Category Archives: badass woman

All Hail Sadie Hawkins!

Sadie Hawkins

 First of all – HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY! I hope you and yours are celebrating in style. I’ll be curled up all day at home with my wife, snug and warm, safe from the arctic winds howling around our house. We will feast on fresh strawberries, cake, and a bottle of Vin Verde, the green wine of Portugal.

Now on to the topic of the day. If you have ever read the comic strip by Al Capp called L’il Abner (1934–1978), you’ll have heard of Sadie Hawkins. Known as the ‘homeliest gal in all them hills’ Sadie’s father, Hekzebiah Hawkins, knew he had to do something to get her hitched, because (gasp) heaven forbid a woman should not be married.  He gathered up all the eligible bachelor’s in the area, gave them a head start and then let loose his daughter. Whichever man she caught would be her husband. There’s no real mention as to why, exactly, the caught bachelor had to marry Sadie, but that’s the way the tradition started. In 1937, according to the cartoonist, the other unmarried women thought this wasn’t such a bad idea, because (gasp) heaven help them if they didn’t catch themselves a husband. Every November, all the eligible young men from Dogpatch and the surrounding hills would be chased by all the unmarried young women. Any gal that could catch her man and drag him across the finish line by sundown was guaranteed to be a bride. Presented in the satirical voice of Al Capp, the unheard of role reversal released some deeply held desire of the repressed women of the time to take charge of their own lives, to make decisions concerning who they would spend time with, and to be unashamedly interested in beginning a relationship with the man of her choosing. Daring thoughts for the time.

Daisy Mae chasing L’il Abner on Sadie Hawkins Day

By 1939, only two years after the ladies of Dogpatch declared their independence (if only for one day a year), the idea had caught fire in the imagination of America’s youth. Al Capp had intended it as a plot device, but the ideas popularity had brought him an abundance of fan letters asking that he make it a yearly event. By the early 1940s the November event in his comic became a phenomenon, eventually taking on a life of its own. Colleges and high schools began holding campus Sadie Hawkins races, which eventually became more sedate dances. At the height of its popularity in the mid 1950’s, Sadie Hawkins Day was celebrated at forty thousand known locations.

After tasting the forbidden fruits of freedom, it’s no wonder the women’s liberation front of the 1960’s and ’70’s centered around women’s demand for self-sovereignty. Women who had grown up with the yearly celebration of bucking convention were eager to take the dating reins in their own hands. Of course, the advent of the birth control pill started an entire sexual revolution, but don’t discount Sadie Hawkins’ contribution.

Comic strips have led the way to social change since the ink first dried. Although L’il Abner’s Sadie Hawkins race was framed in the language of women desperate to marry to avoid a life of spinsterhood and shame, and equally desperate men racing to avoid marriage to a strong minded woman, a fate worse than death, Al Capp accidentally fueled the idea that the sexual repression of women during the ’30’s and 40’s was as unfair as say, a footrace to determine a spouse.

I will confess to inviting a boy to one in the mid 1970’s myself, but I don’t think Sadie Hawkin’s Day dances are held anymore. At least, I never hear of them. Girls and women are free to ask boys and men out on dates these days, or even, as our editor-in-chief Lindsey demonstrated earlier this year, to propose marriage.

We’ve come a long way, baby, and Sadie Hawkins helped lead the charge.

RIP LGBT Warrior Stormé DeLarverie

Stormé DeLarverie passed away just a few days ago on Saturday, May 24, 2014 at the age of 93. Hers should be a name that flows easily from the mouths of both young and old, yet is in danger of fading away in obscurity. Sharing her story is my honor as I kick off Pride Month.

“It ain’t easy being green, sho’nuff!”, she’s say once in a while. Born in 1920 in New Orleans, her father was white and her mother was a black servant in his house. While they continued living in Louisiana where interracial marriage was illegal, she remembered her mother being well supported. Later her father and mother moved to California and were married.

Stormé stated in interviews that she started singing in her teens, first as a woman and later dressed as a man. She traveled in a jazz band to Europe, with a rich baritone voice that lead her eventually to a career as MC of the Jewel Box Revue, a racially diverse drag show that she hosted from the mid 1950s into the 1960s. Tall, talented, and very handsome, she was the only drag king among a bevy of beautiful drag queens.

She’d told friends there was a period of time when she worked as a bodyguard for several Chicago gangsters. It is well known that during the time period she describes, mobsters and mafia often ran bars that catered to an ‘unusual’ clientele, sometimes the only gathering places for people who identified as other than straight. The bars’ owners paid regular bribes to local police forces, and put up with the occasional raids to harass and arrest LGBT patrons so certain politicians could whitewash their records before elections.

Diane Arbus’ photo of Stormé DeLarverie

It was during such a raid on the night of June 27, 1969, that Stormé DeLarverie kicked off perhaps the most significant riot in the history of gay rights. She was at the Stonewall Bar, which no one disputes. Later that night, standing outside the bar and about to be arrested, a cross dressed lesbian (woman dressed as a man) was manhandled by the NYPD and pushed/hit back. The cop landed on his butt, and the riot began in earnest. Many maintain that lesbian was Stormé, and her close personal friends say she admitted to them she’d done it, but others dispute her claim.

One way or the other, it is a fact that she spent decades patrolling the streets of Manhattan, tall, androgynous, and armed with a knife or gun. Ever vigilant, trouble in the form of baiting and bullying, intimidation and humiliation (which Stormé called ‘ugliness’) had a way of disappearing when she walked onto the scene. Her presence was intimidating, but her love for the gays and lesbians on her streets was boundless. No one was going to hurt her ‘baby girls’, a term of endearment  she used for young lesbians.

Personally, I’d heard through the grapevine (can we call it oral tradition?), that there was a lesbian who started the riot, fanned the flames in the following days, and later patrolled the area to keep other gays and lesbians safe. She was said to dress like a man and to fight like a man, but she was all woman. I choose to believe that was Stormé DeLarverie.

Listen to an interview she gave a few years back. In the background you’ll hear her still singing at the age of ninety.

Rest in peace, Stormé DeLarverie, and thanks for your service. I’m sorry I didn’t know your name until you died, but I won’t forget it, or you, warrior woman.

Read more about Stormé  DeLarverie’s life and death by following these links.

The Advocate
Huffington Post
New York Times