Monday, March 21, 2011

Prom Skanks

My wife was beside herself a few weeks prior to the high school's prom. Our high school senior son simply refused to go to the dance. Unlike his father was back in high school, my son is very popular. He could easily get a date with just about any girl at his school that isn't going steady with someone. He helped friends ask girls to the prom, but he turned his friends down when they tried to get him to ask a girl.

My wife did everything she could think of to cajole (and even bribe) our son into going to the prom. She conspired with his friends behind his back. She worked up ways for him to ask girls that he liked. One day my son came into my room and asked if I could get his mother to ease off about prom. He said that he simply wasn't interested in going. Citing the costs involved in attending a formal dance, he said that he didn't want to waste that kind of money on a one-time dating event. This particular social aspect of high school just didn't mean as much to him as it meant to my wife.

My wife is a wonderful mom. She really wants the best for her kids. But, having herself been a high school girl, her interest in getting my son to attend prom also had something to do with her thoughts about some girl that would be sitting at home alone on prom night instead of attending the premier event of the high school social calendar. Trying to sell the event as an act of service, however, did nothing for my son. At my urging, my wife glumly gave up on her dream of our son attending prom.

During the week following the prom, I saw links on my son's Facebook page to numerous photos of friends that had attended the prom along with their dates. All were carefully groomed. The young men were all dressed in fine formal clothing; some of it very classy. Each young woman had a fancy hairdo and near perfect makeup. All were exquisitely dressed.

But every last girl — most of whom stand up every Sunday and recite words about being "daughters of God" that "STAND as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places" and "strive to live [with] ... virture" — were dressed in various stages of immodesty. Some looked like a cross between Disney's Cinderella and a hooker. After seeing scads of such photos, I was relieved that my son chose to avoid the prom. I now live in desperate fear of the time when my young daughter will be of age to attend a prom.

This topic was fresh on my mind when I encountered this WSJ article that poses the question, "Why do so many of us not only permit our teenage daughters to dress like this—like prostitutes, if we're being honest with ourselves—but pay for them to do it with our AmEx cards?"

Frankly, it's the moms that permit and even encourage their daughters to dress this way. Despite the evolution of partner roles over the past two generations, study after study shows that dads have relatively little say in how their daughters dress. They mostly defer to the girl's mother on this topic. So why is it that moms take delight in dressing their young daughters like aspiring porn actresses? What does this tell our daughters about their self worth and personal power?

The article's author describes a friend suggesting that moms dressing their daughters to look "hot" as a mom-daughter bonding experience. But the author feels that it goes beyond this. She writes:

"So here we are, the feminist and postfeminist and postpill generation. We somehow survived our own teen and college years (except for those who didn't), and now, with the exception of some Mormons, evangelicals and Orthodox Jews, scads of us don't know how to teach our own sons and daughters not to give away their bodies so readily. We're embarrassed, and we don't want to be, God forbid, hypocrites."
I'm grateful that the author indicated that "some Mormons" know how to train their kids to be modest. Because judging from my son's friends' prom photos, there are plenty that don't.

The author has a point about moms wanting to avoid hypocrisy, but to me it does not fully explain the phenomenon I have been discussing. I know plenty of moms that grew up chaste and modest that now dress their young daughters like trollops. Perhaps their sense of being unpopular as a somewhat prudish teen is so keen that they are willing to bow to the standards of the world in a bid to enhance their daughter's popularity. I'm not sure how well this works in real life. Trying to prevent the pain of unpopularity this way will turn out to be a poor bargain in the long run.

I think the author's discussion of moms living vicariously through their daughters also strikes a chord. She writes, "... when I see my daughter in drop-dead gorgeous mode, I experience something akin to a thrill—especially since I myself am somewhat past the age to turn heads."

Girls that learn that gaining power via sex appeal is useful and acceptable will not likely give up on it easily. When they find their own ability to exercise this power naturally diminished with age, they can relive the "thrill" by training their daughters in such arts. Even while admitting to this kind of parental indiscretion, the author laments that each succeeding generation seems to take such matters to new extremes — and not in a good way.

