Betty Grumble, aka Emma Maye Gibson, was the answer to US “Pageant Princess” Eden Wood when Pull the Pinheld a family fun day in the Fitzroy Gardens in protest at Universal Royalty’s child beauty pageant at the Northcote Town Hall on Saturday.
Some elements of the media had claimed that violent protests were planned, with alleged death threats eventually leading the star turn’s mother to refuse to allow her to appear, all this in spite of repeated insistence from Catherine Manning, Pull the Pin’s coordinator, that causing distress to children would be the opposite of what protesters stood for, but in the end a reporter for the Nine Network’s A Current Affair, which had exclusive rights to the pageant, had to admit on air (Friday evening, live from Northcote Town Hall) that talk about protests at the venue were ‘just that, talk’, and media reports from the day were unable to find anything of the kind to fasten on to.
Some links to media coverage are given at the end of this post – see also previous entry on this site 24 May 2011.
Catherine Manning was the first to address the large media contingent that joined the Fitzroy Gardens event after spending some time in Northcote. She reiterated what she had said before in a series of interviews over the previous week or so (see for example, the segment on Channel 7’s Sunrise program 29 July , which also features Betty Grumble): she works with girls in schools and in workshops where she asks them about their ‘self-talk’ a constant recurring theme is that they feel they are not pretty enough, this being a message they get from popular culture and the media. So when she heard about the planned beauty pageants she could see the same applying to little girls, pitted against each other and being told that one is more physically attractive than the others. She was concerned about what this was saying about our culture. There was nothing wrong with competitions as such, but it was a different matter when they were based on beauty. There was great concern in the community about what was happening in Northcote, with over 4000 supporters on the Pull the Pin Facebook campaign page. She was worried that it would not be long before boys also were drawn into it. The message was harmful, and it was necessary to stand up now before it was took late to stop it.
The reporters had come prepared with a range of questions they could hardly wait to get in, particularly around the supposed intention to disrupt the pageant. As mentioned already, Catherine emphasised once more that they had always been determined not to protest at the event, ‘it would be a poor reflection on us to be seen harassing children.’ Protesters were often painted in a negative light [by some sections of the media]. It was put to her that some children love to perform, and that some would be loving the pageant, to which she countered that even if the child didn’t mind, ‘the message behind it [was] their looks were their currency.’ She noticed the size of the prizes, especially the cash, and added that the participants [ie the parents] were themselves the victims of this culture. Challenged on the presence of children at this protest she emphasised that all those who were there fully understood what was going on; some had made their own signs with their own slogans.
Greens Upper House MP Colleen Hartland had spoken at the previous rally and was here again to voice her concern. She said she had known nothing about these pageants until she spoke to Catherine. She had been able to bring herself to watch only few minutes of the TV program ‘Toddlers and Tiaras’. She raised the issue of whether children were able to give ‘informed consent’ in this case, and mentioned other areas such as piercing where age restrictions are enforced. She intended to refer the question to the Child Safety Commissioner Bernie Geary [who was reportedly due to attend the pageant at the request of the Victorian government]. She felt the photos of contestants no longer looked like children, more like Barbie dolls. Kids should be running around blowing bubbles, not being waxed and fake tanned.
She was asked if there was a danger that such contests might be driven underground if they were banned, and responded that it was therefore important for the legislation to get it right. Sexualisation was a major issue, and the Greens would be putting pressure on Children’s Minister Wendy Lovell.
Catherine Manning mentioned at this point that there was a danger that the kind of media attention the pageant had been getting might lead to their spread; it was therefore all the more important to nip the business in the bud.
Jenny Mikakos, ALP Upper House member for Melbourne’s Northern Metropolitan Region represented the ALP Opposition at the protest. She said she was appalled at what was taking place in her electorate, and also at the reports of death threats. (Pull the Pin categorically denies having anything to do with any such threats: this has been a tabloid beat-up.) She was appalled at reports of waxing, of little girls behaving like Lady Gaga. All children were beautiful as they were, they didn’t need to be made up like adults. The Opposition had raised the question of Working with Children checks with the Baillieu government, but had had no response. They would continue to press for regulation and control of such contests. They were not opposed to the ‘shopping centre’ type of contest, but the style of this pageant was of a different nature. She noted particularly the offer of Photoshopped images of contestants. Asked about the hiring of Darebin’s Town Hall for the event she said she was ‘extremely concerned’ [although it was clear that under present regulations there was no basis upon which the Council could have refused] and that they would be looking into the question of the relevant guidelines.
Betty Grumble, seen here reading from her spoof ‘CV’ introduced herself as ‘former child pageant star, and beauty queen’ but soon moved to a more direct critique. She said she was concerned to celebrate the ‘beauty within, what cannot be bought and sold’. When the word ‘flirt’ became part of a child’s vocabulary, it was something very sinister. Universal were not about children, they were about money. It was part of bigger issue for women, a question of equality. (See the ‘manifesto’ on Betty Grumble’s blog. She rounded off the protest by leading a chorus of boos for pageants and cheers for Pull the Pin.
… and this not-so-small one was also evidently enjoying it all: