Dr. Jennifer W. Shewmaker

An Open Letter to Justin Lookadoo

BGA quote

As the mother of 3 girls in the Texas public school system, the story of Justin Lookadoo’s controversial, gender stereotyped speech at Richardson High School hit me hard. My 14 or 12 year old daughters could easily have been sitting in that auditorium. Here’s the thing, I am not teaching my girls to be dateable. I am teaching them to focus on becoming the best person they can be, on being kind and compassionate, on standing up for what is right, and on making this world a better place. Without further ado, here is my open letter to Justin Lookadoo.

Dear Mr. Lookadoo,

We (along with most of the internet) recently heard about your presentation at Richardson High School. The students’ outrage shed light on your views of the “dateability” of children and how rigid, harmful notions of gender roles are supposedly espoused by God.

As mothers, university professors, specialists in the field of psychology, mental health, sexuality and gender for almost 20 years, and yes, Christians, we are taken aback by and incredibly disappointed in your message.

You say on your Facebook page that you spent “a lot of time” studying and you are “always researching and finding the edge that will make (your) programs current and relevant.” That seems strange because what you teach about “how gender differences impact the development of the human brain” doesn’t seem to be supported by any of the most recent research in either psychology or neuroscience. Hmmm. Don’t believe us? Check out Dr. Lise Eliot’s and Dr. Janet Shibley Hyde’s research. It’s all there, Justin, just waiting to be discovered. Ever read Delusions of Gender by Dr. Cordelia Fine? You might want to look into that as well.

In your speech at Richardson High, it has been reported by a young woman in the audience that you emphasized gender stereotypes that are harmful to both men and women and made negative comments about girls in general. For example, you are quoted as saying,

“Ladies, I’m going to say this in the nicest way possible….you are the most horrible, awful, vindictive creatures this planet has ever seen.” You then go on to detail the differences between girls and guys as males being there to lift each other up while females “spend the rest of your life trying to kick every other girl down.”

If you said this in an assembly where one of our 14-year-old daughters attends school, we hope and pray that she would get up and walk out or call you out for spewing blatant, archaic, shame-inducing, misogynistic, hate filled rhetoric. (Just like the daughter and friends of Dr. Jaime Clark-Soles.)

Listen, Justin, we not only have daughters, we have also worked with adolescent girls and young women in a variety of educational and clinical settings for many years. We can say with utter confidence that your assessment of them is glib, superficial and dead wrong. Since you show a complete lack of understanding of child development, we wanted to offer you a lesson. Both boys and girls have to develop conflict resolution strategies, learn to navigate difficult relationships and adopt more effective ways to handle disagreements as they get older. It’s part of the process of maturing. You know, where you sidestep the juvenile reflex to make grandiose, sweeping generalizations of others under the guise of humor or in order to shroud your own insecurities.

On your website’s “R U Dateable” quiz, as long as a girl provides answers that keep her silent, dishonest, and malleable to the whim of boys, she’s dateable. Well, we took the quiz, and much to our dismay… in your eyes, we are completely (gasp!) undateable! How will we break it to our husbands?

You say that your message has “reached over 1,000,000 students across the nation” through your “thousands” of speeches and “#1 best-selling” books. We need you to know that your version of things serves to perpetuate grave misogyny and rape culture. There are too many examples to list, but here is a select sampling:

“Please, please don’t tease us. To show us your hot little body … and then tell us we can’t touch it is being a tease. You can’t look that sexy and then tell us to be on our best behavior”

“Men of God are wild, not domesticated. Dateable guys aren’t tamed”

“Every little girl wants to know that she’s beautiful, and a woman can’t convince her of that. It takes a male figure to convince her of that.”

“Dateable girls know how to shut up. They don’t monopolize the conversation. They don’t tell everyone everything about themselves. They save some for later. They listen more than they gab.”

“Dateable guys know they aren’t as sensitive as girls and that’s okay. They know they are stronger, more dangerous, and more adventurous and that’s okay.”

As professors who write and teach about adolescent development, gender stereotypes, and sexuality, we are flabbergasted by the messages you’re sharing with both boys and girls about who they were created to be. Your opinions are damaging to our youth.

Rather than encouraging all adolescents to become strong, caring, compassionate people who make this world a better place, you focus on “dateability.” That is no different than the sexualized, sexist, objectifying messages that girls and boys get every single day from the mass media that tells them that a girl’s power and worth lies in her looks and her sexuality and that a boy’s job is to work with all his might to squash his animalistic, uncontrollable urges.

