Why the French Senate voted to criminalize beauty pageants for kids

AP - Oceane Scharre, 10, who was elected Mini Miss France 2011, sits with Miss France 2011 Mathilde Florin. France’s Senate voted to ban beauty pageants for children under 16, in an effort to protect children — especially girls — from being sexualized too early. Oceane Scharre, 10, who was elected Mini Miss France 2011, sits with Miss France 2011 Mathilde Florin. (Associated Press)

Nearly a year ago, French President François Hollande proposed banning homework because poor children didn’t get as much help at home as rich kids. Now, the French Senate has surprised everyone with another ban: this one on beauty pageants for children under 16 because, the sponsor said, girls should be “acquiring knowledge,” not being sexualized.

The ban is not yet French law; the lower house of parliament still has to vote on it, and the likelihood is that a compromise will be reached that would not be an outright ban.

But the 197 to 146 vote in the Senate was a shock in a country where there is a long history of beauty pageants, and where lingerie is sold to girls as young as 6. And the penalties attached to the measure are tough: Anyone entering a child in such an event could be thrown into prison for up to two years and forced to pay a fine of 30,000 euros ($40,600).

Why did the senators approve a ban? According to this Associated Press article, French legislators are worried that girls are being sexualized too early.

The foundations of equal rights are threatened by the hyper-sexualization that touches children … between 6 and 12 years old,” said conservative lawmaker Chantal Jouanno, who authored the amendment.

 “At this age, you need to concentrate on acquiring knowledge. Yet with mini-Miss competitions and other demonstrations, we are fixing the projectors on their physical appearance. I have a hard time seeing how these competitions are in the greater interest of the child.”

She noted the amendment is primarily focused on protecting girls. “When I asked an organizer why there were no mini-boy contests, I heard him respond that boys would not lower themselves like that.”

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss · September 19, 2013