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Monday, August 7, 2017

The Movie's Violators of Going-Steady Rules

My previous two articles about why Penny Johnson and Robbie Gould risked pregnancy were based largely on the rules of going steady. Penny and Robbie both attended high school during about the years 1953-1957 and so were maximally and equally imbued in those rules.

Two other sexual relationships depicted in the movie Dirty Dancing violate the going-steady rules.

1) Baby Houseman and Johnny Castle

2) Robbie Gould and Vivian Pressman


Let's review the Seven Characteristics of Going Steady:
1. Visible token

A guy gave his girlfriend a “‘visible token’ (class ring, letter sweater, etc.) or they exchanged identical tokens, often gold or silver friendship rings worn on the third finger of the left hand” when they were ready to go steady. The purpose was to publicly declare their relationship and commitment.

A couple might carve their initials on a tree. “Other steadies spelled out their names on the bumpers of their boyfriends’ car.” Some girls would wear a “Puppy Love Anklet.” When she wore it on her left ankle, it meant she was committed. When she wore it on her right ankle, she indicated she was single and ready to go steady. ...

2. Required Dates

... In steady dating, “the boy had to call the girl a certain number of times a week and take her on a certain number of dates a week.” He might take her to the pizza parlor, a malt shop, the record store, or the drive-in movie theater.

Dates in the 1950s were planned and intentional. It wasn’t appropriate for a guy to ask a girl on the day of the date. He was expected to make plans two or three days in advance.

3. Exclusivity

Commitment was a key component of going steady. “Neither boy nor girl could date anyone else or pay too much attention to anyone of the opposite sex.” It wasn’t appropriate for another guy to hover near a girl’s locker before class or for a guy to sit across from another girl at lunch. ...

4. Oversight

“While either could go out with friends of the same sex, each must always know where the other was and what he or she was doing.”

5. Special Events

Whether it was the sock hop, prom, a sorority dance, or a fraternity formal, “going steady meant a guaranteed date for special events…” Sock hops became popular in the 1950s, and arose because these dances would take place on basketball courts. To make sure the floors didn’t get scuffed, everyone would take their shoes off.

Prom mirrored the commitment one might find in marriage. As John C. Spurlock wrote in Youth and Sexuality in the Twentieth Century United States, “…elaborate proms matched the glamor of weddings.”

6. Sharing Money

While the boyfriend was generally expected to pay for dinner dates, going steady also began to mirror commitment found in a marriage. Both guy and girl had a shared concern with finances and money. Prom and formals could be expensive events and “the girl had to be willing to help her boyfriend save up for the event by budgeting ‘their’ money, even if it meant sitting home together.”

7. Intimacy

If the date didn’t involve “sitting home together,” private time together consisted of parking on a less-trafficked road, the drive-in movie theater, or the overlook. Going steady implied physical intimacy, “either more necking or ‘going further.’

“Necking” and “petting” were two words used to describe physical intimacy in the 1950s. Necking was defined as “caresses above the neck,” and petting as “caresses below.”

Though, physical intimacy increased with couples going steady, it should be noted “virginity was still a virtue in the fifties.” It was expected a couple ready for sexual intercourse should marry

On my own authority, I will add one more characteristic (i.e. rule) for going steady.
8. Age Appropriateness

The male is older than the female, and her age is at least ½(his age) + 7.

This rule is explained by Dr. Benjamin Le, whose qualifications include the following:
Benjamin Le is a social psychologist whose research focuses on interpersonal relationships. He has published on the topics of commitment in close relationships, social cognition, breakup, emotions, social networks, geographic separation, social media, and research methodology. A second line of research examines commitment in non-romantic contexts, and his current work includes a collaborative longitudinal study of identity development among young adults.

Professor Le is originally from northern California and has been a member of the Department of Psychology at Haverford College since 2001, where he has taught courses on social psychology, close relationships, environmental psychology, intro/general psychology, science writing, and research methods/statistics. Prior to that he completed his undergraduate studies at Grinnell College and earned his doctorate at Purdue University.

He has served on the editorial boards of the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, and Personal Relationships, and has reviewed for all of the major publications in social psychology and relationship research.

Prof. Le is a longstanding member of both the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP) and the International Association for Relationship Research (IARR).

In 2011 he co-founded, which won the 2012 Media Prize awarded by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology and to date (May 2017) has logged over 8 million page views.
In his website Science of Relationships, Dr. Le published an article titled The Dating Equation: ½(your age) + 7, which included the following passages:
A common rule of thumb, at least on the internet, is that it’s okay to be interested in someone “half your age plus seven” years. According to this rule, it would not be creepy for a 30 year old to date a 22 year-old, but an 18 year-old would be off-limits. Although this is a fun rule of thumb, what does research say about age preferences for potential mates?

There are two things that predict a preferred partner’s age: (a) your age and (b) your biological sex (male vs. female). From an evolutionary perspective, it makes sense for women to prefer mates with resources and to like partners who are more established, both of which are more likely in older partners. Men, in contrast, are hypothesized to be most attracted to women in their reproductive prime, which tends to be when they are younger.

Data from Kenrick and Keefe support these predictions. Younger men tend to prefer women a few years younger or older than themselves; but as they get older, they increasingly prefer younger women relative to their own age. The range doesn’t get wider as men get older, but it does get younger. Women’s preferences, on the other hand, hold relatively constant across their lives, not going more than a few years below their own age (extra-credit if you can identify the "cougar zone" in this figure), but women remain keen on men up to 10 years older than themselves.

The dating equation illustrated in a chart.
(Click on the chart to enlarge it.)
Dr. Le's article continues on his webpage.


The Baby-Johnny relationship violated the following rules:
1. Visible Token

Baby strove to keep the relationship secret, especially from her father.

3. Exclusivity

Johnny continued to be too involved with Vivian and Penny

4. Oversight

Baby and Johnny were not able to monitor and control each other's whereabouts and activities.

8. Age Appropriateness

Baby is 17 years old, so she should not date a man older than 20 years old.

The arithmetic is (20 / 2 ) + 7 = 17.

Johnny is about the same age as Robbie and Penny, which is 25 years old.

However, the Baby-Johnny relationship did comply at least partially with the following rules:
2. Required Dates

Baby and Johnny practiced dancing for their performance at the Sheldrake Hotel.

5. Special Events

Baby and Johnny danced together at the Sheldrake Hotel.

6. Sharing Money

Baby gave Johnny $250 for the abortion of his friend Penny Johnson.

7. Intimacy

Baby and Johnny did enjoy sexual activities with each other, but they skipped bases one and two. On their first sexual encounter they went directly to base three -- dry-humping -- although she did keep her bra on during that encounter.

I won't bother to list all the going-steady rules that the Vivian-Robbie relationship violated, but two very gross violations must be declared:
3. Exclusivity

Vivian was married to Moe Pressman and was too involved with Johnny.

8. Age Appropriateness

The female Vivian is much older than the male Robbie.

The Vivian-Robbie relationship did seem to comply at least partially with only the following rules.
6. Sharing Money

Vivian got $100 from her husband Moe Pressman to pay Johnny for dance lessons, but she gave the money to Robbie.

7. Intimacy

Vivian and Robbie did enjoy sexual activities with each other, but they apparently skipped bases one, two and three and went directly to home base -- sexual intercourse -- on their first sexual encounter.

Vivian Pressman grew up before the courtship convention was "going steady". If she was at least 35 years old in 1963, then she was at least 15 years old during the middle of the USA's involvement in World War Two. Before World War Two, the courtship convention in the USA was "promiscuous popularity". An article written by Skip Burzumato titled A Brief History of Courtship in America describes the promiscuous-popularity courtship convention as follows:
Before World War II, American youth prized ... a promiscuous popularity, demonstrated through the number and variety of dates a young adult could command, sometimes even on the same night.

In the late 1940s, Margaret Mead, in describing this pre-war dating system, argued that dating was not about sex or marriage. Instead, it was a "competitive game," a way for girls and boys to demonstrate their popularity.

In 1937, sociologist Willard Waller published a study in the American Sociology Review in which he gives this competitive dating system a name, which he argued had been in place since the early 1920s: The Campus Rating Complex. His study of Penn State undergraduates detailed a "dating and rating" system based on very clear standards of popularity.

* Men's popularity needed outward material signs: automobile, clothing, fraternity membership, money, etc.

* Women's popularity depended on building and maintaining a reputation of popularity: be seen with popular men in the "right" places, turn down requests for dates made at the last minute and cultivate the impression that you are greatly in demand.

One example of this impression management comes from a 1938 article in Mademoiselle Magazine where a Smith College senior advised incoming freshmen on how to cultivate an "image of popularity." She wrote, "During your first term, get home talent to ply you with letters, telegrams and invitations. College men will think, She must be attractive if she can rate all that attention." She also suggested that you get your mom back home to send you flowers from time to time, again, to give the impression of popularity. The article went on to say that if, for some reason, you did not have a date on a particular night, you should keep the lights off in your dorm room so no one would know you were home.

Beth Bailey comments, "Popularity was clearly the key — and popularity defined in a very specific way. It was not earned directly through talent, looks, personality or importance and involvement in organizations, but by the way these attributes translated into the number and frequency of dates. These dates had to be highly visible, and with many different people, or they didn't count."

Ken Myers summarizes this system, "Rating, dating, popularity, and competition: catchwords hammered home, reinforced from all sides until they became the natural vocabulary. You had to rate in order to date, to date in order to rate. By successfully maintaining this cycle, you became popular. To stay popular, you competed. There was no end: popularity was a deceptive goal."
In general, Vivian's ideas about courtship were shaped much more by the promiscuous-popularity conventions that prevailed before World War Two than by the going-steady conventions that prevailed after the war.

In American movies that take place before 1945, you often see a scene where a couple is dancing and the man leaves when he is tapped on the should by another man, who then takes over dancing with the women. This custom was part of the promiscuous-popularity courtship convention. The man who left was flattering the woman by demonstrating that she was so popular that all the men insisted on dancing with her. The custom of one man allowing another man to take over the woman so easily seems inexplicable to people watching such movie scenes now, but the custom made complete sense to people who were living in the era when the courtship convention was "promiscuous popularity".


Perversely, the movie Dirty Dancing glorifies a couple that largely violates the rules of going steady -- Baby and Johnny -- while dismissing the couple that largely complies with those rules -- Penny and Robbie.

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