Can we do away with prom entirely?

Posted at 7:00 AM Apr 22, 2010

By Andrea Grimes

First, it was Constance McMillen who wasn't allowed to bring her girlfriend to the prom. Now, it's this North Carolina girl who can't bring her 23-year-old Iraqi veteran brother as a date.

Jeeeeeeeeebuz. It's about time we stopped giving a flying rat's furry ass about prom.

I don't know what prom is like for boys. I don't know if they care or look forward to it or hate it or whatever. So I'm just going to say what I know, as a former teenage girl who went to prom. And seems to me like prom is mostly bad for girls--not least because of how desperately they've been told they're supposed to want to make it perfect. It's something akin to wedding day practice. Which gives me the shivers.

I was going for a kind of Moulin Rouge thing. I think.
(For the record, I feel like I should also note, in the interest of not sounding like a bitter dorkface with ever-lingering high school hate in her heart, that I was pretty popular in high school and totally went to prom and, as you can see from the accompanying photo, had pretty well bought into the whole shebang as far as fancy dress goes. I had a loving boyfriend and a passel of friends to attend with. The result? I looked really pretty and was totally bored and barely remember anything about any of it.)

To start with, the premise of prom is creepy, in the way that debutante balls are creepy. Historically (and mostly presently) prom is about class and money and popularity and consumerism. It seems vaguely patriarchal to me in that the popular social narrative generally holds that it's predominantly about girls trying to prove themselves and gain the approval of others for the proper display of their femaleness (you know, so no bringing your gay girlfriend to prom). We don't need a "debut" party for high school kids. We already have one, and it's called "graduation."

A good portion of my senior year was spent watching my friends on the student council try and raise money for our prom. I think in the end, we ended up raising around $60,000 so that we could have a dance at the Ballpark at Arlington (not kidding you) and eat tough chicken and go to a fake casino afterward. Raise your hand if you can think of a better way $60,000 could be spent in any given community. Yeah.

And what do you get for your $60,000? From what I can tell, proms are painfully similar across the country. Fancy dresses. Tuxedos. Dancing. Dinner. Kings and queens. Yes, creative kids do subvert prom tradition (Cons with formal dresses were a big thing for my class of '02), but they have little power over the institution itself, unlike weddings, which are also all painfully similar but at least allow the bride and groom some degree of control over the goings-on. As it is now, anyone who wanted to do a truly original/different prom would be laughed out of town. It's a useless tradition anyway, and because it's boring besides, should be thrown out on those grounds alone.

Okay, so it's boring and it's classist and consumerist and yadda yadda yadda, but are those really good reasons to do away with it altogether? Maybe not, so I'll add this: coverage of Constance McMillen's prom ordeal, and now this thing with this girl not being able to bring her Iraq war veteran brother, have so continued the tradition of hyping up of the Idea of Prom (which I think reached the pinnacle of hypedness with 80's prom flicks) that no prom can ever measure up. Which won't stop people from spending ridiculous amounts of time and money to make it do just that--the long fall into inevitable disappointment will just be that much more painful.

Prom is a boring, outdated tradition that never delivers on its promise. Why do we keep trying to make it something it isn't--and will never be?


Caroline said:

I did not go to my prom. I didn't have the money for a dress, or a date, so I decided not to go rather than face embarrassment. That might sound like a sob story, but I can guarantee you that my friend, who also decided to skip prom, and I had more fun and have more memories of our prom night get-together than those who actually went. I've never regretted not going.

Susan said:

I didn't think prom was boring. I had a good time and my friend Erikka danced on a table. Sober. Because we were in high school. Anyway, I'll get behind it being an oppressive thing maybe (although if you teach your daughter not to buy into that stuff, maybe she won't) and I think you should be able to go with whoever you wanna go with, but I can't say it's boring. It's like any other event -- it's a fun as you make it.

manobon said:

Senior prom was attended with a friend, for the prospect of a no-pressure, dance-filled evening. Instead, some of her friends started fighting with her- when I tried to intervene, I was told to butt out. My ex (a year younger) also showed up to the prom, claiming only going with an acquaintance of mine, "just to be with me." When I didn't dance with her as often as she wanted, she cried, and several of my friends said, "Jeez, what did you do?!" It was the worst, but clearly based on interpersonal drama.

Junior prom, the year before, was the best- had a great time with my girlfriend (who wasn't an ex), my friends...and we all pigged out at a diner after, while I helped the girlfriend get all 500 pins out of her hair. It was the best time I had regarding any of the proms I've been to (and possibly of any of the "suit up & dance" events, involving college/post-undergrad), and I think that has to do with one of the linked-article's recommendations: don't try to make it epic.

I agree that the fund raising shouldn't be to such ridiculous standards ($60,000?!), and that pushing teenagers/children to have such ridiculous expectations is always unhealthy- but it doesn't always have to be like that, and it definitely wasn't like that for me.

(I was one of the unpopular, "faceless" kids in high school, who rented the tux, etc., so I really don't think I was "super hyped" about prom, and I don't remember too many friends being caught in 80's movie-like "prom fever" or anything)

CTrees said:

Um... as a male all-state athlete (in multiple sports)... prom was pretty awesome. Which kinda validates one of your points.

