There are very few things that should ever be allowed near a Bedazzler. Dolly Parton, maybe. WWE wrestlers, perhaps. But never ever children.
While glitzed and vamped-up little girls absolutely offend my aesthetic sensibilities, tackiness and poor taste are insufficient grounds for banning something. While tempting, beauty pageants shouldn’t be outlawed because they showcase the nightmare of mothers let loose with crimpers and too much time at Spotlight. Instead, they should be banned because peddling sexed-up children conflicts with many values espoused endlessly by policymakers.
Normally I’m highly critical of commentators decrying the sexualisation of children. Such arguments are usually spouted by sexually conservative wowsers lauding nostalgic, lemon-stand idealised notions about childhood. Ideas I find retrograde, antiquated and often offensive.
Children’s beauty pageants however, are a completely different story. These pageants bear no resemblance to the poor taste “sexy” apparel hawked by low-rent retailers to hillbilly parents. These pageants involve one activity; one that can’t be tarted up or justified as anything other than reprehensible: the sexualising of children for the entertainment of adults.
Most of us would consider this paedophilia.
Australia is an outlier example of a democracy that chose to lengthily debate Internet censorship. Amongst the many spurious rationales offered to justify a filter was its use in preventing kiddie porn.
Sidelining both my opposition to net censorship and my firm belief that a filter would do little to quell the problem, that the issue was even on the agenda at all demonstrated that Australia is both intolerant of the abuse of children and that we consider the profiting from such an act as egregious. Of course, this is exactly what is happening with childrens pageants.
The hotpants cavorting antics of Disney kids is the stock standard reason commentators bemoan that the sky is falling. The idea that an adolescent might, God forbid, harbour any sexual fantasies or want to express themselves through performance is evidently too frightening to think about so instead “sexualisation” is cried by parents advocating perpetual childhood.
Child pageants however, are a completely different story. Those glittered and rouged toddlers wielding feather boas are performing a sexuality that has absolutely nothing to do with their own identity. These children have had the sexy sartorial trappings of adults transplanted onto their pint-sized bodies. And somehow, to quote The Jam, that’s entertainment.
Pedophiles often operate with bizarre sets of narratives to convince themselves that their actions are somehow less heinous. Such rationalisations often involve ideas around a child’s complicity in sex and beliefs that children actively seduce adults.
The second that anyone tries to contend that those dolled up dancer are expressing themselves are at best channelling the rhetoric paedophiles to justify their own perverse interest in this revolting display; channelling those same paedophilies usually denounced by anyone with a pulse.
It’s tempting to gesture to Botox Mom or those others mothers stitching on rhinestones and moussing hair and contending that they’re behind the grooming – both the literal and the metaphoric.
And indeed, there’s a decent argument there. Parents can’t roll their kids a joint no matter how much fun or educative an experience they package it to be. That would be considered child abuse.
But as a feminist I’m loath to blame the mothers entirely. Nobody lives in a vacuum and every mother along with everyone else on the planet is each exposed to a torrent of confusing and conflicting ideas about womanhood. Whereas most of us dip in and out of the femininity game taking the bits we like and shelving the rest, pageant mothers are immersing their daughters in head first because they believe that rewards will be reaped.
And who can blame them? Rewards will be reaped. Ours is a society that disproportionately values beauty; that routinely reward the gorgeous and talentless.
Most of my writing is underpinned by the value of choice: sexual choices, bodily choices, market choices. The girls in these pageants however, are too young to make any choices. We have age-of-consent laws because we know that children who are nodding don’t always know precisely what they are nodding at.
That there are people having fun at pageants isn’t enough reason to keep them. That there are little girls smiling while they twirl around poles certainly isn’t enough to keep them.
Children’s beauty pageants need to be banned because there’s insufficient difference between the broad range of images we consider child porn and the seductive spectacles portrayed onstage by kids barely out of nappies.
Revolting yes, but even worse, such pageants are ethically egregious and conflict with many policies our government prides itself on.