Randy teenage boys and hyphenated man-loathing feminists can agree on one thing: Prom is no place for patriarchal body-shaming.
In this context, by body we must read cleavage, midriffs, thighs, and intergluteal clefts; and by shaming, we are to understand that the aforementioned have been unjustly deemed unfit for public viewing. To establish rules prohibiting suggestive clothing at a school function is to teach young women that public seminudity is an occasion for humiliation, shame. You might as well make this year’s prom theme “Barefoot, Pregnant, and in the Heteronormative Kitchen.”
Body-shaming is now a deadly sin, which can be expiated only by the elimination of all dress codes. The entire football team agrees, and has volunteered to hold your purse while you march around in protest, wearing yoga pants and spaghetti straps.
Absurd? Not according to articles published in the Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, Sports Illustrated, the New York Daily News, CNN.com, the Times (London), the Daily Mail, French newspapers, etc.—all of them addressing an incident that occurred in Chronicles’ hometown of Rockford, Illinois.
The gist is this: In an effort to promote modesty and make life easier both for dress-shoppers and for chaperones, the administration of Rockford’s Boylan Central Catholic High School (emphasis, mine) met with girls in early spring to discuss school guidelines for acceptable attire at this year’s prom, then unfurled what is now infamously referred to as the “21-page dress code,” in the form of a PowerPoint presentation. Most of the 21 pages consist of internet-cribbed pictures of models with pouty-faced come-hither expressions, posing under such titles as “Non-Acceptable Dress—Slits” and “Neckline.” Gasping in horror at this blatant disregard for international human rights (e.g., “two piece dresses are allowed if the space between top and skirt is less than two inches”) students contacted local media. Hungry for proof that Trump’s America would be a cross between Hawthorne’s Boston and the Access Hollywood bus, the galactic press picked up the story, piling on clever turns of outrage. No account failed to mention that, adding insult to injury, Boylan took a mere two pages to address the dress code for boys.
Two sentences out of the 21 pages were highlighted as blatant body-shamers: “Claims that a dress was worn at last year’s Prom or at Homecoming will not be discussed. Some girls may wear the same dress, but due to body types, one dress may be acceptable while the other is not.” Editorialists from all over Planet Earth (save the Middle East, the sharia zones of Western Europe, and refugee camps) agreed: unacceptable!
Of course, anyone who hasn’t been brainwashed by the Gender Studies Department at a Catholic (or Protestant) university can understand that any particular bodice, cut just so, might reveal cleavage on some girls and not on others. All depends on the ampleness of what that misogynist, patriarchal journal Psychology Today refers to as the “human female’s . . . fertility signals on their chests.” (Psychology Today further opines what every sad patron of Hooters knows and each of these editorialists ostensibly denies: “Curvaceous women have leveraged this power to manipulate even the most accomplished, disciplined men for as long as anyone’s been around to notice.” The author then offers for our example “one of the oldest human images known, the so-called Venus of Willendorf,” which “features a bosom of Dolly Parton-esque dimensions.”)
Today in post-Christian America, we find ourselves debating what everyone in the history of the world has taken for granted as a basic observation of human nature: Female nudity is sexually stimulating for males. However, to admit this is to suggest that there is a moral dimension to clothing, and a moral obligation for boys, girls, and their parents to guard against lust.
The administration of Boylan made the mistake of assuming that mere information and plain reason would make things easier. Why would a student whose parents are willing to fork over 300 bucks for a backless slip-dress with double slits and a plunging neckline suddenly discover a theology of the body after viewing images on a screen, introduced by the almost plaintive sentence, “The most difficult task for administrators and teachers is the determination of modesty”?
No, the most difficult task is learning modesty when fathers, mothers, and pastors never address it, and every cultural institution and the media oppose it. The sense of outrage and injustice felt by teenage girls constrained by dress codes is compounded when they go dress shopping, and every store from Nordstrom to the corner boutique has turned into Frederick’s of Hollywood for prom season.
Rising in defense of Vénus impudique, a group of Boylan boys took up the cause of sans-culottism and organized an alternative prom on the same night as Boylan’s, which they dubbed the Boylan Morp, “where students will be able to wear the dresses that they desire and overall have the best prom that they can imagine.” That clause comes from the Morp’s GoFundMe page, set up to defray the costs of hiring a DJ and renting a dance hall. The grown-ups of Rockford responded, exceeding the goal of $2,500 in a short amount of time. One local top-40 station plugged it, elevating this public nose-thumbing to a courageous act of student achievement. We shall overcome!
