should be written in a language resembling English, rather than machine code, helped COBOL go on to be the most-used business language in history.

image of Grace Hopper

In 1967, she was named the director of the Navy Programming Languages Group, developing software and a compiler as part of the COBOL standardization program for the entire Navy.

She reached the rank of Rear Admiral in 1985. The following year, she was forced to retire after having remained on active duty many years beyond mandatory retirement age by special permission of Congress. At a ceremony held on the USS Constitution, Hopper received the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the highest non-combat-related honor awarded by the Department of Defense.

She also wrote several programming books and lectured until her death on January 1, 1992, at the age of 85. She was buried with full military honors at Arlington Cemetery. The Navy’s Arleigh Burke-class missile destroyer USS Hopper (DDG-70) is named for her, as is the Cray XE6 “Hopper” supercomputer at The National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center.

She once said:

“The most important thing I’ve accomplished, other than building the compiler, is training young people. They come to me, you know, and say, ‘Do you think we can do this?’ I say, ‘Try it.’ And I back ’em up. They need that. I keep track of them as they get older and I stir ’em up at intervals so they don’t forget to take chances.”

Thank you, Grace. We don’t give a hoot whether you found that silly—sorry, PETA, we mean noble—bug or not!

Update

In 1933, Yale University named a residential college after John C. Calhoun, an 1804 graduate who was an enthusiastic supporter of slavery. In 2017, after years of pressure, protests and vandalism of artwork depicting slaves,  the university changed the name from Calhoun to Grace Hopper College. (She earned her Ph.D. in mathematics at Yale in 1934.) Although it has nothing to do with Tester’s Day, we mention it because it brings attention to Hopper’s accomplishments.

Happy Tester’s Day!

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays

 

August 26 is Women’s Equality Day

women's equality dayToday is Women’s Equality Day, created in 1972 to commemorate the date in 1920 whenafter decades of effort by activists across the country, the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified, granting women the right to vote.

Fifty years later, on August 26, 1970, feminist Betty Friedan led a nationwide protest called the Women’s Strike for Equality to demand the fair treatment of women in the workplace, in school and at home.

U.S. Representative Bella Abzug championed the establishment of a day to symbolize the rights that women (and men) had struggled to make a reality.

On August 26, 1972, the first Women’s Equality Day took place. The Joint Resolution of Congress reads:

Designating August 26 of each year as Women’s Equality Day
WHEREAS, the women of the United States have been treated as second-class citizens and have not been entitled the full rights and privileges, public or private, legal or institutional, which are available to male citizens of the United States; and
WHEREAS, the women of the United States have united to assure that these rights and privileges are available to all citizens equally regardless of sex; and
WHEREAS, the women of the United States have designated August 26, the anniversary date of the certification of the Nineteenth Amendment, as symbol of the continued fight for equal rights: and
WHEREAS, the women of United States are to be commended and supported in their organizations and activities,
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, that August 26th of each year is designated as Women’s Equality Day, and the President is authorized and requested to issue a proclamation annually in commemoration of that day in 1920, on which the women of America were first given the right to vote, and that day in 1970, on which a nationwide demonstration for women’s rights took place.

In 1981, Congress enacted Public Law 97-28, designating the week beginning March 7, 1982, as Women’s History Week. President Ronald Reagan issued Presidential Proclamation 4903 stating, in part:

NOW, THEREFORE, I, RONALD REAGAN, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim the week beginning March 7, 1982, as Women’s History Week. Recognizing that the many contributions of American women have at times been overlooked in the annals of American history, I encourage all citizens to observe this important week by participating in appropriate ceremonies and activities planned by individuals, governmental agencies, and private institutions and associations throughout the country.

The practice continued until 1987 when, in response to petitioning by the National Women’s History Project, Congress passed Public Law 100-9 declaring March Women’s History Month. It passed a new resolution each year asking the president to authorize the observance. Since 1995, Presidents Clinton, Bush, Obama and *cough* Trump have issued annual proclamations renewing Women’s History Month.

The month was chosen because International Women’s Day falls on March 8th, despite the fact that the 1908 garment workers’ strike it was meant to memorialize didn’t happen on that date. The first known International Women’s Day gathering in the U.S. took place at New York’s Carnegie Hall on February 27, 1910.

In 2011, Representative Carolyn Maloney introduced a bill calling for the establishment of Susan B. Anthony Day honoring the birthday on February 15, 1820, of the abolitionist and suffragette. Thus far, it is observed in only five states. No national holiday honors any woman’s birthday.

Equal Pay

On June 10, 1963, President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act. Its stated purpose: “to prohibit discrimination on account of sex in the payment of wages by employers engaged in commerce or in the production of goods for commerce.”

In 1963, women made 59 cents on average for every dollar earned by men, based on Census figures of median wages of full-time, year-round workers.

On July 2, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, after pushing it through Congress to fulfill the plan Kennedy made before he was assassinated. It outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin or gender.

In April 1996, the National Committee on Pay Equity (NCPE) originated National Equal Pay Day to promote public awareness of the gap between men’s and women’s wages. Each year, a date is chosen in April to illustrate how far into the new year women have to work to earn the same wages that men make in the previous year. In 2016, April 16 was chosen.

According to the US Congress Joint Economic Committee, a woman earns 80 cents for every dollar a man is paid for the same job. This statistic doesn’t tell the whole story, though. Black women make an average of 62 cents and Latinas earn 54 cents for every dollar paid to a white, non-Hispanic man. At this rate, the pay gap won’t close until 2059, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Happy Women’s Equality Day! Perhaps when we’re equal every day of the year we won’t need to create any more holidays to celebrate it.

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays