AB: “It originated from ‘Give me my dough,’ which may have been more of a universal thing, If someone said something stupid, you’d say ‘Give me my dough’ and then hit them on the head. But then it transformed into, like, the most complex thing ever. It turned into ‘doe slaps,’ so when someone said something stupid you could say ‘doe slaps’ and hit them on the head. But there’s so many different rules. There’s ‘doe slaps extra hardies,’ ‘no returnies.’ But basically, if you don’t say certain things, they can slap you back… it just involved getting whacked in the head for saying something stupid.
I think it started in middle school and it went into the high school. It was big in high school, like if someone said something stupid in class, people would go up and be like ‘doe slaps.’ If it was your friend. It was fun. It was endearing but people slap hard.”
The informant is a 19-year-old college student from Montclair, New Jersey. She remembers “doe slaps” being pervasive among boys and girls, in middle school but especially in high school. She says that the tradition has died out among her friends from high school, but her younger brother attends the same school and has seen people in his peer group do the ritual.
I think that this game and ritual, like the Circle Game, where one is allowed to hit another person if they make them look at their hand making the “OK” gesture, conveys the competitive, emotionally complex social dynamics between adolescents. Teenagers are very critical of one another and often use the failures or missteps of others to bolster their own self-esteem. While it could be seen as a way to perpetuate power dynamics or convey social status through bullying, it also can be interpreted as egalitarian, since the act demands justification and can technically be carried out by and to anyone. Kids sign a sort of unwritten social contract, allowing them to give people “doe slaps,” but also agreeing that they can receive them.
This ritual involves humiliation and physical pain, however, giving someone “doe slaps” is also a kind of act of endearment carried out between friends. While the act is humbling, the practice conveys someone’s status as an insider or outsider. Being able to give someone “doe slaps” indicates a degree of closeness or a person’s belonging in a social group, since it wasn’t acceptable to do it to people you didn’t know or weren’t friends with. Moreover, the elaborateness and specificity to one school in one town in New Jersey makes the practice a cultural identifier, something which people from Montclair can use to understand and connect with each other. Because there’s no cultural understanding of “doe slaps” outside of the town, and because hitting people under any circumstances is generally not socially acceptable among adults, it makes sense that this practice fizzled out when the kids who practiced it graduated high school and left Montclair.