Viewpoint: School dances breed coercion

Prom is just around the corner, and pretty soon prom asks will begin to inundate your Instagram feed. Generally, school dances such as prom allow wishful (and very hormonal), teenagers to go on a “date” with the person of their choosing. And due to established societal norms, it is typically the boys who are initiating. Guys ask girls who they are very close with and who have clearly reciprocated romantic interest to be their date to a dance. In other words, if given the opportunity, during a Sadie’s dance for instance, said girl would just as likely ask said guy to the dance as he would ask her. It’s a date for God’s sake; why wouldn’t their feelings be mutual?

But they’re not. Let me explain.

The other day I was having a conversation with two friends. Out of respect, I will keep them anonymous. We shall call them Henry and Griff. Henry was talking to us about the possibility of asking a girl (we shall call her Violet) to prom. Henry let on that he was nervous, being that he wasn’t sure if Violet liked him. He was concerned about being out of line with what Violet would see as appropriate for their relationship.

Seems like a reasonable concern, right? Not to Griff. To Griff, Henry was overthinking it. “It’s simple,” he said, “no need to worry.” Griff argued that if Henry made a nice and glittery poster, expensive roses, and asked Violet in a very public area, she would “fo sho” say yes. “No doubt about it,” Griff said.

And for the most part, Griff was right. In line with society’s traditional understanding, organizing a poster and buying flowers takes work, and one should be compensated for this. In fact, paying money for the flowers, in a way, could be seen as paying money for the date, as the flowers are one of the key objects in this social transaction. I give you a shiny (most of the time punny) poster, pricey flowers and the courage of expressing myself, and in return, I get a prom date. So when Henry asks Violet to prom with a dance spectacular in the middle of the quad followed by the presentation of a glossy poster portraying the all-too-funny pun, Violet feels inclined to say yes — “inclined” being the operative word here. So then, what is driving this feeling of inclination? Is it genuine eagerness, raw romantic interest or something else?

Thomas Chamberlain, AP Psychology teacher at Dougherty, posits that, “The person being asked probably does feel more pressure to say yes to a proposal when it is done in public. Whenever someone does something nice for us we enter into a social con- tract where it can be hard to do something that may hurt that individual.”

Indeed, it seems as if the underlying force behind school dance environments is social pressure. How can you turn someone down with 50 people waiting eagerly to see a successful prom ask? How can you turn someone down when they bought pretty red flowers for you? How can you turn someone down with such an amazing and creative pun as “I would be very graTe 4 for U to come to homecoming with me”? When your heart is beating, your palms are sweating, and your face is reddening? Crushing the heart of your admirer, disappointing a large crowd and embarrassing yourself is a difficult situation to face.

As Dougherty junior Hadal Tankel puts it, “It makes you look bad.” And most high schoolers would rather spend the night with someone they don’t have any interest in than “look bad.” Ultimately, it really doesn’t seem like these people — these Violets — have much of a choice here.

Here’s where that radical word comes in: coercion. If Violet considers the potentially damaging foreseeable circumstances, she feels forced to say yes. This, by definition, is coercion. Should we then begin to label all of those who have asked somebody to a school dance with a poster and some chocolate as the devil?

Well, “the devil,” probably not. But if you agree with my equating of school dance asks to coercive tactics as explicated above and believe that coercion is, generally, an immoral act, then inconsiderate, malicious and selfish become adequate descriptions for these candy-bearing perpetrators.

What does this mean for the future?

Well, for one thing, our current concept of school dances will disintegrate into ashes. Without the compromising emotion of peer pressure, many more girls would turn down guys, there would be a decrease in the amount of actual dates, and the traditional school dance spirit would deteriorate. Prom would become a single guy’s or girl’s night, riddled with a few intimate couples. For better or worse, school dances would change forever.

As for the Henry and Griff situation, Henry did, in fact, ask Violet to prom with a “nice glittery poster and expensive roses,” and Violet did, as predicted, say yes.

Henry manned his port in front of the 1000 building. Dozens of his comrades (including Griff) backed him with weapons of mass-coercion — a group stood by with a chant. “Say yes. Say yes. Say yes,” they yelled, with maniacal enthusiasm.

Leading the army, Henry carried the ultimate poison — sweet-smelling (not to mention costly) roses paired with a pun-inspired poster that would finally lead her to his cage — a gymnasium dance floor.

In the end, Violet had this to say: “I genuinely liked Henry before he asked me, and I totally would’ve asked him myself too if he hadn’t.”