Tuesday, June 2, 2015

No "Girls" Allowed

We survived Junior Prom, and learned some valuable lessons. For example, next year my teenage daughter plans to have her hair professionally done (hey, I did my best). We will start at Frugal Fannie's for the dress, not end there after a couple of expensive missteps. We'll order the flowers in advance.

It felt a little like my wedding twenty-ohmigod-three years ago. I was absolutely lost through the whole planning process. But, once it was over, I could have written a guidebook.

But, I digress. Back to Prom.

With all the rules surrounding Prom — and there were plenty of them — I was pleasantly surprised that not much was said about a dress code. And, when my husband and I attended the "red carpet" prior to bus-boarding and venue-arriving and Prom itself, we were very pleasantly surprised at the good taste demonstrated by most of our daughter's classmates. Oh sure, there was the occasional slit (here, there and everywhere). But, by and large, the dresses were age-appropriate, baring the right amount of skin.

We had seen the same girls and boys four years earlier as they left the upper middle school for the eighth grade Boston harbor cruise. It was billed as a "semi-formal" and many of the boys wore jackets and ties — some comfortably and some ... well ... not. Most of the girls wore short dresses. Really short dresses. Short short short dresses. Some were skintight and girls were struggling to pull them down before they even left school property. Add to this that at least half of the girls were (for the first time in many cases) wearing high heels. Really high heels. High high high heels. The entire class was a wardrobe malfunction waiting to happen.

The scene was the epitome of awkward. First of all, unless you're Brooke Shields, eighth grade hits in the middle of an awkward stage. The boys still looked like boys, while the girls looked like underage lingerie models. They were dressed and made up to look adult though. Very adult.

So fast forward to this year's big event. They all looked like grownups. And, as I said, despite a few instances of too much cleavage (back and side, as well as front), they were quite elegant.

Other schools across the country may have had less success keeping the kids in enough clothing. The news has covered a number of towns in which Prom-goers were informed of dress code rules a little too late. Some girls (not mine, obviously) buy their Prom dresses months and months in advance. If you're suddenly told that the strapless gown you paid $200 (or, in many cases, significantly more) for won't work, what are you supposed to do? And whether well-intentioned or not, the rules always revolve around girls and girly body parts, objectifying them as much as the offending garments did.

This week, a story broke about a school that sent what attempted (but failed) to be a humorous letter home, prescribing appropriate dress for another teen milestone: Graduation. The Upper Adams School in Bigliverville, PA, in its Proper Attire & Etiquette for Awards Program and Graduation, stipulated some general rules, like "No flip flops," "No chewing gum," "No sunglasses," as well as gender-specific ones:

Ladies: Choose modest attire. No bellies showing, keep "the girls" covered and supported, and make sure that nothing is so small that all your bits and pieces are hanging out.  Please remember that as you select an outfit for the awards assembly that we don't want to be looking at "sausage rolls" as Mrs. Elliott calls them. As you get dressed remember that you can't put 10 pounds of mud in a five-pound sack.

Okay, who is Mrs. Elliott and how dare she compare any girl to processed meat? (Way to add insult to injury for someone who is probably already feeling body shame.)

To be fair, boys were warned to "PULL YOUR PANTS UP!," but there was no mention of their "bits and pieces." As usual, it's the girl who is the focus of these rules and, consequently, the girl who must carry the responsibility for ensuring the morality of all.

When parents complained (and I guess they did, in great numbers), the school issued a quick mea culpa:

The Administration acknowledges that some individuals have found certain language in the document to be inappropriate or in poor taste. The document was drafted years ago, and the author of the original document has since retired. The document does not reflect the high standards of the Upper Adams School District, and the Administration will take appropriate action to address the issue. 

Okay, but then they moonwalked just a little ...

While we regret that the document contained some unfortunate word choices, we do respect all students and hope this does not distract from the dignity of the graduation ceremony and the accomplishments of our graduating class.

Saying "While we reget such-and-such" is the same as saying "We're sorry, but ..." It kind of negates the power of the apology. 

The sorry situation was a fairly minor and harmless event. But, I'm glad that parents protested. If we want our daughters to feel in control of their own bodies, rather than ashamed of them, we need to stay vigilant. Schools should respect and defend the rights of all students. 

This includes boys and anyone with "girls."

If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to order a copy of my book  Lovin' the Alien at www.lovinthealien.com. 

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