Gender and the Law Prof Blog

Editor: Tracy A. Thomas
University of Akron School of Law

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Toddlers, Tiaras, and French Gender Equality

The New York Times reports on France’s proposed ban on child beauty pageants.  Fearing the “hypersexualization” of young girls, the law penalizes anyone who “helps, encourages or tolerates” children’s participation in pageants.  The main sponsor of the ban says the pageants teach girls it is about beauty rather than that “what counts is what they have in their brains.”  Certainly we have seen feminist challenges to women’s beauty obsession before from the protest of the Miss America Pageant in 1968 (at which no actual bras were burned) to The Beauty Myth and Cinderella Ate My Daughter.   Beauty pageants raise other issues as well, like the recent racially vitriolic reactions to the crowning of a Miss America of Indian descent. Feminists, though, have also challenged the broader concept of fearing women’s sexuality, and have often opposed attempts to regulate and criminalize sexual behavior as in bans on birth control and reproductive rights.

It’s telling that the headline is the Toddlers and Tiaras amendment rather than the heart of the gender equality bill.  The main French law proposes a “sweeping gender equality overhaul” of equal pay, domestic violence, paternity obligations, sexism in the media, and participation of women in business and government.  Significantly it includes tangible remedies and penalties for violations of the new laws.   But that apparently is not front-page news.

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