Justin, we believe you mean well and you want to help. Our hope is that the reason for taking down your YouTube videos, removing the co-author of your book from your website and deleting pictures and hundreds of comments off of your Facebook page is because you have “seen the light”. We weren’t able to check out your MySpace page yet simply because our Commodore 64’s weren’t fired up, but anyway, moving forward, here are some suggestions we have for you:

  • Try reaching kids by espousing a message of human mutuality. Encourage adolescents to see each other as equals, hold each other in high regard and show mutual respect for one another.
  • Stop focusing so heavily on adolescents being “dateable” and start focusing on helping them become the best individuals they can be.
  • Stop touting rigid gender stereotypes as fact. It is not true that men and women are “hard wired” differently. It is true, however, that our culture teaches boys and girls that they should have different interests and behaviors. Some kids naturally fall into these, but others don’t. There is a place in this world for sensitive, nurturing men and strong, adventurous women.
  • Allow kids to be themselves, let’s help them cultivate their individual personalities and unique strengths rather than trying to force and box them into some version of roles you think men and women should play.

And most of all, instead of encouraging girls to be mysterious, girly, silent, needy, and sexy and for boys to be bold, wild, insensitive, controlled and dangerous, how about encouraging all adolescents to seek to be world changers? What if, instead of telling kids how to be in inequitable romantic relationships, you taught them how to make the world a better place? Now there’s a message we could buy into.

Sincerely,

Jennifer W. Shewmaker, Ph.D., NCSP

Associate Professor of Psychology

Abilene Christian University

Dae C. Sheridan, Ph.D., LMHC, CRC

Licensed Psychotherapist

Professor of Human Sexuality

University of South Florida

UPDATE
LOOK AT THIS WELL THOUGHT OUT, BEAUTIFUL RESPONSE BY SOME LOCAL STUDENTS. SEE WHAT I MEAN? THESE ARE WORLD CHANGERS. BRAVO MY FRIENDS!

Updated note: I have now had the opportunity to watch the entire video of Mr. Lookadoo’s presentation at RHS. After watching it, I am more convinced than ever that while his intentions were good, his presentation promoted gender stereotypes. It was clear that Lookadoo had been invited in to talk about relationships and to help the students consider how to protect themselves from negative ones, especially romantic relationships. And I do believe that he intended to do that. However, it’s my opinion that his choice to focus so heavily on gender differences and stereotypes defeated his purpose. I’ll just note a few instances below for those who are interested:

  • At .30 seconds into the talk, Lookadoo begins talking about the differences between guys and girls and proceeds to make fun of girls saying, “Girls can’t drive!”
  • At 13.35 he says that if a girl is currently in a relationship, she is not in control of it and begins talking about the physical aspects of romantic relationships. 
  • At 15:15-about 17 he says that girls are mean and vile and hurt other girls, as quoted above from the student’s post.
  • At 27:17 he says that guys have become pansies, attributing this to the “modern church and feminist movement.” 
  • Lookadoo makes the point several times that both “guys and girls” should not compromise who they are in order to be with someone. He also tells girls to get out of abusive relationships and to take it as a compliment when “little girls” talk badly about them. But there just aren’t good, practical solutions folded into much of the talk that could give adolescents strategies to accomplish any of these things. 
  • The part of the talk that focused on physical abuse in relationships was concentrated heavily on the young women in the audience. At 34:16 he begins to say that he will tell the guys what being a man is not, but then he spends the next four minutes telling girls that if they are in relationships that are abusive they need to get out. At 38:28 he says that if a guys has been abusing a young woman who he is dating, that he hopes her father will do him physical violence. I think this was meant as a joke, however, there wasn’t any guidance provided to young men who were in that situation as to how to seek help or how to get out of those situations. 

19 comments on “An Open Letter to Justin Lookadoo

  1. Jaime Clark-Soles
    November 17, 2013

    This is one of the best articles I’ve read in response the Lookadoo/RHS affair. I wish more scholars (me included) would resource a wider public. Thank you!!!

    • Jennifer Shewmaker
      November 17, 2013

      Thank you, Jaime. One of my goals over the past few years has been to make psychological and educational research more accessible to parents, teachers, and kids themselves. I think it’s so important!

