May is officially here! Which means if schools haven't already had them by now, high school proms are just around the corner. It's a night of dressing up, going out to dinner, dancing, and making memories with friends. Oh, and for a select few schools, it's a night of rampant, sexist body-shaming by teachers and school administrators. At these schools, they will be out like hawks, prowling for dress code violations: Dresses that are too short, that show "too much" back, or that have necklines deemed "immodest." However, for one Michigan high school, enforcing its dress code is approaching a whole new level. A Catholic high school joked about handing out "modesty ponchos" to girls who don't meet the dress code at prom, and Twitter thinks it's pretty ridiculous.
Divine Child Catholic High School in Dearborn, Michigan, is making headlines for its unique strategy for deterring prom dress code violations: Girls who are in violation were warned they would have to wear a modesty poncho at the dance, reported Fox News affiliate WJBK-TV. The controversial ponchos were introduced by theology teacher Mary Pat O'Malley, news network reported. "We are trying to focus on the inner beauty and not draw attention to something that doesn't need attention drawn to it," O'Malley told WJBK. "It was really intended as a deterrent and a lighthearted one at that."
*Eye roll* It turns out O'Malley was dead serious, though.
Photos of the modesty ponchos on display at the school have been widely circulating the internet since word got out. Along with the unflattering ponchos, a note reads: “If your dress does not meet our formal dance dress requirements — no problem! We’ve got you covered — literally. This is our Modesty Poncho, which you’ll be given at the door. :)” Apparently, the private school requires students and parents to sign off on a dress guidelines agreement ahead of prom — except "modesty ponchos" were added after the fact, reported Fox News affiliate WJBK-TV. Divine Child sent Romper the following statement, attributed to Principal Eric Haley:
Like a majority of private and public schools, we ask that students and parents follow the dress code when they are purchasing Prom attire, just as they would follow the dress code for daily classes and other school events. Our intention with displaying the poncho was never to make students feel uncomfortable, but to remind all students and parents of our formal Prom dress policy, which has not changed for several years. To be clear: The poncho will not be passed out at Prom. It was on display to proactively remind students of our dress code policies and eliminate any confusion prior to this special event. We recognize that it has done the opposite for some members of our community and draws away from our goal of having students adhere to the dress code policy.
We encourage our students to tailor their outfits or provide their own wraps or shawls that would meet our requirements. If necessary, we may also provide wraps and shawls, as we have done at school functions for many years. Thank you to all who have contacted us directly to discuss this important matter. We are focused on creating a wonderful experience for our students to enjoy this memorable evening.
One student at Divine Child Catholic High School shared her personal dilemma on Twitter, in regard to the ponchos, the Detroit Free Press reported. A week before the story went viral, a Twitter user by the name of Erin Wade shared a photo of one of the modesty ponchos, writing, "Turns out the prom dress that i’ve had for months is against school code! looks like i have to return it and buy a brand new dress just so that i don’t get adorned with this beautiful, totally not slut-shaming, modesty poncho!!!" Her account has since been set to private.
On Twitter, the overall reaction is that of indignation. People are genuinely pissed, saying the school is being degrading toward young women while also being blatantly hypocritical.
Other Twitter users likened them to the costumes handmaids are forced to wear in Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale, which is based on Margaret Atwood's novel of the same name.
Still others have an interesting idea for protesting — by beating the school at its own game and actually choosing to wear a modesty poncho.
Someone even created a poll to see what people would do if they were put in a similar situation. ("Dress however you want at prom" is winning by a landslide.)
In an update by FOX2 reporter Jessica Dupnack, it seems if the school could be re-thinking its modesty poncho. "Sources tell me that administrators at Divine Child High School in Dearborn are reviewing the 'Modesty Poncho' policy," Dupnack tweeted on Tuesday. "No word from the school on any changes that may come before to prom later this month." That was the same day the above email statement was issued to Romper, so it appears the school will not be handing out modesty ponchos. It will still hand out shawls and wraps, though, to young women whose dresses don't meet the code.
I don't know about you, but this whole modesty poncho business reminds of schools requiring prom dress pre-approval. Can we please stop policing girls'/women's bodies? Like now. High school students are supposed to have fun at prom, not to mention, feel good about themselves in their attire. Having teachers stand at the door with a ruler, scanning for cleavage and "immodest" necklines while threatening to hand out ugly ponchos is unabashedly sexist, shamey, and utterly ridiculous.