From dress codes to homophobia, here's the finest the American education system has to offer.
I honestly don't remember very much of my high school prom, beyond the fact that we were all bored to tears within about 11 minutes and so we decided to go to the beach and light a bonfire instead. I woke up in the morning with a dress covered in sand and damp with saltwater and considered it a job well done.
But prom overall is a big deal and a rite of passage for Americans. A whole lot of people go to prom (though a fair amount of us do in fact duck out after making a token appearance in a ridiculous dress). It's a goodbye to high school years, a stilted step into adulthood, whatever you want to call it. Prom is your chance to put on a dress you will never wear again and dance until your feet hurt and take goofy pictures.
And it's also something that should be open to anyone in a high school who wants to go. As should all the bits like running for prom royalty. Unfortunately, this is America, where people are terrible, so you can guess where I am going at this point, with a roundup of some of the worst prom discrimination incidents I've spotted this year... so far. Remember, the whole month of May and many opportunities for being terrible to people lie ahead!
1) Kicked out for dress code violations, round one
Malika Sneed went out, bought a nice two-piece dress, and rocked it, along with some stellar makeup. When she arrived at prom, a teacher told her she'd need to go home because she'd violated the dress code. She went home in tears, and she joins the long and growing list of teens ejected from prom over dress codes.
Here's the thing about dress code violations: They squarely target girls, because girls are gross and have bodies. They're also highly subjective and wildly interpreted, allowing people to discriminate at will. Notably, a lot of "dress code violations" also involve girls of color. Weird.
2) Trans guy told to run for prom queen
Ash Whitaker, a junior in Wisconsin, was told that if he wanted to be on the prom court, he'd have to run for prom queen, not prom king, because he's trans, and his school apparently thinks that gender assigned at birth matters more than actual gender.
Furious, he and his classmates took to pressuring the school — which steadfastly refuses to allow him to use the right bathroom — into allowing him to compete for the prom king slot. Eventually they won out, but only after attracting national attention (and feeling the heat).
He pointed out that incidents like this make trans teens afraid to come out, as they see their cohort punished and cruelly treated by the adults around them.
3) No suits for ladies (AKA kicked out for dress code violations, round two)
Aniya Wolf looks mighty fine in a suit, which is why this lesbian student spiffed herself up in one at prom. It's not unusual for her, because she's worn masculine clothes throughout her life, and that includes her time at Catholic school. However, on extremely short notice, the school informed her that wearing a suit would violate the dress code — and when she showed up anyway, she was barred from entry.
The school even threatened to call the police on her. Wolf says her classmates are friendly and supportive, but the school administration is another matter, making her feel like "a mistake" for being gay.
4) Kicked out for dress code violations, round three
As all of the ladies in the plus size range know, finding dresses that fit and feel great is really hard. If you have large breasts on top of that, things take on a whole new level of complicated. Dresses are often made from cheap, crappy fabrics, they wrinkle and bunch in weird ways, it's hard to find things that button or zip smoothly, and it can feel really demoralizing to go shopping.
Which is probably why Amy Steverson was stoked to find this really gorgeous dress to wear to prom — but her school kicked her out because it was "too revealing." The decision appears to have been made on the basis of the fact that it showed her shoulders (I had no idea that women had shoulders, this opens up a frightening new world of possibilities) and didn't hide the fact that she has a chest.
5) Battle of the prom queens
This one actually comes with a happy ending, but the fact that it happened at all is ridiculous. At Foothill High School in California, the student body nominated a lesbian couple as Prom Queen and Queen — the school historically nominates people as couples, not individuals. However, when they went to run as a couple, like the other couples nominated by their classmates, the school said it would be "unfair" to boys for the girls to run together.
The students, and advocates, including the ACLU, told the district to rethink its plans, and eventually it relented. Sort of. Instead of being known as prom kings and queens, people are now known generically as "prom royalty," which is gender inclusive, and great for those who are neither kings nor queens, but also kind of degrading to two girls who wanted to be co-queens.
6) People are bad and should feel bad
Tayja Jones slayed in a fabulous prom dress, danced the night away, had a fantastic time at prom, and posted pics the next day, like any teen would do. (After recovering from any prom-related hangovers.) Because this is on my worst-of prom list, you can probably guess that something uncool happened next, which it did.
You see, apparently fat girls are not allowed to wear dresses and have fun, so people, including complete strangers, descended on her social media accounts to leave comments so awful that even Fox News won't print them. Let that sink in for a moment. She is understandably devastated, miserable that she went to prom, and determined to skip her senior prom next year.
7) Prom inappropriate
So I guess someone thought this video would be a "fun" way to communicate the prom dress code, which, by the way, only lists standards for female attire and says nothing about the guys. Aside from the poor production values, which are deeply offensive in today's high tech era, the video itself is appallingly slut shaming.
It consists of a mixed panel of judges informing the audience about whether dresses are "prompropriate," based basically on the percentage of skin revealed. And it's every bit as awful as it sounds.
8) Kicked out for dress code violations, round four
Gender parity strikes again: a genderfluid teen wanted to wear a dress to prom, and wanted to pick out a pretty sweet old-school Hollywood glam number. His school, however, told him that such a thing was simply not allowed. As we know, boys in dresses destroy the natural order of things and, when allowed free rein, can trample gender norms.
Luckily, he knows his rights, and he called the ACLU, which stepped in to intervene. The district is backing down, and allowing him to attend the prom in whatever he feels like wearing.
9) Dress code contracts? Really?
One school is requiring students to sign a "dress code contract" if they want to go to prom, indicating that they have read and understood the terms of the dress code. Surprise! It targets primarily girls.
It joins other schools with similar requirements, including some where students have to basically apply to buy tickets by submitting a photo of their prom dress or the dress they plan to get. Given the totally arbitrary and random nature of dress code enforcement and the pervasive nature of slut shaming, some girls are undoubtedly going to be excluded from prom until they agree to buy more "modest" dresses.
Photo: Ruth E. Photos/Creative Commons