A big "however" to one thing, though. Barring that girl from bringing her twenty-three year old (admittedly veteran) brother to prom is something I'm totally fine with. The schools I went to all banned students from bringing anyone twenty-one or older, because people that old could legally bring alcohol. It didn't stop the kids from drinking, but it at least made it one step harder, and it was uniformly enforced. The same thing is going on with that girl and her school, so... I've got no issues with it. Though it does make me wonder, the schools I attended were always looking for chaperons to volunteer for the dances, so why couldn't she get him there that way?

Jessica said:

I'm with Caroline. I wasn't a queen bee, but I wasn't necessarily unpopular (or at least I was unpopular with a large, awesome group of unpopular girls). We didn't go to prom, and I don't regret it one single bit. We had a blast, and one of my stronger memories of that whole shebang is one of the "popular" girls reduced to tears because she couldn't get a date and ended up settling for somebody she didn't really even like that much, just so she could go. Thanks, but no thanks.

Nicki E. said:

Prom is a total waste of money, both for the attendees and the schools, and looking back on it, it's totally creepy. Get rid of it!

Spark. said:

A. I love prom. I am not a prom kind of girl, but it's fun to actually get to go out and get dolled up (should you want to, my school's prom let in a guy with a hawaiian shirt last year) and just dance. Seriously. I think a lot of people forget that 16-18 year olds really can't get into bars and in my city can't go to concerts at bars (where most concerts are) without a signed parental permission slip. There is no dance party in our lives ever. That's how I treat prom, and I enjoy it.
B. My school has the same stipulation in regards to over 21 year olds. It's because we've had problems with alcohol at school dances in the past, and it makes total sense. And I'd be pissed if they let this guy in just because he was a soldier. That seems like a dumb exception. And yeah, he is her brother--but prom couples anymore are really just for the purpose of pictures. I just don't see this as a big freakin' problem. Should "ability to go to high school prom" really be added to military benefits?

Love HD, but this one's off.

Spark. said:

Also, comparing this to Constance McMillen has to be some kind of joke.

Adri said:

My school didn't have a prom, so I've never attended. Be that as it may, wanting to get rid of it because you weren't capable of entertaining yourself or having fun with your friends is just a wee bit pathetic. Oh, I know that's not the 'real' reason you want to get rid of it, but it's pretty obvious that you're opposed to anything you yourself have no interest in. Prom, babies, etc; I could go on, but I digress :)
Keep prom; there are enough kids who look back on it as a highlight of the horrifying years known as high school to make it worthwhile.

Anonymous said:

I can agree that prom is a useless--possibly even damaging--waste of time, energy, and money. It only serves to re-enforce negative social mores.

But, ok, call me crazy, a 23-year old at a prom IS creepy. Iraqi war vet, brother, whatever - it's creepy and in-approrpriate. Issues of legal age of consent aside (I know he's her brother, but not the other girls/guys at the prom), he's also legal age to buy booze. I know booze can get into a prom anyway, but there's a difference between some sneaking in, or just allowing it to walk right in. (We can argue that the drinking age is stupid too, but, fact it, there is one).

The prom is about the kids graduating, not about their escorts - whoever that escort is. It is altogether appropriate for there to be an age limit for the comfort level of those who are actually being celebrated.

Now, a gay student who is sent off to a "Special Prom" while her class secretly holds a separate event only underscores the original point. Proms are just stupid, classist, patriarchal events that re-enforce negative social mores.

B said:

I think prom is divisive. But kids need something where they can dress up and party. Can we change it to something else?
I went to prom in a pink gone-with-the-wind number (1987). My prom date is now a priest. I'd like to take credit for that.

Spark. said:

Thanks for understanding B. It's super frustrating to be eighteen years old and have no chance to just go effing dance for once. Sounds like a pitiful complaint, but seriously, the last two months of high school are hell. We needs a distraction. For most, that's prom. Sad, yes, a little pathetic, yes, but I really couldn't care less when I finally get to go have a good time.

Plus. Not every school keeps gay couples from going to prom. Like mine. I know that some do, and that is a BIG PROBLEM. But I'd like to make it known that my school, in an ultra conservative state, allows same sex couples at prom AND girls can wear dresses OR suits (thank goodness). Getting rid of prom altogether would also not allow schools to grant that and therefore validate and support same sex couples.

Korbl said:

I agree that prom should stop being "give a shit" worthy. It was arguably the worst night of high school, for me, and I look back on it as pointless. I wasted money on dinner and tickets for my female friend who I was interested, but who did not share such feelings, I wasted my dad's money on the limo, and I wasted my time sitting around at the stupid prom, listening to the DJ play crappy rap and hip hop, and requesting a rock song for said female friend.

All in all, I should have done something else. Fuck, my friends and I should have just gone to the movies and chili's in that limo, or something, that'd have been a hell of a lot more fun.

John said:

If it wasn't for Prom, I never would have dated the girl who became my wife and mother to our five children.

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