The Problem with Promposals

If you’re someone who’s aware of and thinks at all about young adults and their worlds, you must also be aware that it’s prom season. I went to both of my proms, both times with boys who I was dating. Both times, I did the asking. As a student at an all-girls school, there wasn’t a whole lot of choice if you were looking for a male date—if you wanted to go to our prom, you found a guy and asked him.

This is not the norm in our society, though. And if news and cultural reporting over the last few years is any indication, it’s getting to be less and less the norm. What’s replacing it? The promposal, of course—in which (mostly) boys are expected to put together elaborate scenarios in which to ask (mostly) girls to the dance in question. Said promposals are meant to be photographed and/or filmed so that they can be publicly disseminated to as wide an audience as possible.

I’ve seen pictures and watched videos of these public “asks”—some of them are sweet and  thoughtful. Some are clearly just an excuse for showboating, and still others seem pointedly created to put the girl in question on the spot. I’ve been reading more and more about this relatively new phenomenon and several things bother me about it.

The first is a problem that I have with actual proposals and the fact that the word promposal is derived from the marriage proposal. The latter is, even in these modern times, expected to be something driven by the guy in a heterosexual relationship—in other words, the kind most likely to be found in advertising, television, films, and even books. He picks a ring, he chooses when to ask. Woman are taught that they have no agency in this—you just sit around and wait for your significant other to pop the question. It doesn’t matter if the woman in a relationship is ready to get married or not—all that matters is when the man is ready to ask.

Frankly, I find it a little disturbing that this idea didn’t go out of fashion with the dowry and trousseau. Haven’t we got more advanced ideas about marriage now (on every possible level)? Even more disturbing is that we’re now passing it on as an ideal to be achieved to younger and younger men and women, along with the idea that it has to big, it has to brash, and it has to be as public as possible. Having this kind of pressure cooker—where one teen has to create something extraordinary that no one else has ever done before and the other is put on the spot in a public way, thereby robbing her of any real choice as to with whom she’s going to prom—is unhealthy for anyone, regardless of what their sexuality or gender identity is.

A recent Boston Globe article touched on one of the reasons why this is so toxic—one that even the teens “engaging” each other in promposals recognize: “It’s more likely to prompt a ‘yes’ from a girl.” One student whom the Globe interviewed came right out and admitted it: “I thought I should do it publicly because the pressure of it being public would increase the chances of her saying yes.” Another piece on CNN talked of the pressure on girls. A young woman named Ria Desai was quoted from a blog post on the topic saying, “Turning him down marks her as a ‘huge bitch,’ a label she doesn’t deserve in any way. Yes, rejecting him will hurt his feelings, but doesn’t every girl deserve the chance to make the decision that she wants to make?”

Yes, every girl does. So does every boy. And I do understand that there are many people who think is this sweet and romantic and shows a nicer side of what’s perceived as a hook-up culture among young people. But I can’t help but see it as a slippery slope: and one in which the person being asked is put on the spot in a way that a private question—will you go to prom with me?—could never achieve. There will be plenty of time for high school students to be educated into societal relationship expectations. Why rush them into “proposing” when they can’t even legally vote?

What’s next? Holding an NFL-style draft to see who gets to ask the more “desirable” girls to prom? Alas, that one’s already been achieved….