Tuxedos, Prom Gowns, & Guns

Remember preparing for prom? Taking an entire afternoon to sit in a nail or hair salon or fuss over last minute alterations and pick up coordinating corsages and boutonnieres, before putting your look together and posing for customary photos in the front yard, seemed to be the wave back in some of our heyday.

These days, with the help of supportive family and willing friends, teenagers are pulling out all the stops for the prom. From staging elaborate entrances to creating customized gowns that make fashion-forward or political statements, prom has become a wonderfully garish display of creativity, stunts, and shows fit for social media virality.

There’s one trend, however, that has been cropping up of late that adds an air of gloom to the fun grandstanding we’ve come to enjoy seeing on social media during prom season: teenage girls posing in prom pictures with their shotgun-wielding fathers pointing their weapons at apprehensive-looking dates. Because apparently, when the patriarchy isn’t fastening purity rings to their daughters’ fingers via eerie formal ceremonies, they call themselves sending an intimidating message to potential male suitors in a mendacious attempt to protect their teenage daughters’ chastity; a stance that comes across as little more than chauvinist posturing considering many of them upheld (and still partake in, when not within eye-shot of their precocious daughters) the very lecherous, predatory, and toxic masculinity they’re trying to shield their daughters from before being slapped with the pangs of fathering girls.

Men try to absolve themselves of misogynist transgressions through the daughters they help conceive and then place on pedestals; a burden no young woman or girl should have to bear because men should naturally want to view all women and girls as human beings without there needing to be familial ties. But alas, this isn’t the way men are socialized. To a clear majority of them, all women and girls, excluding their own daughters and immediate female family members, are expendable and open to ridicule, violence, and cruelty. And fathers drill this message into their daughters’ heads to internalize and become apologists for the very misogyny they think they’re being protected from, because their fathers have taught them they’re somehow different than other women, and worthier of protection under daddy’s watchful eye while he reconciles having demeaned someone else’s beloved daughter and threatens their young son with violence.

In an atmosphere where so many Black teenage and little boys are already at risk, erroneously indicted because of harmful stereotypes, and are susceptible to state-sanctioned violence, it’s especially disheartening to see guns being pointed at them (particularly by men who look like them) during what should be a celebratory moment. While men are special snow-flaking their daughters, robbing them of agency, and encouraging them to develop cognitive dissonance toward other women in distress, what are they teaching other young men, including their own sons? To come-of-age under a shroud of toxic masculinity and to prey on and disregard the autonomy of other people’s daughters and women not related to them? To shirk accountability for how they treat and engage with their female peers?

Listen, no parent is all that enthusiastic about the prospect of their teenage daughter dating, and I have heard time and again that becoming a parent awakens a fierce inner-papa (or mama) bear, especially when fathers regard their own past misdeeds towards women. But let’s assume that not every other parent is teaching their son to be perpetual trash pandas and that they’ve raised their teenage boys to be respectful, sensitive, and conscientious young men. If I were the mother of a son, and as an aunt of two young nephews (one inching ever so closely to teen-hood), that’s exactly how I’d want my metaphorical son and very real-life nephews to navigate the world. And I’d blow a gasket if I saw a picture of someone’s father pointing a gun at him in a prom picture because dad is trying to exorcise his demons and projectile vomit them onto my figurative-son or either of my nephews.

And let’s be honest, the chest-thumping display shown in these prom pictures is less about fathers protecting their daughters and more about them assuaging their own misogynist behavior, denying their daughters bodily autonomy by trying to police their virginity, and absolving themselves from having to talk rationally to boys and other young men about consent, respecting a woman’s boundaries, and dating responsibly at a young age. Men would have to be equipped with a keen sense of self-awareness and sensitivity to women’s issues to do that.

Even while we currently have a contemptible President at the helm of this country who personifies the tenets of toxic masculinity and who, disturbingly, places his own complicit daughter on a pillar as he demeans and strips away the rights of other women, pointing guns at other people’s sons in prom pictures to show how much of a looming henge you are in your daughter’s life, does not an influential father make. Not to mention, it’s shitty. Helping your daughter thrive in her womanhood by teaching her that she has sovereignty over her own body and sexuality, that she has a voice and a choice and is more than a vitreous object or prop for patriarchy, seems like a more effective way to parent. Mentoring and teaching boys and young men of dating age to respect a woman’s bodily autonomy and to recognize what consent looks like is a far more courageous and honorable way to communicate than pointing a gun in his face.