“Pull the Pin” – No Child Beauty Pageants in Australia – rally at Parliament House, Melbourne, 24 May 2011

'Betty Grumble' poses with school girls - placards

Former child star Betty Grumble (aka Sydney-based performance artist Emma Maye Gibson of What Makes Men Blush) yesterday joined the Melbourne contribution to an Australia-wide chain of protests against plans by US company Universal Royalty Beauty Pageant to introduce child beauty contests to Australia.

Organiser Catherine Manning speaking on steps of Parliament House

Organiser Catherine Manning, seen here addressing the protest, claimed all-party support for a ban of such events in Victoria, and the rally was addressed by politicians from Liberal, Labor and the Greens, as well as ethicist Dr Leslie Cannold, who argued amongst other things, that gender equality was one of the defining features of Australian values; that these pageants were a throwback to 1960s American culture, especially strong in the southern states, which were ‘not a good place for women’. Posing the question ‘Why do mums want their kids to take part in them?’ she rejected the organisers’ claim that they enabled children to ‘learn confidence’:

Dr Leslie Cannold speaking amidst placards on steps of Parliament House

Liberal member for Hastings Neale Burgess was brief and to the point: Children deserve to be children:

Liberal MP Neale Burgess speaking on steps of Parliament House

Shadow Attorney-General Martin Pakula introduced himself as the father of a five-year-old girl. He acknowledged many worthwhile American innovations, but childhood beauty pageants were not one of them. He also rejected the claim that they were an innocent entertainment, branding them insidious. Children were not deciding for themselves whether to take part, but entered by their parents. Kids were growing up faster and faster, but there was plenty of time for them to decide about lipstick and the rest when they were grown up. He viewed his daughter as ‘a little girl, not a beauty queen’, and saw no place in Victoria for these pageants – and perhaps it was significant that the company was keeping the location secret (see report in the Melbourne Herald Sun 18 May:

Shadow Attorney-General Martin Pakula speaking

Greens Upper House member Colleen Hartland endorsed what had already been said: she pointed to the children taking part in the protest, saying they were beautiful and had no need of pageants:

Upper House Member Colleen Hartland speaking

Betty Grumble spoke next, first in character as ‘a child beauty queen reading a speech her mother had helped her write’ but then in person, making the all-important point that the real motive behind these events is not an altruistic wish to help young children grow in confidence, but a drive to make money… She invited the crowd to join her in a chorus of Boos to pageants.

Next speaker was Luke Donnellan, Shadow Minister for Child Safety, who also referred to parents labouring under the misguided belief that these events would benefit their children’s development, stressing instead the dangers involved. He undertook to do ‘all that is appropriate to ensure that these pageants stop’:

Shadow Minister for Child Safety Luke Donnellan speaking

Catherine Manning wrapped up, noting amongst other things that it was not exclusively a matter concerning little girls: it had an effect too on boys, who were also the recipients of the underlying message. She read out a statement that was due to be delivered at parallel rallies at parliament houses across the country:

Today, state and federal governments across the country have heard from child development professionals, experts/academics and the greater community, and can’t deny the concerns raised about child beauty pageants and their toxic culture. Of those polled, time and again, over 95% of people want to see the government pull the pin on child beauty pageants.

We call on our governments, both state and federal, to respect this request and impose age restrictions on beauty pageants and adult cosmetic procedures for children, in the best interests of all children, our Australian culture, and the status of women.

[The text of this statement was incorrectly quoted when this report was initially posted, and has now been corrected on advice from the organiser. Apologies for the error.]

She also encouraged everyone to sign a petition calling on federal and state authorities to intervene. (To read the petition, click here

One last picture of Betty and friends:
Two schoolgirls pose with 'Betty Grumble' - placards read 'All kids are beautiful' and  ' Babies are not Barbies''

A final word:
Women with toddler - placard has photo of dressed-up child, caption 'What's wrong with this picture?'

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