'Prom draft' girls should stand up to boys ranking them, experts say

In the 'prom draft' tradition at Corona del Mar High School in Newport Beach, Calif., boys reportedly rank girls and then get a draft position from a lottery to select a prom date from the pool.

Lucy Nicholson/Reuters
A girl tries on a prom dress at the Glamour Gowns event in Los Angeles, Calif., March 28, 2014. In a once-secretive 'prom draft' tradition at a Newport Beach high school, boys reportedly rank girls and then get a draft position from a lottery to select a prom date from the pool.

A once-secretive “prom draft” tradition at Corona del Mar High School in Newport Beach, Calif., has been thrust into the strobe lights, with defenders saying it’s a harmless way to organize dates and detractors saying it’s an offensive form of objectifying girls.

Boys reportedly rank girls and then get a draft position from a lottery to select a prom date from the pool. This year, students say, a junior boy paid $140 to improve his position in order to choose a specific girl, the Los Angeles Times reports, though it’s not clear to whom the money went.

The school’s principal, Kathy Scott, sent an e-mail to parents discouraging the tradition after The Orange County Register started reporting about the draft, the Register reports.

“I am sure that the intention of this ‘draft’ is not to be harmful, but it may be,” Ms. Scott wrote, according to the Register. “It is not OK for any student to be objectified or judged in any way.... Prom is an important event in the lives of our students and I would hate to have to cancel it ... due to the negative actions of a few.”

Scott did not return a Monitor call requesting comment.

The response should be much stronger, some experts on teens and gender issues say.

“The parents need to stand together, the schools need to stand together, and the girls need to stand together: This is utterly unacceptable,” says Parry Aftab, a New Jersey-based cyberbullying expert and executive director of WiredSafety.org. “The thing that’s most surprising to me is that the girls are going along with this. The fastest way to shut it down is for the girls to turn around and say, ‘I won’t be sold.... I’m worth more than that.’ ”

One sophomore girl wrote to the Register that she participated in the draft, saying, “It is all just a fun way to decide who you will be going to prom with. It is not meant to harm those who are picked and I do not believe that it does. It is not, was never, and will never ever be used to objectify the girls at our school.”

But even if many individuals don’t object, such a practice can constitute a type of sexual harassment, says Catherine Hill, who has researched school harassment as a vice president of the American Association of University Women (AAUW) in Washington.

“The idea that prom is about girls being attractive and boys deciding which one they like the best is not really the way we want to portray dating, and it does seem to objectify the women ... which can lead to dating violence at the worst, because you’re seeing your date not as someone you really like but as a prize that you won,” she says.

Nearly half of middle school and high school students said they experienced sexual harassment in the 2010-11 school year, AAUW found in its study, Crossing the Line. Only 9 percent of students who said they were sexually harassed reported it.

Some posts on Twitter about the Corona del Mar draft for the June 7 prom have been removed, the Register reports.

The incident could turn into a good learning opportunity, but what the school does next is key, says Jennifer Powell-Lunder, a clinical psychologist in Westchester County, N.Y.

“They need to sit down with all the kids and talk about what’s behind this,” Dr. Powell-Lunder says. “There’s a crisis right now where young women are finding themselves in situations where they are doing what they need to do” – including being coerced into sexual acts at parties – “because they’re afraid they won’t be popular ... if they don’t.”

Another prom tradition that’s often based on gender stereotypes – the election of a prom king and queen – was upended recently in Las Vegas. Apparently capitalizing on her gender-neutral name, Skyler Galliher of Centennial High School ran for king because her friend was running for queen. What started off almost as a joke became a chance for her to stand up for girls’ rights to take on nontraditional roles, Fox5 KVVU-TV reports.

The prom dates of the two friends helped them campaign when some students, upset by a girl running for king, tried to add more male names to the ballot to offset Skyler’s votes, she told KVVU. She won the crown and received a mix of positive and negative feedback from students and the public.

She later told Mix 94.1 FM that although she’s not gay, part of what motivated her was that a gay girl who had wanted to run for king was blocked from doing so by school officials.

What Skyler did stands in contrast to a common type of harassment known as “gender policing,” or “standardizing what we expect to see in girls and boys, which can involve antigay behavior,” Ms. Hill says.

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