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School proms used to publicly shame female students, US teacher says

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The school prom is becoming a dangerous tool for the public shaming of female students, according to a US teacher.

Writing anonymously in the 8 May issue of TES, the high school teacher from the East coast of the US explains that prom season is now feared by many female students, as public shaming for refusing date proposals – which have become increasingly public and elaborate – becomes common.

“Boys ask girls to prom in a style that puts marriage proposals to shame. They create elaborate spectacles, often in school, to surprise their intended dates,” the teacher writes. “Do the girls have any choice but to say yes?”

She cites two recent examples. In one, a girl faced a full choir and a whole-school audience for a proposal, but had the courage to decline. The incident was filmed and she was publicly shamed on YouTube, labelled a “bitch” and ridiculed.

In the second incident, a male student asked a girl to prom in front of a full cafeteria. The girl was completely taken by surprise and declined his offer. A group of his friends began chanting “bitch”, which soon spread throughout the crowd of bystanders. She ran out in tears.

“Not only are such incidents traumatising for the girls in question, they also deter others from saying no in future,” the teacher writes. “What are we telling our girls about consent by letting these proposals occur on school property and failing to properly deal with the fallout? That saying no means you’re a ‘bitch’ if it embarrasses the boy? That women should not have a choice?”

She argues that these public proposals need to be prohibited and that students need to be educated in affirmative consent.

“Schools should take appropriate action against students whose actions have a negative impact on their peers,” she writes. “But even more important is what schools do to prevent the attitudes that legitimise public proposals and public shaming.

“We need to involve our students in discussions around issues of consent, gender norms, relationships and power. We need students to challenge each other in open, honest debate, so everyone can see how these incidents look from a different perspective.”

She concludes: “Prom should be a time for celebration. Unfortunately, it is instead becoming a way of reinforcing damaging messages about gender and consent.”

For the full story, get the 8 May edition of TES on your tablet or phone or by downloading the TES Reader app for Android or iOS. Or pick it up at all good newsagents.

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