High School Sweethearts
Like many high school students, Clare Ettinger and her boyfriend, James Thompson, were looking forward to their homeschool prom. The 17-year-old high school seniors from Richmond, Virginia couldn’t wait for what they thought would be a carefree evening of fun with their friends.
When The Night Arrived
When the highly-anticipated night finally arrived, the young couple was dressed to the nines and could hardly contain their excitement. They knew it might be one of their last chances to be with their peers before they all went on their future paths, but they never expected that the night would end up going terribly wrong.
Twilight in Paris
Clare and her boyfriend, James, were so excited for the prom. It was themed “Twilight in Paris” and the couple were looking forward to dress up and party long into the evening with friends.
Nearly Didn’t Find It
During her extensive search, Clare visited six different stores. She meticulously combed through their selections, but she just didn’t find THE dress. It was when she was about to call it quits, though, she came across something that spoke to her.
The Perfect Dress
Clare, like most young women her age, put a lot of time into picking out the perfect dress for the evening. After visiting several different stores, she found a glittery, silver dress at Macy’s that she felt was perfect for the occasion . She had no idea her fairytale evening would have a nightmarish ending.
Although Clare loved how the dress looked on the rack and liked it even more when she tried it on, she knew that the dress would have to pass a special test to be worn at the prom: the fingertip test. She relaxed her arms and let them hang by her sides to see if the dress would go farther than her fingertips, knowing that she couldn’t buy the dress with the money she’d saved otherwise.
What a Relief
To Clare’s relief, the dress did extend just past the end of her fingertips, so she knew it would be perfect for the prom. According to the dress code for the dance, she knew the dress would be just fine. Again, there was no way possible that Clare could have realized the kind of stir that her dress would eventually make once she arrived at the prom on that fateful night.
Sharing With Her Friends
As a typical high school girl getting ready to attend prom, Clare was eager to share how great she felt with her friends online. She shared photos of herself, writing later that she was “channeling [her] inner Marilyn Monroe” in anticipation of the big night. Before they left, she again made sure that her dress was the right length and was relieved to see that of course, it still was.
Not Taking Chances
With a night as important as prom, Clare was going to be sure not to take any chances as she prepared for the dance. That’s why she did the last fingertip test, this time wearing the special heels that she would be wearing for the dance. Perhaps because of the shoes, this time it was much closer. Still, she knew that she could pass the test if a chaperone asked her to do it at the prom.
The Big Night
Clare got ready, she did her hair and makeup, replete with bright red lipstick. She was particularly excited since it would be a rare occasion for the homeschool students to be with their peers in a common high school setting.
Confronted at the Prom
Clare didn’t think in a million years that there would be any problems with her outfit. This dress made her feel really special and she was so excited to wear it and to show her boyfriend. She could not have anticipated what would follow because of her purchase.
Clare heard the volunteer say that the rule for dress length was “fingertip length.” Clare tried to explain that she had long legs and it made the dress look shorter than it was, but Mrs. Duncan would not budge, maintaining that the dress was simply too short for the prom. Clare could feel that a fight was coming and she felt her adrenaline start to rise.
Passing the Test Again
Clare was just as determined to wear her new dress as Mrs. Duncan was to keep her from doing so. Clare demonstrated that the dress passed the fingertip test, although both she and Mrs. Duncan could tell that it was a close call.
Keeping A Watching Eye
Mrs. Duncan was clearly not pleased with the result and warned Clare to make sure that the dress “stays pulled down,” again saying that it was too short. She had kept her eye on her and wanted to make sure that the dress did not ride up in order to follow the rules.
Clare went to the dance floor. When she did, she said she found it funny that many girls had on shorter dresses than she did. However, they were not as tall as her so their dresses appeared to be longer. She was on high alert for other potentially short dresses as she had been put on the defensive by the prom chaperone earlier. She also noticed something very strange.
Clare and her boyfriend James agreed that the dance had kind of an awkward feel to it, in part because there were so many chaperones present. In fact, many people were simply standing around the dance floor, and a lot of chaperones, including adult men, were up on the balcony above, staring down at the dancers trying to have a good time.
While a lot of the drama after the prom would revolve around Clare’s dress, Clare and her friends were more concerned about the large number of male parents around. Clare said that she felt “violated” by how many male parents were assigned the duty of spying on them from the balcony and watching them dance while making sure that they weren’t doing anything wrong.
Before Clare could worry too much about the chaperone situation, Mrs. Duncan was back. She took Clare off to the side and she and another chaperone explained to Clare that some of the male chaperones thought she was dancing in too provocative a manner. Clare claims that the chaperones said her dancing and dress may lead others in attendance to think “impure thoughts.”
Who’s Taking Responsibility?
Speaking afterwards, Clare reiterated that as a teenager having fun at her prom, it should not be her responsibility to ensure that she’s not making adult male chaperones uncomfortable. Clare believed that it was the fathers that should have been ashamed for sexualizing a young student who was just trying to have a good time on the dance floor with friends.
Something Feels Wrong
For many of the girls, not just Clare, it felt a bit odd that there were so many men watching from the sidelines. Of course Clare was the one to get penalized in this situation which she felt was totally unfair. Why should she be a scapegoat.
