By Rachel Simmons, Special to CNN
(CNN) - Spring may be graduation season, but the most coveted rite of passage for many teenage girls is the prom.
From the latest craze of "promposals" to the minute-by-minute social media broadcast of it all, the rituals of prom form a throwback cultural primer called "How to be a young woman." Teen girls are competing relentlessly to be queen.
The queens of prom are the conventionally beautiful, the wealthy and the heterosexual - always passively waiting to be asked.
Isn't prom just a fun dance that hardworking students deserve? Sure, but it's also an event where girls internalize damaging cultural messages. Those who are exalted on this "once in a lifetime" night offer an object lesson in how modern girls are expected to look and act.Prom is a cultural report card of sorts on how well, or not, young women are doing.
Here's what a bright 17-year-old girl learns as her lace gown drags behind her into the school gymnasium:
She learns that she must have money to attend the prom
Prom was modeled after the debutante ball of the old days, where elite girls formally announced they were ready to date, while a hand-picked bevy of suitors watched. Today, prom is still a rich girl's party.
In 2013, prom spending will rise on the shoulders of a more robust economy. Families who plan to spend money on the big night are expected to drop an average of $1,139. All that cash might be good for business, but it disadvantages the poor and working class girls who can't keep up. Meanwhile, boys can get away with renting a tux for less than $100.
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Editor's note: Rachel Simmons is cofounder of Girls Leadership Institute and author of "The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls with Courage and Confidence." Follow her on Twitter: @Racheljsimmons
(CNN) - Phillips Andover Academy, one of the most elite and selective boarding high schools in the country, failed again to elect a girl to its top student position - the school presidency.
Since the Maryland school went co-ed in 1973, only three girls have held this office. In a letter that launched a fiery debate across its campus, senior girls implored their peers to look hard at the school's "staggering gender imbalance" in student leadership.
Headmaster John Palfrey responded by telling The New York Times, "Girls have not had equal access to top leadership positions." Yet, access for girls is rarely the problem when it comes to pursuing leadership.
It starts early. From childhood to adolescence, girls face mixed messages about displaying power and authority.
The girls at Andover and elsewhere are socialized to be likeable, to please others, to not tout their own successes and to speak softly like proper girls. As a result, they face powerful psychological barriers to attaining leadership roles.
The impact of what I call the "curse of the good girl" effect first appears in friendships, when young girls take pains to avoid direct conflict with peers. "I want to tell her how I feel," a typical girl would say in my research interviews, "but what if she hates me or turns other people against me?"
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CNN’s Schools of Thought blog is a place for parents, educators and students to learn about and discuss what's happening in education. We're curious about what's happening before kindergarten, through college and beyond. Have a story to tell? Contact us at email@example.com