Last week, a video posted by “LibsofTikTok” went viral, putting the sleepy mountain town of Hazard, Kentucky in the national spotlight for all the wrong reasons. The video depicts female students dressed as Hooters while the male students, in wigs and underwear, perform mock striptease for the teachers before several of them perform lap dances. “Inappropriate” does not begin to cover it.
Like any decent person, I was horrified and angry at these photos. The girls and boys in these pictures are just girls and boys. Children. That an event like this – they call a “man’s contest” and apparently a tradition – would be allowed to happen is indicative of a serious cultural and institutional rot in Hazard Schools, and it has been rightly condemned on social media.
I know Hazard well. I grew up in the following county. View Hazard’s nearest McDonald’s restaurant, cinema and access to medical care. In high school, we’d spend hours cruising downtown or playing hide and seek in the clothes racks at Walmart. One thing we never do, though, is introduce teachers to lap dances.
This is clearly a case of adults exploiting, sexually beating, and dragging minors in the face. It is morally abhorrent and morally unforgivable. What is not is an example of left coming to your children, no matter how insistent the right may be. Quite the contrary. The goal of the “man’s contest” is not to indoctrinate children with homosexuality or progressivism, but to uphold patriarchy and reinforce traditional gender roles while mocking same-sex attractiveness.
LibsofTikTok – User who first posted these photos – lamented which – which”[t]These schools aren’t trying to hide their agenda anymore.” Exactly what has been demonstrated by that agenda by others on the right. Trump fly Dinesh D’Souza falsely claimed the rally was a “drag queen contest.” But the far-right Townhall website made it More clearly.”Support Town Hall in the struggle against the progressive anti-American agenda,” they appealed to readers in an edited note anchored to their coverage of the story.
Nothing about danger that I know of is “go forward” or “wake up”. Earlier this year I wrote about my own experience as a gay student in the area. “High school was a daily melting pot of homophobia,” I thought. “Every time I walked down the hall, insults like ‘f*g’ were thrown at me.”
I experienced the worst of American homophobia while roaming the halls of Hazzard’s rival Leslie County High School. While I hope things have marginally improved for gay children in eastern Kentucky, I have no reason to believe that the ultra-conservative society I left behind has now “wake up”. More than 75 percent of Perry County, in which Hazard sits, voted for Donald Trump in 2020.
I brought this up because it’s disingenuous at best for people like D’Souza and whoever is behind the LibsofTikTok account for claiming what happened at Hazard High School has woken up left. Nothing woke up left about Hazard, Kentucky. Instead, what I saw in those photos was intrinsically conservative.
The supposed humor of “Man Pageant” derives from homophobia and misogyny. If you listen to the videos, you’ll hear irritating laughter from the crowd as “feminine” boys beat and beat up male teachers. The joke here is that these boys are, first, playing a conservative, female-associated patriarchal role (enhanced by girls in Hooters costume) and, second, mimicking same-sex attraction.
By temporarily inverting gender norms and mocking homosexuality as a joke, The Man Contest reinforces the idea that men who break out of what sociologist Paul Kevell calls “acting like a man’s box” are weak and vulnerable. The joke is that sexual objectification, revealing clothing, and performing for the pleasure of men are women’s roles.
Men, according to the patriarchal system, can only be scaled down or exploited if they allow themselves to do so. Any man who might choose to do this – eg, a gay man is by definition attracted to other men so should also be sexually available to men – deserves ridicule and should not be taken lightly. Gender-nonconforming men, especially gay men, are the subject of ridicule. The Man Contest reinforces this.
Had I expressed myself by wearing a dress–not underwear, as these boys did, but just a simple, long, modest dress–I would have been beaten up and sent home from school. My boss blamed the bullying I received for not keeping my “sexual preference” to myself. Just being openly gay was enough to make my life a living hell.
I came out of “act like a man box”, and the same culture that now advocates for the “man contest” made sure I paid the price for it. But the price some boys pay is even higher. One in six men has been sexually abused or assaulted. The “Man Contest” further stigmatizes these men by making the sexual exploitation of boys a joke, which can be both mocked and ridiculed.
Those weak boys—and I can’t stress that enough; they are children, only children – they are taught through events like this that their mistreatment is something they chose, or at least something they should be ashamed of. By wearing these boys stereotypically feminine dress, the “man contest” reinforces the patriarchal belief that there is no “real man” who would allow himself to be sexually exploited. Only “bisexuals” do that.
As for women, well, the “man’s contest” simultaneously serves as a reminder that under patriarchy, women should be sexually available to men. They are things for male sexual gratification. This is why stereotypical feminine clothing is chosen: there is no such provocative equivalent for men, not even running or speedo belts which, though revealing, are not viewed as sexual by mainstream society. The girls were dressed up as Hooters servers, reminding everyone of the paternalistic view that women are meant to serve men.
This is all important to keep in mind when facing arguments from the right that what happened in Hazard is the product of an out-of-control “wake up” gang coming to your kids. Aside from the fact that according to locals who advocate the “man contest”, this is a tradition (meaning it likely predates the culture war in the current semester), it is a fundamentally conservative, anti-gay, and misogynistic event.
More importantly, it is an example of vulnerable boys and girls being exploited by adults in a position of power. Whether, as the school claims, the students organized the event themselves or not, is irrelevant. No one stopped him once he started, and that’s a massive red flag. These adults stood idly by and allowed the exploitation of children. Regardless of politics, this is abhorrent.