The annual Mr. Duke competition took place on March 16. Six competitors took to the York stage to compete in the pageant. (Photo courtesy of @yorkactivities on Instagram)
The annual Mr. Duke competition took place on March 16. Six competitors took to the York stage to compete in the pageant.

Photo courtesy of @yorkactivities on Instagram

Mr. Duke perpetuates an outdated tradition

March 17, 2023

Each year, Mr. Duke, a pageant marketed towards junior and senior men is held. These students are able to compete for prom tickets, post-prom tickets, and gift cards. It is a fun tradition each year, yet there is not the same opportunity for non-male identifying students.

Prom tickets cost $130, and post-prom tickets cost $40. This price obviously does not include the money spent on dresses, tuxedos, corsages and boutonnieres, or any other additional costs. There is no denying that prom is expensive, especially when it can end up costing a few hundred dollars.

I feel that non-male identifying students deserve this same opportunity to win these expensive tickets. It is important to note Student Council has never said Mr. Duke would not allow non-male identifying students, but it is specifically advertised towards male students. The Mr. Duke advertisement posted to states, “Attention Senior guys! Has being in a pageant always been your dream? Do you have ideas about how to make the world a better place? Then you are the perfect candidate for the Mr. Duke contest!”

This makes sense because, traditionally speaking, male students would ask female students to school dances and purchase the tickets. As it is 2023, we do not uphold these same gender norms, but Mr. Duke continues to hold up these ideals by only having the people who would traditionally buy the tickets be encouraged to compete.

York has eliminated the “Powderpuff” moniker for girl’s flag football, and has decided that turnabout is no longer socially acceptable, so I ask you to consider this: why is the name and gender-exclusive marketing of Mr. Duke still acceptable?

I believe that the issues go beyond the name and marketing. The point of Mr. Duke is to be entertaining and humorous, however, I feel that the humor is based in laughing at men embracing femininity. Pageants were traditionally a feminine activity, where women would showcase their beauty and their views on the world. If there was a Ms. Duke competition, it would be significantly less humorous because it would be viewed as objectifying women.

The winner of this year’s competition, junior Owen Widuch, broke some of these stereotypes. Widuch used the competition to showcase their percussion skills, playing the drums upside down. They identify as non-binary, but still competed for the title. Widuch did not let the Mr. Duke title stop them from competing, but they do believe that the competition should look different in the future.

“I do think [Mr. Duke] should be genderless,” Widuch said. “It gives more people an opportunity to participate. I didn’t feel personally discouraged, but I can understand how people might.”

Other people, like senior Megan Brandt, do feel discouraged from participating due to how exclusive the marketing and premise of the event is set up.

“I feel Mr. Duke is discouraging and doesn’t appeal to a wide audience at York,” Brandt said. “Not only is it specifically advertised for only guys at the school to sign up, it is a competition amongst a very small amount of these guys at York. We all know prom is expensive, so if Student Council is going to have a competition for free tickets, it should most definitely be available for everyone involved with prom.”

I strongly agree with Brandt. In fact, this year there was even a bit of a struggle to get the junior and senior guys to participate. If the competition were more inclusive, lack of participation would not be an issue.

Study-body president and senior Avery Kendrick represents Student Council in the opinion that they are willing to make the Mr. Duke competition more inclusive for the future.

“We consider anyone comfortable with the ‘Mr.’ title to enter, but would definitely be open to shifting the name and concept moving forward if it’s something more students would have an interest in and feel more inclusive,” Kendrick said.

My suggestion for the future is simple: The Duke. Change the name and premise of the competition to be inclusive to all. For non-male identifying people who want to enter, this simplifies the process; they won’t feel the need to debate if they are comfortable with the title or not because it will be neutral.

At the end of the day, the whole point of Mr. Duke is to have fun and showcase school spirit. It does not make sense for an event that is supposed to be about school spirit to exclude half of all junior and senior students.

Our Student Council is incredibly open to suggestions and changes for the future, but those changes will not happen if they are not voiced. If you agree that Mr. Duke should become a genderless competition, reach out to friends, parents, and teachers and start the conversation.

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