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Another week, another story of everyday sexism. My sister (who is 17 and doing dual enrollment at the local community college to finish up her last year of high school via homeschooling and will start college on the East Coast this coming fall) was supposed to go to prom this past weekend, but everything went terribly wrong. When I saw her Facebook status about it (which used the particularly perfect phrase “rape culture activists”), I asked if she wanted to share her story, and she took a little time this evening to write up this fantastic post for you all. This story is actually pretty common —--things like this happened a lot in the homeschool ballroom dance and grassroots theater circles in Richmond. But I’ll let her speak for herself. I’m so proud of her.
So, I’m a high school senior, a homeschooler, and a girl, and something really awful happened to me last night, and it made me really mad. Not so much because it was something that did permanent damage to me, but because it is something I have seen happen over and over and over to people I love and care for very much, and on what better day than Mother’s Day could I make a stand for the mothers, and the sisters, and the daughters and the friends who have been victims of this painful, traumatizing evil. So here is my story.
Last night was my senior prom. I live in Richmond, VA, and several weeks ago my boyfriend got our tickets to the Richmond Homeschool Prom. The theme was “Twilight in Paris.” I got my dress, my shoes, we got our flowers and we waited eagerly for Saturday to arrive. My dress was gorgeous, silver, and sparkly and I got it at Macy’s and was very excited to find it after searching over six stores for this dress. The only dress code specified on the registration form was that “Ladies, please keep your dresses fingertip length or longer.” Like a good little homeschooler, I made sure that the dress was fingertip length on me; I even tried it on with my shoes, just to be sure. It was fingertip length, I was ecstatic, and I laid down several weeks worth of tip money I had been saving up to buy it.
Fast forward to prom night. I’m all dolled up, channeling my inner Marilyn Monroe with my blonde hair and bright red lipstick. I’m a tall and fairly curvy girl and you know something? I looked hot. Not trashy, but you definitely would look twice when I walked through a doorway.
And you know what happened? I got kicked out of prom because of it. Stay with me, I’ll explain. I showed up at prom with my boyfriend, and I was wearing the really cute silver dress that was fingertip length on me, and on my way in Mrs. D (one of the two ladies organizing the prom this year) stopped me and said, “honey, that dress is too short.” I said, “what is the rule?” she said, “fingertip length” and I put my arms down by my sides and showed her that it was fingertip length. After which she made a face at me and was like, “well make sure it stays pulled down, it’s too short.” I want you to know that she is a very short woman, and I assumed that she probably just didn’t understand that when you’re 5’9″ and leggy, everything looks shorter on you than it would on anyone else, even if it’s still inside the dress code. So, I tried to help her understand by saying, “I just have long legs, everything looks short on me, but it is fingertip length I just showed you.” To which she responded begrudgingly, “Okay but you need to be careful and just keep pulling it down, but not too far!” I was annoyed with her pettiness, especially because I had so carefully complied to their rules, but I said, “Yes ma’am,” and went into the ballroom.
When I got into the ballroom I laughed because I was surrounded by girls in much shorter dresses than me, albeit they were shorter, and therefore stood out less in the crowd, but it was still frustrating. I joined my group of friends (there were six of us), and told them what happened, they were all appalled, especially considering we’ve been attending this prom all four years of high school and usually wore much shorter dresses than we chose this year. We were also a little grossed out by all the dads on the balcony above the dance floor, ogling and talking amongst themselves. We weren’t dancing, but swaying with the music and talking and enjoying ourselves, when Mrs. D again approached me and gestured me off the dance floor. She took me into a corner in the hall way, with another woman, (who I’m assuming was a parent/chaperone) and told me that some of the dads who were chaperoning had complained that my dancing was too provocative and that I was going to cause the young men at the prom to think impure thoughts. At this point I said to her that I hadn’t been dancing at all! Much less seductively and that even if I had been being inappropriate, they should issue a warning instead of just kicking me out.
Then she proceeded to reiterate that my dress was too short and I that I was going to have to leave. I again showed her and the lady with her that the dress met dress code standards, the only thing the dress code said was it had to be fingertip length, and they never had us sign any sort of agreement to abide by that rule in the first place, and second of all my dress was in compliance with the one rule. Mrs. D said again “The dress is too short” and I asked the chaperone standing next to her what the rule was and she reiterated that it had to be fingertip length, I showed her my fingers and said ”Is this fingertip length?” and she said, “Yes, but I can’t make that call it’s on Mrs. D.” Then I told them I was trying to understand what they were kicking me out for since my dress complied with dress code and everyone I had been standing with would vouch that I hadn’t been dancing inappropriately. (At this point one of the girls in my group came back and said that she’d been by my side the whole 15 minutes we’d been there and I hadn’t even danced more then 2 seconds and it was completely appropriate.)