  2. Lorraine Hétu Manifold
    November 17, 2013

    Wow. Thanks for that! It always shocks me when I hear some people still think this way about women, or African Americans, or any people subject to racism or sexism. And it’s worse when they are openly talking about it and trying to teach people to think like them. Thank you for taking the time to refute their arguments with sound and logical proofs.

  3. Bridget Earl LMFT
    November 17, 2013

    Superb response! One can hope the widespread negative reaction to his distorted views will serve to further the cause of refuting rigid gender stereotypes and moving away from the sexualization of females. I for one will be sharing your letter. As a mother and a therapist I have hope for the possibility of positive change.

    • Jennifer Shewmaker
      November 17, 2013

      Bridget, I agree, there is hope. Smart, courageous young people like these students will help us to make these changes!

  4. ggbolt16
    November 17, 2013

    Reblogged this on Reflections of a Pastor Couple and commented:
    Clear, concise, brilliant.

    Thanks for writing this. As an alumni of RHS I was saddened by the decision of the PTA to hire this speaker. I was encouraged by the students and their questions.

    There is hope.

  5. ggbolt16
    November 17, 2013

    Reblogged at nebraskabolt.wordpress.com and commented

    Clear, concise, brilliant.
    Thanks for writing this. As an alumni of RHS I was saddened by the decision of the PTA to hire this speaker. I was encouraged by the students and their questions.

    There is hope.

    • Jennifer Shewmaker
      November 17, 2013

      Thank you! Yes, these students used great critical thinking skills and challenged this so called expert. I work with adolescents a lot, and they fill me with hope!

  6. Jeff Platt
    November 18, 2013

    I am still trying to understand how he was invited to speak in the first place?

    • Jennifer Shewmaker
      November 18, 2013

      Jeff, I wondered that too. His gender stereotypes are so blatant! Maybe he had spoken there or somewhere else before and shared a different message.

  7. carlindenton
    November 19, 2013

    Thank you for posting this.

    • Jennifer Shewmaker
      November 19, 2013

      You’re welcome. Thank you for taking the time to read it!

  8. Elizabeth Tamez
    November 19, 2013

    Thank you very much Dr. Shewmaker for sharing your in-depth reflection on the subject of gender roles and your response to what “supposedly” Justin Lookadoo said at Richardson High, etc! Your insight is very much on-point and it interconnects the research that needs to inform our practice – that is also the premise of my approach as a youth development researcher and practitioner. I am very glad the conversation on this subject has risen online and in the media in the last few days! Good things for us to be discussing and critically analyzing. The unfortunate side of this, is that it is being done at the expense of one person who has tirelessly devoted his life to reaching-out to teens in his desire to help them make wise choices and know Christ. I have known Lookadoo for 15 years as a close friend (and critique of his work), I know the premise of his message (spoken, written, and lived), and it is NOT as it is being taken and distorted to be presented in the media in order to fuel a very legitimate conversation. Why did he take down his material, coauthor’s name, etc you ask? Because he is a righteous man and would not dare bring harm to others who work/collaborate with him as this attack on him unfolds. Yes, he is that type of person, the kind one no longer finds out there very often… Thank you for all you do as we continue our efforts to educate the next generation of leaders! Blessings upon your work! – Elizabeth Tamez

    • Jennifer Shewmaker
      November 19, 2013

      Thank you, Elizabeth. I have sent a copy of this letter to Justin Lookadoo and would be happy to talk with him further if he’s interested.

      • Elizabeth Tamez
        November 19, 2013

        In the time being, since this is the premise of our work as scholars, I cannot help to wonder why a researcher would not take the time to know the facts before making statements and taking pieces of information out of context? I was very surprised and disappointed at your approach, especially since the construct of the other sections and arguments in your letter are so well crafted.

      • Jennifer Shewmaker
        November 21, 2013

        As I stated in the post, these quotes are directly from a student who was in the assembly (see linked post) and his book and website. I don’t see any context in which these quotes are appropriate, but I also take issue with teaching kids to be dateable. I think there are more important things to be focusing on.

  9. Kimberly Thompson
    November 20, 2013

    Thank you, Jennifer. Awesome response to a situation I didn’t even know about … which just shows you how out of the loop I am since I live so close to the DFW metroplex.

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This entry was posted on November 17, 2013 by in For Teens and Tweens, Talking and tagged , , , , .

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