Home/Rod Dreher/Impure Thoughts, Or, How To Create A Feminist

Impure Thoughts, Or, How To Create A Feminist

So, Clare, a homeschooled girl in Richmond, Virginia, goes to homeschool prom, and even though her dress conforms to the dress code (requiring dresses to be at least as long as the girl’s fingertips when her arms are by her side), is thrown out. What did she do wrong? From her account:

I showed up at prom with my boyfriend, and I was wearing the really cute silver dress that was fingertip length on me, and on my way in Mrs. D (one of the two ladies organizing the prom this year) stopped me and said, “honey, that dress is too short.” I said, “what is the rule?” she said, “fingertip length” and I put my arms down by my sides and showed her that it was fingertip length. After which she made a face at me and was like, “well make sure it stays pulled down, it’s too short.” I want you to know that she is a very short woman, and I assumed that she probably just didn’t understand that when you’re 5’9″ and leggy, everything looks shorter on you then it would on anyone else, even if it’s still inside the dress code. So, I tried to help her understand by saying, “I just have long legs, everything looks short on me, but it is fingertip length I just showed you.” To which she responded begrudgingly “Okay but you need to be careful and just keep pulling it down, but not too far!” I was annoyed with her pettiness, especially because I had so carefully complied to their rules, but I said “Yes ma’am,” and went into the ballroom.

When I got into the ballroom I laughed, because I was surrounded by girls in much shorter dresses then me, albeit they were shorter, and therefore stood out less in the crowd, but it was still frustrating. I joined my group of friends, (there were six of us), and told them what happened, they were all appalled, especially considering we’ve been attending this prom all four years of high school and usually wore much shorter dresses then we chose this year. We were also a little grossed out by all the dads on the balcony above the dance floor, ogling and talking amongst themselves. We weren’t dancing, but swaying with the music and talking and enjoying ourselves, when Mrs. D again approached me, and gestured me off the dance floor. She took me into a corner in the hall way, with another woman, (who I’m assuming was a parent/chaperone) and told me that some of the dads who were chaperoning had complained that my dancing was too provocative, and that I was going to cause the young men at the prom to think impure thoughts. At this point I said to her that I hadn’t been dancing at all! Much less seductively, and that even if I had been being inappropriate, they should issue a warning instead of just kicking me out.

The short essay Clare wrote has some profanity in it, and I don’t agree with everything she wrote, but I absolutely agree that if what Clare reports is how it went down, that she was humiliated, and treated disgracefully all around. She is owed a public apology. One of the infuriating things about this episode is that this treatment has probably alienated Clare from religion for a long time to come. I am all for modesty, but this is ugly stuff. The essay appears on her sister Hannah Ettinger’s website, in which the sister describes herself as a survivor of fundamentalist Christian homeschooling.

I know that people who hate homeschooling think we’re all like this. We’re not, not by a long shot. But this kind of thought and behavior does exist within religious homeschooling circles, and when we see it, we should have no hesitation to criticize it.

UPDATE: I should have placed more emphasis here on the possibility that there is a meaningfully different other side to this story — that things didn’t necessarily happen as this teenager said they happened. I hope we will get to hear the other side. The reasons I reacted so strongly to this include 1) that the adults here bullied this girl and humiliated her on the night of her prom, even though she followed the dress code, and 2) as a conservative Christian who takes sexual morality seriously, and who is a strong believer in dressing tastefully, when fellow conservative believers overreact to immodesty like this, it reflects poorly on all of us, and the ethic we are trying to live by, and instill in our male and female children.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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