There’s a checklist for formal dances that many ladies go through. Tickets? Check. Outfit? Check. Date? That should be optional, but for one Pennsylvanian gurl, this option has been deemed a requirement.
Seventeen-year-old Amanda Dougherty had been anticipating her junior prom for years. After she had spent approximately $1,000 on the dance – including dress, shoes, tickets and flowers – her date cancelled. No big deal, right? Apparently not, according to the archdiocese in charge of Archbishop John Carroll High School. The archdiocese is also in charge of who gets into the High School’s prom. A priestly bouncer, if you will. And this bouncer says no single ladies are allowed at prom (Beyoncé would be infuriated).
Surely, there’s a reasonable explanation for this. I mean, no one would just arbitrarily decide that a young lady without a date is somehow offensive to the whole concept of prom. Luckily, the archdiocese released a statement to clarify everything: “There are various reasons a student would not be able to attend. Not having a date is one example. Our high schools offer numerous dances and events throughout the year where dates are not required, but we view prom as a special social event where a date is required to attend.”
So, this event is so special that the archdiocese has to keep the single ladies out, because obviously they aren’t “special” enough without a man at their side. Plus, these dateless dames couldn’t possibly have fun with their friends. They would just mope in the corners, wailing, “Forever alone!” while happy couples shared a slow dance.
This is an archaic mindset that plays right into the spinster aunt narrative. We’ve all heard about the spinster aunt: She has twenty thousand cats that roam her backyard. She bought them to try and fill the husband shaped hole in her heart, and she drowns her regrets about not having kids in oceans and oceans of tea. Her life has become a way of overcompensating for not getting married. She is the boogie-woman that society scares young single women with. She is a cardboard cut-out, an absolute caricature, and completely fabricated by patriarchal ideas.
First, the idea of a spinster aunt is extremely hetero-normative and cissexist: Watch just about any mainstream rom-com and the story revolves around girl trying to get guy, or guy trying to get girl, before it’s “too late.” Where’s the lesbian and gay romance? Why don’t we see any trans-people in movies? This erasure is not okay.
Second, where did we get this idea of a time frame? Why is it that society tells women to gnaw their nails in fear that they might be “too late,” whereas men’s bachelor status is accepted, even lauded into their senior years? It’s biological essentialism, assuming that there is some innate core of femininity that all women have and all women strive towards. While gender ideals have evolved over the years, there is still one societal norm that we believe applies to all women: Babies. Babies everywhere. This is where the time frame comes in: Tick-tock goes the biological clock. Have babies before your time runs out, or you will be a spinster. And if you want to have babies, according to North-American society, you need to be married.
Yet, why is it assumed that all women want children? Many of us want children, or will end up having children, but not all. It doesn’t make these women without kids “selfish,” or “bitchy” or “forever alone,” as I’ve heard them called: It just means that these women know what they want. And they don’t want kids. So, why do we shame these women without children? And why do we shame women who are single?
There are two core reasons in my opinion. First, a single woman, or a childless woman doesn’t fit into patriarchal expectations of what a “real woman” should be. She’s neither a mother, nor a romantic interest. In other words, she doesn’t have a guy, (again, heteronormative), so there must be something wrong with her. She as an individual is not enough, she needs a romantic interest to prove that she is attractive and worthy of attention. That is an incredibly dehumanizing idea that tries to ignore a woman’s innate self-worth.
Second, the idea of a spinster aunt preys on our fear of being lonely. Women are told that without kids, or a spouse they will die miserable and alone. Which is ridiculous: Do women not have any relationships outside of our partners and kids? Of course we do, and our relationships with family and friends can be just as deep and meaningful as any other relationship.
So, this idea of the spinster auntie has to go. Preferably in the litterbox that her twenty thousand cats use: Because right now, this idea devalues women.
Or, as Amanda Dougherty puts it, “For them to say that we’re not good enough to go [to prom] unless we have a guy standing next to us, it’s just kind of sickening.” Sickening, and false.