With prom coming up for many high schools all over the nation, high schoolers are in a frenzy trying to prepare for the special event, whether it is buying a dress, renting a limousine, or asking someone out as a date.
Formally known as the “promenade,” prom is a long tradition dating back to the early 1900’s. From its humble origins as a quaint tea-party for the senior class, it soon became what is familiar to us today starting around the 1950’s, when tuxedos and extravagant gowns, posh venues, and “Prom Court” competitions were just emerging. Today, it is considered a “rite of passage” for teenagers entering adulthood, becoming an indelible aspect of American culture and even influencing similar celebrations on the international level: in Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia- even parts of Africa!
However, among all of this preparation and stress for the big event, we should also take a step back and re-assess the implications that prom has on youth culture, including traditional gender roles and values.
For instance, I have always found the struggle to ask a date to prom kind of ridiculous: there are those, specifically of the male species, who take great pains to execute the plan, buying balloons and flowers, and serenading the girl in front of the whole school. To me, it seems more like a marriage proposal than just for a high school dance. More importantly, the fact that the guys are obliged to make the first move sounds chivalrous, but also very old-school: why must the girls wait to be asked? Why can’t we be the ones to initiate? The fear of being labeled “weird” in asking the male sex demonstrates just how much we still embrace traditional roles of gender: the divide between masculinity and femininity, as well as between dominance and subservient.
Also, the expenses: why must we, as girls, purchase or rent extravagant dresses when we know perfectly well that it will only be for a one-night use? Paying a few hundred dollars for a single outfit, on top of that for shoes, jewelry, and pre-prom rituals like perming, waxing, and tweezing, just does not seem worth the effort for a few hours of partying. Same with the guys: while tuxedos may not be as pricey as dresses, other costs like dinner, photographs, and limousines for your “special date” are excessive. Unless you know you are going to be with her for years, please keep such indulgences in moderation.
Furthermore, the crowning of “Prom King” and “Prom Queen” denotes an act of superiority, over the student body “subjects” who were otherwise not nominated for the roles. Not only does this implies traditional roles of arranged marriages, but also attests to the importance of status, particularly that of high-school popularity.
Altogether, whether you think that prom is the best night of your life or an overrated experience, it is important to remind ourselves of its conventions and possible effects on our gender identities.
…and with that: have fun, kids.
– The Finicky Cynic
(Note: this is the rough draft of an article that I had worked on for my school’s magazine. However, I wanted to share it with you, since I find it relevant at this time of year).