War of Words
Clare was not the type of person to take this kind of criticism lying down. She reminded Mrs. Duncan that her dress was the specified length and said that her dancing was not at all inappropriate. In fact, her friends backed her up, but Mrs. Duncan told them to leave the conversation as it wasn’t their business. Clare’s boyfriend saw that he would have to get involved in the situation.
Clare’s boyfriend wanted clarification that Clare was in fact going to be kicked out. If so, he said that not only should she receive a refund for her ticket, but that everyone in their group that came together would need refunds. Still, this was definitely not enough to placate Clare, who did not get all dressed up just to be kicked out of her own prom right away.
The argument continued to get more and more heated, with James finally deciding that he wanted to speak to the manager of the entire event. However, Mrs. Duncan did not like having her authority challenged and according to Clare, said she would not debate about the topic any longer. Another chaperone was called in to discuss the issue.
Who Is Right?
After a big debate with a lot of arguing back and forth, others had to intervene in the situation to calm the two women down. It wasn’t long until they came to a conclusion about what should be done and someone would not be happy about this, but this was the final straw.
In the end, Clare was escorted out by security. She said that she was heartbroken. Later, she pointed out that since the prom was for homeschooled students grades 8 and up, she stood out because she was a fully developed woman and wearing a sparkly dress. She felt that she was singled out because the adult male chaperones were made uncomfortable by how she looked.
Another Point of View
Clare was looking for someone, anyone to back her up as she was being escorted from the prom. Crying, she asked the security guard if he thought the decision was just. He said that he didn’t think she should have to be kicked out, but it wasn’t his decision. To add insult to injury, only Clare received a refund and the rest of the group never got their entry fees returned.
Getting the Word Out
Decades ago, a student who felt she was treated unfairly like Clare was would not have had much recourse. With the internet, however, students like Clare have a voice, and she knew that she needed to get her story out. She decided to use the internet to discuss what happened to her and her views on the mindsets and injustice that led to the decision to kick her out of the dance.
Raising a Ruckus
Clare was certainly successful with getting the message out. The power of social media was very clear right away, as many people went to the Richmond Homeschool Prom’s Facebook page to give their thoughts on what happened. Of course, administrators quickly deleted all the dissenting comments and eventually took down the entire page itself.
Overnight, Clare’s dress had become a lightning rod of source, igniting conversation about everything from whether people should be judged on how they dress to whether Clare was discriminated against and had a case that should go to court. Clare continued to state that she felt violated and “ostracized” during the situation. However, Mrs. Duncan had her own views to share with the media.
Mrs. Duncan’s Side of the Story
When Mrs. Duncan got to give her side of the story, she pointed out that although the dress had just been long enough when Clare arrived, the spandex fabric kept causing it to ride up higher on her legs. She said that it ended up just below Clare’s butt and denied that there were chaperones ogling Clare and the other girls. She pointed out that with 500 students in attendance, the chaperones were just trying to keep an eye on the festivities.
Clare claimed after the dance that her friends saw a number of students engaging in “truly dirty dancing.” She said she was also told that couples were even making out on the dance floor. As a result, she couldn’t believe that she was the one kicked out of the event. Meanwhile, a fellow student named Callie Hobbs thought both parties should have behaved differently and that she did see Clare dancing in a sexually suggestive way with her boyfriend.
Sticking to Her Story
Despite the other reports coming out of the prom, Clare continued to say that she was initially told that the male chaperones had complained about her dancing. She said that was proof that they had been watching her. Clare also reiterated that dress codes like the one at the prom are unfair to tall girls, who have a harder time finding dresses that pass their fingertips.
Clare said that she felt she was being shamed for having a more mature body than the other girls in attendance. Again, she said that it’s not her fault if the adults in attendance felt uncomfortable or were lusting after her. “And if you think I am, then maybe you’re part of the problem,” she added. Clare said that with many dresses, some skin is going to show no matter what you do.
Clare generated a lot of support online through various social media outlets after the situation got attention through the media. However, one group never reached out to her: the Richmond Homeschool Prom officials or chaperones. In addition, Clare’s friends never got the refunds they were verbally promised for their tickets after Clare was kicked out of the dance.
Making a Stand
Clare hopes that her situation will help make a difference for other girls in the future. She stands by everything that she has said and wants officials to not only examine dress codes, but also the thinking behind them. For both Clare, Mrs. Duncan, and all of the other individuals involved, the case shows how a situation can get quite sticky when teen sexuality becomes an issue.
Who’s to Blame?
No matter whose side you take on the issue, there are a lot of questions to be asked. With many teenage girls wanting to push the issue and challenge dress codes, is it the girl’s fault if adults feel that her dress is inappropriate, or is it the adult’s fault for viewing a teen’s dress through that lens? Are young girls being sexualized too young in life? What can parents and officials do to deal with the issue? The discussion continues.
This story hit the news headlines and went viral round the world. One thing that can be learnt from the situation is that the times are changing, and rules around what is and is not allowed are often not changing with the times. It is also a world now where women are sexualized a lot, and this is something to be taken note of.