Let's Ditch the Prom

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A Pennsylvania Catholic high school is requiring girls to submit photos of their prom dresses for approval, before the actual night. Deacon Greg Kandra passses along the story here

Such policies always sound a little heavy-handed (and students claim that the guidelines were issued at the last minute, which means that already-purchased, non-returnable dresses may be ruled inappropriate), if not downright oppressive (well, by American standards of oppression), but I sympathize with the school.  If students showed up in appropriate dresses, the policy would not be necessary; but flat out hooker wear is still very much in vogue. So schools can't simply count on kids, or their parents, to exercise good sense or good taste. The school most certainly has the right to tell kids what they can and cannot wear at school functions. 

Every year, we hear stories of schools that impose dress codes, and girls who flout them and are turned away at the door, which makes everyone cry about "slut shaming." I imagine the chaperones enjoy that almost as little as the girls do. And nearly as often, we hear stories of girls whose were turned away at the door despite wearing lovely dresses that were pretty dang modest by American standards. 

American culture has gotten so nutty over the issue of what girls and women wear, and how we should respond to them, that schools truly cannot win this fight. Someone is going to end up looking like a villain, someone is going to be embarrassed, and the parents are going to go to the media and unwittingly illustrate why the school felt the need to law down the law in the first place. No one wants to be an adult, and no one wants to admit that there's nothing inherently sexist in saying, "There is such a thing as a trashy outfit, and please don't wear trashy outfits."

(Before we go any further, I'd like to point out that of course it's only fair that boys should also adhere to a dress code. But for goodness sake, I have yet to hear of a boy showing up at a prom wearing a Speedo or something. It's not sexist to talk more about what girls wear than what boys wear, because girls, you see . . . oh, my brothers and sisters, do I even have to finish this sentence? If you don't know what I mean, then please save yourself the trouble of reading the rest of this post.)

So, because of all the insanity, the Pennsylvania Catholic school is clearly trying to avoid any embarrassment by making dress code judgments preemptively and privately. It may have been clumsily executed, but it's not a terrible idea. 

But what about what happens next? Have you been to a dance lately? At the risk of sounding like a cranky old man in sock braces, have you seen what passes for dancing? Kids imitate what they see on TV, and that would be twitching, rubbing, and writhing, to warm up. It then progresses to overts sex acts with clothes on. Hey, sometimes the old man in sock braces is right. This is what the world looks like now, and it is not okay.

Some schools have, of course, tried to pass bans on this kind of behavior, but that puts them in a very awkward position. They can pass all the rules they want, but the very idea of a prom is that it's your big night to be super special, to be an adult, to go out on your own and fulfill your hot shot fantasies. To teenagers, this translates into grinding, and daring the poor gym teacher chaperone to say something about it. 

And then there is the problem of the music that gets played. Mr. Sock Braces again, here: Have you listened to what's on the radio lately? Have you heard the lyrics? Are you really going to tell me that it's all right for kids who are too young to consent to a tanning session to be singing along to "Trumpets" or "Anaconda?" It's not all right. It's not. I don't care what you say about my socks. 

And then there is the problem of the ludicrous amount of money that gets poured into proms. When I was in high school, there was usually a gaudy dress, some overpriced flowers, and a sit-down restaurant involved. The rich kids also got a limo; the bad kids also stayed out all night and came staggering home without their underwear. Now? It's not unheard-of for parents to rent a beach house for the weekend. Why? Because parents have gone totally freaking insane, and somebody ought to freeze their assets until they promise to stop ruining America. That's why.

Let's stop having proms. Let's just stop. Let's let our kids' immature little prefrontal cortexes progress out of the spazzy tantrum stage before they have an experience they could easily mistake for the high point of their lives, judging by how much freaking out occurs, how many authorities get involved, and how much debt gets assumed. 

I remember being a teenager. It was all about desperately wanting to be free, while desperately wanting to be guided. It was one part wanting to be an adult and three parts wishing someone would just tell me what I was supposed to be doing. Parents, if you imagine that your child's life will be irreparably damaged if he or she misses out on this one monstrously noisy, hideously expensive night of painful shoes, emotional pressure, and hysteria, then I strongly encourage you to think harder about what the rest of your child's life ought to look like, and how you might set some higher standards for him or her to pursue sometimes in the next, oh, sixty to seventy years.

Kids want to dance to music? Fine fine fine. Let's have lots of little dances all year long, maybe with actual dance lessons involved. Let's have formal dances with formal dress and music, and less formal ones with less formal dress and music. There is zero reason to behave as if there is such a thing as an indispensible night in the life of a teenager. 

Mr. Sock Braces will now give the final word to the poet Ferdinand: No buildings will fall down . . . no quake will split the ground . . . the sun won't swallow the sky . . . statues will not cry if we walk away from the prom. So why don't we just walk away? 

Edited to add: when I posted this essay on Twitter, a suggested hastag was "#promposals." I had forgotten all about this loathsome phenomenon. A guy is not just supposed to ask a girl to the prom; he's now supposed to arrange an elaborate, romantic, photogenic "proposal," which puts a ludicrous amount of pressure on both him and on the girl in question. Just more evidence that the prom has got to go.