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Nymphet Fantasies: Child Beauty Pageants and the Politics of Innocence

  • Henry A. Giroux

Abstract

The notion of the disappearing child and the myth of childhood innocence often mirror and support each other. Within the myth of innocence, children are often portrayed as inhabiting a world that is untainted, magical, and utterly protected from the harshness of adult life. In this scenario, innocence not only erases the complexities of childhood and the range of experiences different children encounter, but it also offers an excuse for adults to evade responsibility for how children are firmly connected to and shaped by the social and cultural institutions run largely by adults. Innocence in this instance makes children invisible except as projections of adult fantasies—fantasies that allow adults to believe that children do not suffer from their greed, recklessness, perversions of will and spirit and that adults are, in the final analysis, unaccountable for their actions.1

Keywords

Child Abuse Young Girl Welfare Reform Moral Panic Child Molester 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    Marina Warner, Six Myths of Our Time (New York: Vintage, 1995), esp. chap. 30. Of course, the concept of childhood innocence as a historical invention has been pointed out by a number of theorists.Google Scholar
  2. See, for example, Philip Aries, Centuries of Childhood (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1979);Google Scholar
  3. Lloyd deMause, ed., The Evolution of Childhood (New York: Psychohistory Press, 1974).Google Scholar
  4. 2.
    Neil Postman, The Disappearance of Childhood (New York: Vintage, 1994).Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    All of these figures are taken from two articles on the Children’s Defense Fund web site (www.childrensdefense.org/): “The New Welfare Law: One Year Later,” October 14, 1997, pp. 1–5, and “CDF, New Studies Look at Status of Former Welfare Recipients,” May 27, 1998, pp. 1–4. See also Jennifer Wolch, “American’s New Urban Policy: Welfare Reform and the Fate of American Cities,” Journal of American Planning Association 54:N1 (Winter 1998), pp. 8–11.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    For specific statistics on the state of youth in the United States, see Children’s Defense Fund, The State of America’s Children Yearbook 1998 (Boston: Beacon Press, 1998);Google Scholar
  7. Ruth Sidel, Keeping Women and Children Last (New York: Penguin, 1996).Google Scholar
  8. 7.
    For an analysis of the ideological underpinnings of the right-wing family values crusade, see Judith Stacey, In the Name of the Family: Rethinking Family Values in the Postmodern Age (Boston: Beacon Press, 1996).Google Scholar
  9. 8.
    For an analysis of the widespread assault currently being waged against children, see: Henry A. Giroux, Channel Surfing: Race Talk and the Destruction of Today’s Youth (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997);Google Scholar
  10. Mike A. Males, The Scapegoat Generation: America’s War on Adolescents (Monroe, Me.: Common Courage Press, 1996);Google Scholar
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  14. Lawrence Grossberg, We Gotta Get Outta Here (New York: Routledge, 1992).Google Scholar
  15. 9.
    For a brilliant analysis of how the image of the sexual predator is used to preclude from public discussion the wide range of social factors at work in causing child abuse, see James R. Kincaid, Child-Loving: The Erotic Child and Victorian Culture (New York: Routledge, 1992).Google Scholar
  16. 11.
    The concept of the hollow state comes from Stanley Aronowitz, The Death and Birth of American Radicalism (New York: Routledge, 1996).Google Scholar
  17. 12.
    The literature on advertising and the marketing of children’s desires is too extensive to cite, but one of the best examples is Stephen Kline, Out of the Garden: Toys, TV, and Children’s Culture in the Age of Marketing (London: Verso Press, 1993).Google Scholar
  18. 14.
    For a sustained treatment of the current assault on kids, especially those who are poor, nonwhite, and urban, see Henry A. Giroux, Fugitive Cultures (New York: Routledge, 1996).Google Scholar
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  20. 19.
    While the statistics on children’s beauty pageants vary, a number of sources cite similar figures to the ones I cite here. See, for example, Rich, “Let Me Entertain You”; Ellen Mark, “Pretty Babies,” Vogue (June 1997), p. 240; Beverly Stoeltje, “The Snake Charmer Queen Ritual Competition, and Signification in American Festival,” in Colleen Ballerino, Richard Wilk, and Beverly Stoeltje, eds., Beauty Queens (New York: Routledge, 1996), p. 13.Google Scholar
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  22. 31.
    Susan Bordo, Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), p. 162.Google Scholar
  23. 33.
    Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth (New York: Anchor Books, 1992).Google Scholar
  24. 38.
    See, for example, Susan Faludi, Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women (New York: Anchor Books, 1991).Google Scholar
  25. 42.
    As Annette Corrigan points out, “Young girls should have the freedom to explore the unlimited possibilities of their humanity and to be valued, as men are, for much more than how they look or their capacity to stimulate desire in the opposite sex.” Annette Corrigan, “Fashion, Beauty, and Feminism,” Meanjin 51:1 (1992), p. 108.Google Scholar
  26. 43.
    For an academic defense of beauty pageants as simply an acting out of community standards, see Michael T. Marsden, “Two Northwestern Ohio Beauty Pageants: A Study in Middle America’s Cultural Rituals,” in Ray B. Browne and Michael T. Marsden, eds., The Cultures of Celebration (Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Press, 1994), pp. 171–180. Marsden is so intent in seeing pageants as ritualistic performances that he does not notice how ideological his own commentary is when focusing on some of the most sexist aspects of the pageant practices. Hence, for Marsden, bathing suit competitions simply prove that “beauty can be art.” For a more complex analysis see Robert H. Lavender, “‘It’s Not a Beauty Pageant!’ Hybrid Ideology in Minnesota Community Queen Pageants,” in Beauty Queens, pp. 31–46. See also Susan Orlean’s insipid defense of child beauty pageants as public rituals that offer mothers pride when their daughters win and provide pageant contestants the comfort of a family “in which everyone knows each other and watches out for each other.” Susan Orlean, “Beautiful Girls,” The New Yorker, August 4, 1997, pp. 29–36.Google Scholar
  27. 47.
    Valerie Walkerdine, Daddy’s Girl: Young Girls and Popular Culture (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1997), p. 166.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. 49.
    The classic work on this issue is Mary Pipher, Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls (New York: Ballantine Books, 1994). See also Nicole Peradotto, “Little Women: A New Generation of Girls Growing Up Before Their Time,” Buffalo News, January 26, 1997, p. 1F.Google Scholar
  29. 52.
    Lawrence Grossberg, “Toward a Genealogy of the State of Cultural Studies,” in Cary Nelson and Dilip Parameshwar Gaonkar, eds., Disciplinarity and Dissent in Cultural Studies (New York: Routledge, 1996), p. 143.Google Scholar
  30. 54.
    Adorno cited in Geoffrey Hartman, “Public Memory and Its Discontents,” Raritan 8:4 (Spring 1994), p. 27.Google Scholar
  31. 55.
    Stanley Aronowitz, “A Different Perspective on Inequality,” in Henry A. Giroux and Patrick Shannon, eds., Education and Cultural (New York: Routledge, 1998), p. 193.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Henry A. Giroux 2000

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  • Henry A. Giroux

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