Justin Lookadoo takes the stage before a crowd of teenagers in a rumpled white shirt and conch necklace. Beneath bleached-blonde hair, his face contorts into cartoon expressions as he rapidly spouts truthiness about dating.
“First thing you need to understand ladies is that guys are going to lie to you to get what they want and what they want is sex. The end,” he says, all in one breath and in a heavy Texas drawl.
That speech, posted on YouTube, was described as but a preview of what Lookadoo calls his “Dateable” program, a motivational speech he delivers regularly to teens in Texas and other states. In his promotional material, he claims, “This is the #1 most requested program Justin has ever produced because it’s the one where he spills the beans. He shares all the juicy secrets (all the guys’ secrets and all the girls’ secrets) to help students understand what being Dateable really means.”
A former juvenile probation officer who describes his “speaking ability” as a “gift,” Lookadoo has a website, R. U. Dateable, that 0ffers interactive guides for teens navigating their first relationships. In the section, “dateable rules,” he offers the following advice:
Dateable girls know how to shut up. They don’t monopolize the conversation. They don’t tell everyone everything about themselves.
The Dateable girl let’s [sic] God run the world, and tells herself the truth–that all she can control is herself. She doesn’t imagine things to be more than they are.
Let him lead. God made guys as leaders. Dateable girls get that and let him do guy things, get a door, open a ketchup bottle. They relax and let guys be guys. Which means they don’t ask him out!!!
For boys, Lookadoo recommends self-control and maintaining dominance.
Men of God are wild, not domesticated. Dateable guys aren’t tamed. They don’t live by the rules of the opposite sex. They fight battles, conquer lands, and stand up for the oppressed.
Keep it covered up. Dateable guys know that porn is bad for the spirit and the mind. They keep women covered up.
In his book, Dateable, which he describes as a “#1 bestseller” and directs at teenage girls, Lookadoo writes, "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.”
Lookadoo has had more than 4,000 speaking engagements, according to his own count, including at countless assemblies at public schools throughout the South and Midwest. On Wednesday, the PTA at Richardson High School, a public school in a Dallas suburb, invited him to speak on bullying and dating to its students during the school day.
Richardson is an overwhelmingly conservative and Christian community, yet some students left the assembly early, and others surrounded him after the event to confront him about his claims.
"Why did you tell girls to get out of abusive relationships instead of telling guys not to be abusive in the first place?" one student asked.
Others tweeted their concern:
Lookadoo maintains that his speech at RHS was toned down from his typical “Dateable guides” fare.
“They set it up like I was preaching at a school and the complaints are based on relationship stuff on a website that I don’t even talk about in schools,” he wrote on his Facebook page on Wednesday night.
But according to the Dallas Morning News, his RHS appearance included messages like these:
Girls are nastier to each other than boys are, Justin Lookadoo told two packed auditoriums at Richardson High School. Being a man means protecting the weak — and women. High school boys and girls should be wary of putting too much into a romance that is almost certain to dissolve.
His talk at RHS was mainly aimed at the girls in the audience and how they should behave in relationships. When addressing the boys, he urged them to reject feminism and be macho:
Girls, he said, were their own worst enemies.
“The reason it’s so hard for you to succeed these days is not because of guys,” he said, “You’re doing it to yourselves.”
Guys, he said, need to be manly.
“Somewhere between the modern church and the feminist movement, guys turned into pansies,” he said. “Stand up and be a man! Do something with your life!”
The school district later apologized for not informing parents or students about Lookadoo’s appearance or agenda, but hundreds of members of the community have already voiced their outrage.
“This man should not be allowed anywhere near a high school,” wrote Sarah Moon on the Facebook page for a Dallas TV station, which aired a segment about the controversy.
“My son is a sophomore at RHS and we are a Christian family. However, I believe discussions of this nature are best dealt with at home as many of the "datable" rules on his website are narrow minded and discriminatory toward both genders,” another commenter, Libby Gordon, wrote.
Other parents defended him.
“Ms. Gordon, Mr. Lookadoo is a Christian, I've seen him speak multiple times and I believe that, while you should have been notified of the content of his speech that he truly has a good understanding of his topics and he speaks truth in a way that teens will listen to. His statements are gender based but they are often biblically [sic] based as well.”
After a local TV station asked Lookadoo about the parent and student complaints, he responded that his message was only about, "empowering the student to actually take control of their relationships."
When I was in high school in a town near Richardson, the administration invited Jay McGraw, a Texas native and son of Dr. Phil, to deliver an anti-bullying speech at an assembly.
McGraw spent the time promoting his book, Life Strategies for Teens, which I largely remember as a few hundred pages of self-esteem boosterism, save for one chapter in which McGraw detailed a number of stereotypes that he believes teens usually fall into. (Preps, Goths, the hippie-esque Granolas, etc...)
"Some of us play the Goth role, all dressed in black, and others of us play the preppie role, all dressed in Abercrombie & Fitch," he wrote. (Perhaps for him writing is not a gift like speaking is for Lookadoo.)
After the assembly, we all received a copy of the book. Though we didn't stop harassing each other mercilessly, we did relish spending the rest of the day labeling all of our classmates according to the generalizations McGraw had neatly laid out for us.
Sexist, pseudo-religious street preachers are everywhere, especially in Texas, but they become especially dangerous when their ideas are given an air of legitimacy, like, say, through an invite to speak at a public institution. Bullying is a real problem, and dating in high school can sometimes exacerbate the tensions that exist between teens.
But reinforcing gender roles through stereotyping isn't a cure for bullying or the confusion that comes with teen dating. Fortunately, the RHS students and their parents were smart enough to see Lookadoo for the charlatan that he is, but some of his programs are targeted toward children in third grade and younger. One wonders what happens when he has access to more malleable, less skeptical minds.