At which point they told her that she wasn’t welcome in the conversation and when I protested and asked that she be able to stay to verify what they were saying to me they got very rude and said if she didn’t leave they would kick her out too. Then she went and told my date what was going on and he got very upset and came over and was respectfully asking them to explain to him the situation, and they told him that it was none of his business and they were kicking me out and he needed to leave. At which point he said, “That’s fine, she wasn’t doing anything wrong but if you’re kicking her out then the group that she came with is leaving too and you’ll need to refund all of our tickets.” And Mrs. D said “No, we will refund Clare’s ticket but nobody else’s.” And then my date got very angry (but was still being respectful not raising his voice or anything). And he explained that we all drove together and if I had to leave everyone else would be forced to leave with me and therefore they needed to refund everyone. I want to reiterate that my date was being very respectful, but he was also obviously frustrated with her for refusing to communicate with us in a mature or respectful way. Then she got very rude, repeatedly saying “I will not debate with you about this,” when my date was simply asking questions to help him understand the situation, and Mrs. D sent the chaperone to get security at which point both my date and I respectfully demanded to speak with the lady in charge of prom, and Mrs. D refused to let us.
Security came and my group went to get their stuff, I was crying and I asked the security guy if my dress was compliant with the dress code and if he had noticed any inappropriateness in my behavior and he said he didn’t think I did anything to get kicked out but it wasn’t his call. He helped me get my stuff and walked me to the front door, my date was still talking to Mrs. D and demanding our group's refund. She said, “Okay, I’ll give you all your refund if you go to the front and leave now,” and so the group walked to the front where I was, and only I was given my refund ($25). The group I was with got very upset because they had been promised their refund since we had all come together and if I was leaving they had to leave too, at which point we were told that the leadership would converse and make sure we all got our refunds, later that night when one of the girls in our groups mom called and asked how they were going to refund her, they stated, “We aren’t going to do refunds.”
When we walked out of the prom, frustrated and angry and feeling very disrespected and violated, some of the people in my group shouted profanities at the security guards, and I personally flipped them off. I'm putting this part in the story because I want everyone who reads this to know that we shouldn’t have reacted so immaturely to their unfair and disrespectful actions, and we’re all adult enough to admit that. But what I want to know is if the people involved in this situation at the Richmond Homeschool Prom are adult enough to own up to their wrong actions as well. And I think they should refund my group as they verbally promised to do and issue an apology for kicking me out of my senior prom because their husbands felt as though my body was something they had a right to control.
What happened last night was so wrong for so many different reasons:
- I was told that the way I dressed and moved my body was causing men to think inappropriately about me, implying that it is my responsibility to control other people’s thoughts and drives.
- I was talked to disrespectfully, ganged up on and treated as less than a person by people in authority, and when I requested to have one of my peers present to validate later what was said in this “meeting” I was denied that right and my friends were threatened for sticking up for me.
- We were verbally promised a full refund for our group, we received only a refund for my ticket, they need to refund five more tickets for our group.
- I felt violated by the sheer number of male parents that were assigned to do nothing for five hours other then watch girls in short dresses and heels dance to upbeat music. I think that it is sick and wrong that they assigned them to sit on a balcony above us and look down on us and single us out for our clothes or dancing.
- I never signed any documentation agreeing to adhere to any sort of dress code, and the dress code that was verbally communicated to me was followed to the letter, and yet I was still kicked out.
- I was informed by more then one friend who stayed at the prom throughout the course of the evening that there was some truly dirty dancing, and that there were several couples making out and grinding on the dance floor, and yet out of a group of 500 people, only one person, (me) got thrown out for inappropriate dancing.
The whole situation made me feel violated, walked over and ostracized. My group of five people had to leave the prom because I stuck out, I have long legs and I was wearing a sparkly dress, I didn’t look like most of the 13-15 year old girls there, I looked like a woman. And goddamn it, I am so tired of people who abuse their power to make women feel violated and ashamed because she has an ass, or has breasts, or has long legs.
This is a message to the women who understand that sometimes, it doesn’t matter how much you pin a dress, you’re still going to have cleavage show when you bend over. This is a message to girls built like me, who can’t find jeans that fit because your ass is just too damn big! The girls with long legs, who are forced to prove that their dresses fit the dress code, just because they have more leg showing than most girls.
This is what I want to say. You are beautiful, no matter how you are built, no matter how you chose to dress or dance or what words you chose to say in the heat of the moment. And even more important than knowing that the fact that your looks, and your body and how you dress doesn’t get to define whether or not you’re beautiful, you have to know that people are responsible for their own thoughts, desires and actions, and it doesn’t f--king matter if you’re just swaying along with music, or if you’re grinding up on your date, or not even dancing. You are a person, with a soul, and with potential and with purpose, and the way that other people treat you, should never be based on how you dance, or dress or talk. You are a person, I am a person, is it really too much to ask that we be treated like people? Talked to as equals? As responsible adults who get to have opinions and likes and dislikes too? How is it that what I look like and how I dress constitutes the level of respect you give me? How is it that you refuse to refund me when I asked for it, but when my male date asked for it, you agreed to refund my ticket to him? I’m only 17, but I can see there’s something wrong about this. Please, please tell me I’m not the only one who thinks it doesn’t matter how people are dressed or how they move their bodies, we should still treat them with respect and decency. And enough with the slut shaming. Please. Goddamn I’m not responsible for some perverted 45-year-old dad lusting after me because I have a sparkly dress on and a big ass for a teenager. And if you think I am, then maybe you’re part of the problem.
Reprinted with permission from hannahettinger.com