In March, I interviewed one of the Morp organizers. My goal was simple: I wanted to know whether these students believe that such a thing as modesty even exists. For a while, he was savvy enough to avoid a direct answer, although he remained courteous and respectful, even after I revealed that I write for a conservative cultural journal.
I asked him if students thought that Boylan’s administration intended to “body-shame” girls by setting up standards of modesty. “We don’t believe the intentions were to offend people this much,” he replied. “We do believe it was worded and executed quite offensively.” The students took umbrage at Boylan’s “need to compose 21 pages of guidelines. That amount of control is excessive.”
I was struck by that adjective. What limit had Boylan exceeded? Is there some acceptable amount of control that a private religious school may exercise, by his lights?
ADW: “Modesty is extremely difficult to describe or define, given today’s changing fashions. What limits should Boylan have put in place? Any?”
Morp: “The parents ultimately are the guardians. If they believe the outfit is appropriate for their child, that’s their decision.”
Now we’re getting somewhere. Or rather, nowhere, since there is a very real sense in which Morp is right. In loco parentis fails spectacularly in the face of blatant contradiction or indifference at home.
I returned to the guidelines themselves. Would there be an alternative prom at all, I wondered, if the infamous “due to body types” phrase had not appeared in the school’s modesty presentation?
Yes, replied Morp, because the girls were told that “the strict rules were to ‘protect them from the boys.’ . . . We feel as though the ‘protect the boys’ comment makes [the girls] feel as though they will be treated as objects.”
He was of course talking about two things at once: the school’s desire to protect the girls from potentially predatory boys, and its equally important duty to protect the boys from lust. Could he not see that these are goals that flow from love—that such goals are not “excessive” but, in fact, praiseworthy? Are high-school boys so blinded by feminist ideology that they really believe they don’t have a duty to protect girls? Is this mere subterfuge, masking the fact that they want to see as much cleavage as possible, and will hide behind whatever psychobabble is necessary to achieve their aim? Are high-school girls themselves so enraptured by feminism that they think normal boys who aren’t sociopaths or rapists won’t view them as sex objects if they leave nothing to the imagination? My interview skills were suddenly set aside, and my paternal instinct kicked in: “I do believe that girls need to be protected from boys,” I said, “and from themselves; and boys, likewise, from girls and themselves. Everyone. Boylan’s list of ‘acceptable’ dresses would have shocked and horrified public school administrators just a few years ago, and plenty of newspaper articles bear witness to this.”
Indeed, not five years ago, public schools in left-leaning districts in the Northeast were publishing the same guidelines, complete (in some cases) with similar pictures of unacceptable Oscars-style dresses, and newspaper accounts suggested that these requirements reflected legitimate concerns.
“I cannot disagree that women should be protected,” Morp responded, “but to us, the way they stated it made them come off as saying that because of what [women] wear, they provoke men, when in reality we should teach men to control themselves, instead of teaching women to not provoke.”
Here, then, in the Unreal City, “under the brown fog of a winter dawn,” is the incarnation of the ultimate fantasy of feminism: the desexed, unprovokable man.
Not one week before my Morp interview, Gloria Steinem was asked about a popular and strident young feminist’s recent topless photo spread. Her reply was consistent with the message of her entire career: “Feminists can wear whatever they f—ing want.” Indeed, they can in a society and culture where Steinem’s ideology has triumphed, from sea to shining sea. “They should be able to walk down the street nude and be safe,” she added. Thus we have an entire generation—in fact, several generations—for whom being sexually provocative is both a right to be defended and an anodyne if not nonexistent behavior. Interactions between the sexes, marriage and family, the civil order itself: These things are doomed to failure in a world in which cognitive dissonance is canon law. There is no political solution to this cultural and spiritual problem.
Morp thanked me “for my questions and concerns,” assured me (per a previous inquiry of mine) that the boys would have a sufficient security detail in place, then revealed more than he intended in signing off: “Our goal is to provide an authentic prom experience while enjoying the music we would like to listen to (also another problem).”
The organizers subsequently advertised two additional reasons why the Morp is preferable to the traditional Boylan prom: “choose your own dinner” and “no Mass.”
As I write, with the Boylan Morp about to take place, the top song on the pop station that drove donations to this act of open rebellion is “Kissing Strangers,” by “DNCE feat. Nicki Minaj.” The lyrics are too pornographic to reproduce, so to speak, but I have no doubt that they will be heard, at full, pulsing volume, by students lost in a culture they did not make but which is eager to exploit their basest impulses, a society quickly regressing into the darkness and mind-numbed ignorance of post-Christianity.
“Parents ultimately are the guardians.” That is the ultimate reason for shame—and message of hope, if we’ll but do our duty.