Thursday, May 21, 2009

Every Girl Wants to go to Prom, Whether She Knows it or Not

I usually agree with the advice dispensed by Prudence (Emily Yoffe) over at Slate. But this one seems a bit off to me:
Dear Prudence,

I am a senior in high school and stuck in the midst of prom season. Everywhere I turn, other girls are talking about dresses, and makeup, and dates. My problem is that, unlike most of the other girls, I have no interest in attending prom. It's not that I don't have a date, or a dress for that matter; I just don't get the whole "prom" thing. When other girls hear that I don't intend to attend, it stirs up a flurry of questioning and disbelief; they don't seem to understand why I wouldn't want to go. Do you have any advice for how to deal with these people? Or should I just bite the bullet and go to please everyone else?

—Not a Prom Queen

Dear Not a Prom Queen,

Don't go to please everyone else—go to please your future self. I felt the same way as you (I was really good at being alienated), so I didn't go to my high-school prom. It helped that no one asked me, but still, I shouldn't have let that stop me. I'm sure I would have had a good time. But even if I hadn't, every time I watched a prom scene in a movie or saw kids in stretch limos on their way to the prom, a part of me wouldn't say, "Why was I such a cluck not to go to my own prom? I don't even know what a prom is really like." You don't even sound as alienated as I was, just indifferent to the whole rigmarole. Good—this also means you're the kind of person who won't become hysterical when the cocktail napkins at your wedding reception are the wrong color. You have only one high-school prom. Don't miss it.

I'm not really sure why Prudence assumes that going to the prom will please Not a Prom Queen, or why she'll regret it if she doesn't go. Assumably she's been to other school dances and gets what the basic format is like. And it's bizarre to think that anyone could grow up in our culture and not know what a prom is like. Proms are featured in so many movies and TV shows, and really, how different is one prom from another? I think in this case the cultural assumption that all girls love dances and dresses and parties is at play here. I've never loved dances or dresses or parties, and I didn't enjoy my prom all that much and now view it as a complete waste of time and money that it didn't occur to me to skip. So maybe we should be celebrating the fact that a normal, socially healthy girl is considering bucking the social pressure and skipping it. And while we're at it, does it seem to anyone else that the prom business has taken on a life of it's own? Perhaps a post on the prom-industrial complex is in order...


  1. I skipped half of my prom. We went for an hour and then left to see Planes Mistaken For Stars at Gilman Street. I enjoyed that far more than the prom itself.

    I am glad that I went, but at the same time, I probably wouldn't have regretted not going. I don't think this girl will either, if she's not interested in the first place.

  2. Anonymous5/21/2009

    I remember telling people I had 0% interest in prom (whish was a few years away) and the reaction being about the same as if I had said I eat kittens for lunch. Then I left that high school and went into a hs/college program, and to my pleasure, there WERE other people who didn't want to go to prom! It was cool to know other people couldn't stand the thought of it too. I probably spent the night that the prom was being held playing with my dog and watching tv.

  3. Ashers5/22/2009

    I totally agree with you that Prudence concludes that she'll regret not going simply because of the cultural assumption that all girls love dresses and dances and parties.

  4. Incidentally, when I went to buy a Barbie laptop for my niece a few years ago (it was on her gift list and I was trying not to be the inflexible feminist aunt) it came with three CDs: fahion, parties, and dance music. For real. I went and found a leapfrog laptop instead. She didn't mind.