A Clarification on Sexualization, Predators, and Pageants

Small girl competing in a Glitz children's beauty pageant.

I need to make a very important clarification in regards to the child beauty pageant post about “Toddlers & Tiaras”.

When we talk about sexualization, our focus should and must remain on the emotional, social, sexual, and physical health of our daughters.

Our daughters are the center of this discussion, and we need to keep our focus on their intrinsic value and natural born right to a childhood. Our daughters (and sons) are the focus of this discussion.

Sexualization of childhood isn’t only about pedophiles.

But it has EVERYTHING to do with our kids’ healthy emotional development around gender, sexuality, body image, beauty, and self esteem.

THE DISTINCTION IS AN IMPORTANT ONE.

(For those who want a crash course about the process of sexualization, what the four criteria are, and how it harms our children, go here.)

I saw numerous comments here and around the web in response to my post that questioned the validity of the show based on if sexual predators would see these girls. Whether or not that happens is certainly of some importance, but the emotional and physical health of these girls is the primary concern. Sexualization slides the bar of taboo around children and sex, but if the conversation moves to “pedophiles might see them” and “this feeds pedophilia”, we unintentionally objectify the VERY girls we are trying to protect. We take away our girls’ agency when we shift focus off of them and  onto the possibility of an outside party’s actions.  Our primary concern is what is happening to the minds and bodies of these girls in the present, what might or might not happen in the future is secondary.

I absolutely care about the victims of child sexual abuse, and with rational caution am wary of sexual predators, but that is a post for another day.

Child beauty pageants may be atrocious and offensive, but they are not child pornography. They do not fall under the legal definition, and to describe them as such undermines the potency and heinousness of real child pornography and the victims it affects. Whether or not the actions of some of these parents are cases of child abuse would vary from state to state and the statutes that govern that jurisdiction. Both claims need to carry a heavy weight of social condemnation with them, and should not be tossed around lightly.

I want to thank everyone who left comments on the blog yesterday, in social media circles where this post was widely shared, and in emails I received. Clearly the topic of children, specifically girls, participating in beauty pageants is a hot button issue.  The protection of our daughters’ right to a girlhood is a passionate issue for me, and I am touched that there are many, many people out there who are equally caring. The post and call to action came from a need for our society to curb the epidemic of the highly sexualized media and marketplace that surround and harm our children.

Comments

  1. Excellent clarification! Thanks for what you do! So glad there are more of ‘us’ in every country fighting for our kids right to childhood.

  2. True. But parents need to realize that pedophiles WILL SEE this. It is a valid, if secondary, point. My aunt works as a vocational counselor in a prison that has child sex offenders in it. The stories she hears would make you vomit. And guess what? They have cable TV.

    • Also, part of the REASON we don’t want our daughter sexualized is because we don’t want them viewed in a sexual manner. By whom if not those who would seek to use them sexually? In addition to changing the societal fabric in terms of how children are viewed generally, it is not unreasonable to worry about how individuals (say, Roman Polanski?) view children in a sexual manner.

      • Robyn –
        Having had a career in criminal investigations before having my children, I am very well aware of the horror stories. I have deep, profound empathy for the families affected by the depraved actions of a small group of individuals from our society. But I also think this country is hypervigilant about the “bad guy-sexual predator” notion.

        I am not saying that isn’t a part of this, I am saying it is not all of this. Sexualization teaches girls to accept and seek validation for their physical selves, their self-worth and sexuality largely coming from external sources, being wrapped up in a narrow and twisted version of male fantasy and fetishism. Statistically, the number of girls with disordered eating, poor body image, early sexual experiences, teen pregnancy, early substance use, low self esteem, depression, dropping out of school activities…..all of those numbers are anywhere from 40-90%. We’re talking about hundreds of thousands of girls across these catergories.

        The number of girls who will encounter a sexual predator? A few thousand out of the many million in the country. While 1 in 4 girls will experience some kind of sexual abuse by the time she is 18 years old, 90% of that comes from people known to the victim. We also largely discredit the truth that many sex abusers are age mates to their victim. We need to be extremely careful how we identify sexual predators, and be wary of the wolf in sheep’s clothing.

        Concern for sexual predation of our children is valid and warrants attention, but it is not the driving force behind stopping the sexualization of childhood. We cannont and must not shift the focus off of our children, and their emotional and developmental well being.

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