I recently moved out of center city Philadelphia and into the countryside of Central Jersey. When I wake up in the morning and open the blinds, I spy bald eagles soaring over tall pines rather than crack vials scattered over someone’s emptied-out purse.
I sort of hate it, but I’m getting used to it.
I came here for my son. He’s in 6th grade now and totally blown away by the amenities of his new middle school. He comes home with wonder in his eyes: “Mom, I ran on a track today!” “Mom, I played tennis.” “Today, I got to take out a book from the school LIBRARY!”
Nearly every day and every new experience confirms that we made the right decision in coming here. But we’ve had one experience that makes me question it all.
About three weeks ago, we attended a party with a group of locals. One of the moms arrived later in the evening with her son in tow, having just picked him up from the “Welcome Back Dance” at the high school. She sent him off to play with the others, grabbed a beer and hissed at group of us parents, “DON’T EVER SEND YOUR CHILD TO THE WELCOME BACK DANCE.”
Huh? What possible harm can come of sending a child to such an innocuously named event?
She gave us the down-low. The dance has another name — an unofficial one given by the students. You ready? The name of the dance is “Bros and Hos.”Ho is never, ever a nice word.
Ok, so when women started calling one another bitches on reality TV and other citadels of high culture, I cringed and gritted my teeth, but, as I said, I eventually came around to it. After all, it was clearly a reclamation — an amelioration of a word that started with a neutral meaning but degraded into a slur when applied to the ladies.
We broads are pretty well used to that treatment, right? In fact, one of my favorite games is to play the male/female name game.
Hey, let’s play now!
I could go on and on. Almost inevitably when we have a concept in English that can be split into gender-specific words, the male version ends up as a synonym for power while the female version devolves into either a mild insult or a sad shadow. Take any of those words and preface it with “You’re such a….” and you’ll see what I mean.
Let’s keep playing!
Which is why…SCREEEEECH wait, WHAT THE FUCK??? Did I really hear that a group of underage kids is having a dance they call “Bros and Hos”?
The news got so much worse.
The dance has been going on for years, and each autumn the kids come up with a theme based on the original. One year it was “GI Joes and Military Hos.” Once it was “Space Bros and Alien Hos.” No parents are permitted to chaperone or even to peek in, as we wouldn’t want to bum anyone out with our old-person morals and such. Fun, right?
But here’s the really fun part. The purpose of the dance is to initiate the freshmen boys sexually. The senior girls — the Hos — change into their shortiest short shorts and meshiest bralets in the parking lot and spend the dance grinding into, groping and stimulating the freshman boys — the Bros. The boy who arrived late at our party told his mom that he had been grabbed by a group of older boys, thrust into the mosh pit full of older girls, groped, grinded against and encouraged to grope and grind himself.
The mom said that when they stopped home afterwards, he went promptly into the bathroom and locked the door for a good 20 minutes. I laughed knowingly along with the others, until I stopped short and thought silently, “I wonder if he was crying in there.”
Because honestly, that is one tear-worthy event. I barely know where to begin to describe the many reasons that this is appalling.
How about the fact that it muddies all sorts of waters where consent is concerned? Just attending the dance requires that a child give non-verbal consent to sexual contact, after years of being taught that no one is entitled to their body but themselves? (“Hey, we were just joshing, kids!”)
How about the fact that even as one in five students are sexually assaulted when they reach college, this dance, approved by the administration and chaperoned by teachers, normalizes and marginalizes that violence years before they come of age?
How about the fact that the dance buys into the antiquated notion that young boys should welcome sexual contact by older women and makes it unacceptable for them to turn down such advances or they risk being emasculated by their peers?
But the thing that truly hurts is that there exists a contingent of girls who are comfortable with being cast in the role of ho. Not just calling one another “ho” in an ironic, “we’re here we’re queer” gender empowerment sort of way. Not just playing dress-up with risqué clothes and experimenting with our sexual power sort of way. But a full-blown debasement of self in deference to the male — all in the name of making a few dollars for the student council.
At first, I, like you, was sure that this was a gross exaggeration. This boy was verbalizing some 14-year-old’s fantasy, and his mom was playing whisper down the lane with a few crazy rumors. But a little investigation and a few questions to other parents revealed that it’s all true. The local Facebook page is alight with parental shock, peppered with occasional weird admonitions from a few who claim that this is just “kids having fun” and we should all lighten the hell up already…isn’t all this hand-wringing the same as when Great Grandma fretted over the Charleston and the waltz?
Sorry, cool parents. This is not even slightly analogous. To say that dry-humping on the dance floor could be seen as a logical extension of the jitterbug only works if you’re willing to allow that giving one another hummers below the mirror ball under the watchful eyes of the school principal is an acceptable next step.
And allowing a dance to go on with the unofficial title of “Bros and Ho’s” shows nothing but disdain for the girls in the school, to say nothing of the lack of respect it shows for their male friends. There’s nothing empowering, nothing ironic, nothing even slightly positive about that word. It’s etymology, unlike most unkind words for women, did not flower from something innocuous or sweet. (Like hussy…a housewife! Or bimbo…little child!). A whore has always been a whore. It’s never, ever a nice word.
So let’s let this particular piece of verbal abuse rot by the wayside where it belongs. Women will never be able to re-appropriate it because it was never “appropriate” in the first place. Let’s teach our girls to know their value enough to never use that word to describe either themselves or one another. And when we are school administrators, for god’s sake, can we please just SHUT THAT SHIT DOWN RIGHT NOW!