By Jennifer Shewmaker and Dae Sheridan
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 Illusions 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.
Jennifer W. Shewmaker, Ph.D., NCSP
Associate Professor of Psychology
Abilene Christian University
Dae C. Sheridan, Ph.D., LMHC, CRC
Professor of Human Sexuality
University of South Florida
Rebecca Hains is a media studies professor at Salem State University. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.
Jennifer Shewmaker and Dae Sheridan are Rebecca’s colleagues from the Brave Girls Alliance.