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On May 30th, We-Ha’s facebook page posted a photo [see feature photo above] of ten senior girls on their way to a covid-safe prom. The photos were posted with positive and encouraging words such as a “thank you to all who provided photos” and a mention of the fact that it was “the first West Hartford Public School prom to take place in two years.”
Unfortunately, the comments on the post were not as encouraging. Several users criticized the girls’ short dresses, which were traditional given that they went to senior prom where dresses are short instead of long. The initial comments were about the dresses, saying that they were “bathing suit gowns” or “vegas club dresses.” A few of the girls in the picture responded to those comments, saying that it was shameful to criticize their dresses and in turn, sexualize them.
However, the comments didn’t end with the dresses. One user in particular, whose name will be kept anonymous for the sake of not giving her any type of acknowledgment, told the girls who responded in the Facebook thread to be more modest: “Stop seeking attention in the wrong way and concentrate on getting into college or whatever you plan on doing after high school. If it’s exotic dancing, then I’d say a few of you are already prepared,” the post stated.
This type of comment is a perfect example of the sexist paradox that so many young women face today. Many believe that young women can not be intelligent and successful while also embracing their femininity and demonstrating a sense of self confidence. Like this anonymous Facebook user exemplifies: ‘girls can’t both get into college and wear flattering dresses.’ These beliefs are a reflection of our implicit biases on gender. Intelligence and success are so often associated with masculinity, and as a result, in order for women to be viewed as successful and intelligent, they must renounce their sexuality and their femininity.
Further comments demonstrated the same kind of excuses for pedophiles and predators that women all over tire of: “Pedos and nastly old men will probably look at your pictures and use them as objects for their pleasure.”
This Facebook user is implying that the young girls who are simply going to prom should reevaluate their dress choices in order to accommodate pedophiles and predators. The blame for sexual exploitation and assault is so often deflected onto women instead of the men themselves. Young girls are told to cover up so that men don’t commit crimes and heinous acts. Whereas, boys are seldom told to not commit those very crimes and heinous acts. It’s a problem we’ve all heard before, but many of us didn’t expect it to be so blatantly revealed in our own small town of West Hartford.
Following the Facebook feud, I chose to reach out to a few of the girls who responded to the comments with admirable eloquence and confidence
Julia Racz, a senior at Conard, responded to some of the facebook comments saying that she and her classmates “deserve to celebrate making it through the tough past few months without unnecessary, negative commentary on [their] appearances.”
Upon reaching out, Julia shared with me that “a lot of [her] friends and [herself] already struggle with confidence issues, so seeing negative comments can easily be deprecating.”
Additionally, Chole Starr, who also attended senior prom this year, mentions that “it’s a really important conversation to have. We think of ourselves as a very progressive town yet we are still finding ourselves defending our basic freedoms.”
With the realization that sexism is prominent in a community like our own, what can we do with this information? How can we reevaluate our biases towards young women and their expression of self-confidence?
This letter originally appeared as an editorial on the “Conard Courant,” Conard High School’s online student newspaper.