In 2001, a voice crackled over Plano West High School’s loudspeaker, in Dallas, Texas and senior Scott Rogers, asked a girl to prom. Rogers’ action caused a state and nationwide phenomenon, now more formally known as promposals. The act of prom-posing has grown tremendously since 2001, becoming a part of the “prom experience.”
While many praise promposals, stating that they make prom more special and memorable, others argue that what started out as a romantic gesture has since turned into a controversial display of obligation and gender norms.
Students are rarely asked to prom without a promposal; in fact, hardly any students reject promposals. In past years it has become more frequent that students feel pressure to say yes to prom requests due to the public nature of the ask and the effort involved. “I think the public nature of promposals, especially when they’re extravagant, is really difficult to say no to,” Theo Longboy (’19) said.
Longboy explained that if a girl says no to a promposal, she can be made to feel guilty by her peers. “Girls shouldn’t have to feel bad for saying no to something that they didn’t want,” she said.
Science Teacher Deb Luheshi agrees with Longboy, and doesn’t believe that promposals have any merit. “[Promposals] put the person being asked in an awkward position because it means that if they say no because they don’t want to go, they could face a backlash for saying that,” she said.
“Girls shouldn’t have to feel bad for saying no to something that they didn’t want,” she said.
Furthermore, Longboy feels that promposals can cause social stress and anxiety. “I feel like a lot of girls think they can’t go without a date…and that option of going with your friends and going stag is not an option because the rest of their friends will have dates,” she said.
On top of stress, Marianne De Ridder (’18) said that “promposals can cause tension between friends, as there are some girls who would only like to go to prom with certain guys.” She believes that it is almost a little competitive at times.
The prom-poser, on the other hand, may feel pressure to go above and beyond to fulfill their duty in following the favored tradition. Lucas Achkar (’19) thinks that promposals can be stressful, especially in terms of being creative and clever with the way in which one asks.
Furthermore, many promposals follow traditional gender norms, where a male is expected to ask a female. Luheshi has noticed that in recent years almost every promposal has been performed by a male to a female. “I think that that does reinforce gender stereotypes,” she said.
Agreeing with Luheshi, Longboy, who has never seen a girl ask a boy to prom, believes that “it could be really emasculating [for the boy] or just embarrassing for the girl because if nobody else is doing it, it’s just sort of hard to be that girl who breaks the trend,” she said.
However, DeRidder explained that while last year all of her female friends were asked to prom by boys, this year, the girls have decided to ask the boys. “We’re flipping so everyone has a chance to ask,” she said. Nonetheless, DeRidder believes that due to society’s gender norms “the guy has the option of the date first,” regardless of whether a girl asks him.
Some students, like Sophie McDonald (’19), are determined to break this stereotype. McDonald recently prom-posed to one of her female friends, straying from the traditional roles. “Promposals tend to be a romantic sort of date thing but I think that prom can be just as fun if you go with your friends,” she said. McDonald believes that her act of prom-posing has already inspired other girls in the school, as she has heard about and seen other female-led promposals.
Besides reinforcing gender stereotypes, Zoé Rose (’18) believes that promposals promote heteronormativity, especially with the new school rule, where students are not permitted to bring friends or significant others from outside of school to prom. “Knowing that you can’t invite people from outside of school when you are dating somebody of the same gender makes it feel very targeted towards you,” she said.
In addition, Rose believes that straight students who date outside of school have more options in regard to finding an alternative date for prom compared to homosexual students. “A lot of people who are in same-sex relationships do tend to date outside of school, just because it’s easier and that means that a lot of them can’t go,” she said. Rose believes that this is because there are no gay students at the school who are “open with their sexuality and are ready to date another girl or just can’t be out.”
Moreover, Rose feels that promposals put pressure on non-hetero-identifying students to go to prom with the other gender. “There is definitely this push to go with someone of the other gender because it can be used as a cover-up,” she said. Likewise, Rose is of the belief that the heteronormative history of prom has influenced this.
While Rose believes it is great for friends to prom-pose to each other, she also feels like “it downplays a real girl prom-posing to her girlfriend or a boy prom-posing to his boyfriend.” She feels that when same-sex students prom-pose to each other as friends, they adopt the mentality that since they feel comfortable prom-posing to each other, everyone should. “Saying that because you feel comfortable doing something, means that everyone should feel comfortable doing something is just wrong and it very much downplays the feeling of people who are scared or need to stay in the closet for safety reasons and things like that,” she said.
Although the culture of promposals is shifting, in that more girls feel confident to take on the role of the prom-poser, public humiliation, obligation and exclusion still remain. Luheshi believes that more private promposals will help to counter these issues. “I did go to a prom but the asking of prom dates was always done very privately so that someone might have felt sad or upset but it happened in a private setting,” she said. “I don’t know why it’s such a bad thing to go back to that setting.”
Longboy, on the other hand, feels that there must be more communication between the prom-poser and the person being prom-posed to. “I think if you are planning a promposal, it is important that you know that whoever you are asking, whether that’s a boy or a girl, is comfortable in that situation and that it’s not a huge surprise or shock,” she said.
In either case, Rose believes that by “downplaying the importance of promposals but also telling people that it’s okay to prompose to whoever you want,” more people will feel confident enough to challenge the traditional prom culture. “Once you have been told that it’s normal, it’s like a weight has been taken off of your shoulders and there is no longer a problem with it.”