A family in our congregation has four lovely daughters. The three older daughters are now out of high school, but throughout their high school years each was regularly asked to school sponsored formal dances. Although church leaders frown on the practice, it is customary for girls to wear their formal gowns to church the day after the dance. These girls always wore outfits that were gorgeous without being revealing. Many moms complain of the difficulty of finding dresses of this nature. But these girls' mom insists that it can be done if one thinks this kind of modesty is important.

I've dealt with my own high schoolers, but they've all been boys up to this point. Since I haven't had a teenage daughter yet, I am hardly one to sit in judgment of how others parent their daughters. I pray that we will be able to deal with issues such as this with wisdom and integrity.


Regina said...

Great post ! I´d aggree with the mother of four daughters in your congregation: It´s a question of taking care of the matter/subject and you will quite find girls being wonderfully dressed without revealing too much.

Greetings from Cologne/Germany

Kristine said...

"Since I haven't had a teenage daughter yet, I am hardly one to sit in judgment of how others parent their daughters"

Right. So don't.

John Teal said...

This is such a worldwide issue. Here in the UK our kids our out numbered so much it is easy for them to fall foul of peer pressure. My daughter didn't want to go to prom, she has one other Mormon girl in her school yea who unfortunately chose to wear a dress that fit the worlds standards. We looked every where for suitable clothing and in the end found a nice dress that she wore a top under and a cardigan over.
The same issue is prevalent on Facebook. My wife is the Stake Young Womens President and has most of her girls as Facebook friends. She often sighs as she sees pictures many of them post. The challenge is to get these kids to understand that Strength of Youth is to be lived not just read. I don't think Facebook makes them act as differently, its just she gets to see a window on their daily life she doesn't through seeing them at church activities.

Fellow Mormon Blogger

Bradley Ross said...

Kristine, I'm puzzled by your bristling. Care to elaborate?

I don't believe that you can judge a parent by the choices their children make. But I think that it is fair to point out trends and wonder how we could parent differently to achieve different ends.

The Little Red Hen said...

Your post is well put. We have also had son's (& their friends) who did not have a desire to go to the Prom. One of our sons was asked to go, so he went. However, when his LDS date arrived, we all were trying to avert our eyes. He said he was uncomfortable the entire evening.

In regard to the 'dresses', we need to be self-reliant and learn to alter or sew. I realize this is old fashioned, and I even was in the audience when President Hinkley said he wished that all the YW would learn how to sew. I was shocked by the laughter in the crowd at the conference center.

As parents, we can decide how our hard earned dollars are spent. I have often said to my children when they wanted things that were not in harmony with our values that they could buy it themselves, but that we do not have funds for that. I cannot think of one time that they parted with their monies to purchase the questionable idea.

Teens can graduate and have a good life even without going to the Prom. I sympathize with your wife as I have tried to encourage my kids to do things. However, letting your son exercise his agency sounds like it proved to be best for him in this situation. Best Wishes

Scott Hinrichs said...

Here's a fun story. Maybe it's apocryphal, but it was related to me by a general authority. You know how second-hand stories can introduce inaccuracies, so take it for what it's worth.

A few years ago, President Hinckley and his wife were dining at a nicer restaurant in Salt Lake along with a couple of other general authorities and their spouses. A group of teenage prom-goers were dining at the same place when they noticed the prophet and approached the general authorities' table.

The prophet kindly greeted the teens and gave them a few brief words of counsel. Some wanted to take photos with the prophet, but President Hinckley's personal secretary took a que from prophet and gently advised the teens that it wouldn't be proper to take photos of or with the prophet in that setting. The teens understood and returned to their seats.

One of the other general authorities present said that the main reason the prophet didn't want his picture taken with members of the group was that most of the young women were dressed immodestly. The photos would quickly have hit the Internet, and you can guess where that would have gone.

If we are dressed in a way that embarrasses the prophet, we are likely doing something wrong.