Ross Murray's Border Report
Ross Murray
is a freelance writer living in Stanstead, Quebec. You can reach him at
Posted 03.8.18
Stanstead, Quebec


Prom Duress

STANSTEAD, QUEBEC | While recent history indicates that things are far from ideal, there is no question that women have made significant progress in the last half century. With greater access to careers, politics and high-power positions, women can now be just as overworked and miserable as men.

I am especially encouraged by young women, who embrace empowerment like never before. And yet, as boldly feminist as they may be, just as they're about to enter adulthood, these young women go to prom, and all of a sudden they are Scarlet O'Hara.

The problem is not so much the glittering gowns, the flowing trains, the plunging necklines, the tastefully bared midriffs, the assemblage of enough material to provide shelter for a mid-sized refugee camp. In principle, there's nothing wrong with young women dressing up in elaborate outfits that make it difficult to perform everyday tasks, like bending. It's the burden of the procedure that makes me wonder. It's the prom dress oppression.

I am currently on my third daughter in search of a prom dress. It's February. The prom is in June. I point this out, but Abby looks at me like I know nothing. It's the usual look she gives me these days, but in this case she backs it up with fact: "This is the time you get your dress, Dad." I can't argue with that.

Tremendous thought and energy are going into this dress. This dress is fraught with significance. Lives are hanging in the balance with this dress. There have been two dress-shopping excursions already and more are planned. I will not be invited. Abby's in a bit of a frenzy. I'm in a bit of a frenzy too, because I know the bill is coming.

Meanwhile, in an upstairs closet hang the two prom dresses worn by her older sisters. Once. Worn one single night each, and if I recall correctly, one of those nights ended up in a damp farmer's field. (The field was damp, not the farmer, though you never know.)

I try to convince Abby that she doesn't have to wear an elaborate, uber-formal dress to her prom, and not just because I'm cheap. I tell her it's merely social convention, a weird ritual that compels young women to costume themselves in extravagant finery that is completely foreign to who they are. She can wear whatever she wants, I tell her. She can wear pants. Her response is another one of those looks.

It wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for the fact that the boys in the equation are likely to spend a total of 10 minutes flipping through a tuxedo rental catalogue, point at a style and that will be that. They might even do it online. And it will likely be cheaper. The big challenge will be the tie, and chances are their dates have already told them to match the dress. "Something called ‘teal'...?" they'll mutter.

Some might not even go that far. In my final year of high school, I played Algernon in The Importance of Being Earnest, complete with morning suit -- the cutaway, the waistcoat, ascot, the whole posh shebang. Pretty much the same as a tux, right? So, yes, I wore a theatre costume to prom. Hey, it was the eighties; no one looked good.

Of course, there was also the burden of buying the corsage ("Something called ‘fuchsia'...?"), although comparing corsage shopping to prom dress shopping is like complaining to a woman about what a drag it is being a man because you have to shave every day, something, incidentally, a man should never, ever say at certain times of the month.

Why do we have this ritual at all, this late-teen pageantry so unlike their natural wardrobe, i.e. no decent place to stash a cell phone? Why in particular does this rite of passage put such pressure on girls -- emotionally, stylistically, financially? Why not something more gender equalized, like square dancing or skydiving?

Perhaps the prom dress is a way of telling young girls that, even now, there is great intricacy lying before them. This moment is fraught. Manhood may have its cummerbund-like complexities, to be sure, but in terms of what's ahead for boys, manhood is essentially a rental. Womanhood, on the other hand, requires thought, creativity and the courage to wear strapless. It will be bright and stunning and possibly uncomfortable. The prom dress is the idea of female possibility, and when they make that entrance, oh how they'll all gasp!

Just like I will when I see the bill.