A quintessential part of the high school experience. For some, it’s the greatest night of their lives. (Usually those who peak in high school.) For others, it’s a social crisis. And for still others, it’s just another night. Fun, but not everything.
And, of course, you can’t forget about the prom court. In movies, prom is usually the climax and the crowing of the prom king and queen always has something to do with how the story is going to end. It happened in Glee. It happened in The Duff and Mean Girls, except in those movies the dance was a homecoming one instead of a prom (in my mind, sort of the same thing, socially speaking, except prom seems to be more formal). Even in really innocent kids’ movies, like The Princess Protection Program, there’s a prom with a prom royalty vote.
The point is, it’s a popular storyline in tons of coming-of-age and teen movies. There’s almost always a prom. And at the center of it is the royalty.
And it happens in real life.
There’s girls and guys in high school who want so badly to be the king or queen of prom or homecoming. They tape posters around the school and make pretend friends with people they never talk to and dance around the football field at games trying to get votes. They claim it’s their destiny, that this is what they have always wanted, that it will bring them the popularity and recognition that they deserve.
But this sucks. It absolutely sucks. And we have it all wrong for supporting this horrible tradition.
It totally excludes the LGBTQ community.
Dance royalty completely disregards anyone from the LGBTQ community. It is cisgender focused and heteronormative, since it only allows for 1 King and 1 Queen. There’s never two queens or two kings. There’s never a gender-non-specific title used to name the royalty (it’s always King or Queen) so people who are not cisgender usually feel marginalized or excluded from participating. It makes it hard to be in a non-heterosexual partnership and still have the same opportunities to be a part of that experience. And for me, that’s Reason #1 why this tradition needs to die. LGBTQ students are already marginalized enough. Why do we support this sickening cycle, year after year, to make it even worse? Everyone should feel beautiful and fun and handsome and free and exciting. Everyone should have a chance to be social or popular or loved or whatever it is that they desire. We’re ripping that away from a lot of students by allowing this to continue. We’re putting people in a box and we are basically encouraging a system that puts the LGBTQ community at the bottom (or even on the outside of) the social hierarchy. NOT. COOL.
It makes people fight for popularity, and they will go to ugly lengths to get it.
It’s not OK to use some plastic crown and some meaningless title to make people fight with each other for something that won’t matter in ten years (or even five). People are fake. They befriend people inauthentically just to get their vote. They fight dirty. They talk behind people’s backs to get what they want. They spread rumors to discourage classmates from voting for the other person. They spread their own propaganda around the school to encourage people to vote for them. They incite fear. Sure, this may be a little dramatic and it obviously doesn’t happen in every high school, but it can. Competition makes people do things thoughtlessly. Sometimes they lose decency and compassion for their opponents. Why should we be part of a culture that gives people a reason to fight dirty just for the clout of being named King or Queen? It’s messed up.
It can be very damaging to people’s self-esteem.
Why even make royalty a thing? Some people assign their whole high school experience to it. It’s their goal to become king or queen. They get upset and insecure when they don’t get it. Why the hell are we allowing people to determine their self-worth based on some stupid crown or some five-second announcement in front of a crowd on a stage at a dance that they’ll eventually forget about?
Not everyone is a high school heartthrob. We’re encouraging social hierarchy.
The social hierarchy is the scariest, most horrible thing about high school. The popular kids picking on the not-so-popular kids. The cheerleaders labelling the theatre people “geeks.” People deciding not to interact with one another because they feel it threatens their social status. And then there’s the people who sometimes feel like they don’t even have a place — the nobodies — who could never dream of even being added to the ballot (I was one of those people in high school). When those people, the ones who feel like nobodies, sit there and watch their popular classmates get picked for some “honor” that really has no redeeming value, even though deep down we know it doesn’t mean anything, it still sometimes feels like a punch in the gut. What would it take to get that many friends? What would it take for someone to think you’re pretty or cute or handsome or funny or worthy? We shouldn’t make people wonder.
It’s one big popularity contest.
It’s not even like a school president, where you vote based on policy and there is usually a teacher or administrator monitoring the election. Like, it’s just one big popularity contest. Who looks the best? Who’s the funniest? Who’s the most popular? Whose name does everyone know? Who has been in the most plays and sung the most solos and hit the most home runs and made the cheerleading squad all four years? Who’s the cutest couple? I don’t understand why we even ask ourselves these questions. We don’t vote for prom king and queen based on who’s most down-to-earth or who’s the smartest or who is the most talented on the bass guitar. We don’t vote based on who won the Science Bowl two consecutive years in a row or who is the kindest. It’s just a bunch of popular kids and followers voting for their friends. And usually, it ends up being white-washed and heteronormative and filled with wealthy, privileged, stuck-up people.
And to top it all off…it’s the most pointless thing ever.
There LITERALLY is no point to having a prom king and queen or a homecoming king and queen. Except maybe that people argue it’s a “tradition that can’t be broken.” Well, really? Would you rather ~break tradition~ or continue marginalizing the BIPOC, LGBTQ, non-social-butterflies in your schools and include everyone? Would you rather be a total asshole or realize that this whole thing is really messed up and that maybe we should be the first generation to abolish it? We could certainly do without it. The prom king and queen don’t add value to the school. They don’t make administrative decisions. They don’t help the student body or fundraise or give back to the community. It’s all just one big meaningless announcement. So much pain and so much marginalization for no legitimate reason.
We could brainstorm other fun dance traditions.
Instead of prom royalty, why not have other fun traditions? Why not still highlight people, but make it MUCH more inclusive? Maybe have a panel of people that are voted “Most Likely.” Most likely to change the world, most likely to become president, most likely to marry their high-school sweetheart, most likely to go on Broadway… obviously, there are probably WAY more fun ones than the ones I just came up with, but still. Schools could still find fun ways to recognize people. But we could make the titles gender-neutral. We could make them have nothing to do with royalty or hierarchy. We could make them LGBTQ-friendly. We could make them considerate of all abilities, all groups, all races, all cultures, all socioeconomic brackets, all levels of popularity.
Because it’s not fun to be the gay kid who maybe wants to be prom king, too, but he can’t because he’d be made fun of, or because his boyfriend and him can’t be on the court at the same time. It’s not fun to be the non-binary student who sits in the crowd feeling like they don’t have a place. It’s not fun to be the girl who no one sits with at lunch, looking up at the king and queen and wondering where she went wrong to make her so invisible. It’s not fun to be the poor kid, wondering if they’d be king or queen if they could afford nice clothes and fancy parties and a cool car.
Why do we make people go through this?
And all for a plastic crown. A photo. A moment that becomes a memory within seconds.