Many sociologists argue that gender, as we know it, is not innate, but put on and performed. Certain moments of our lives, like weddings, are opportunities to really emphasize femininity and masculinity; but gender is also performed in mundane ways every day in the ways that we talk, move, dress, and adorn ourselves.
These photographs of child beauty pageant participants, taken by Susan Anderson and published in her book High Glitz, illustrate how much of feminine sexual allure is put on and performed. These kids are adultified with make-up and they also often wear false teeth and hair extensions.
If adult femininity (which is what these kids are trying to mimic) came naturally, then adult women wouldn’t need these strategies. But they do, even going so far as to get veneers and hair extensions. The fact that these kids can use the same strategies as adult women (with stunning/horrifying success) reveals the extent to which adult women are, no less than those kids, performing femininity.
To take it one step further, as The Spinster Aunt does, if you react to the idea of child beauty pageants with horror, then than horror should be applied to the project of femininity itself, not just the fact that children are participants:
…as far as the participants themselves are concerned, this kiddie burlesque has at least the same (if not greater) philosophic value as playing soccer or performing at a piano recital… she’s merely coloring with the available crayons, and plainly having pretty high time doing it.
I submit that anyone who is uncomfortable with [the] Little Miss Perfect [pageant] is ethically obliged to be just as uncomfortable with femininity in general. Little Miss Perfect is merely one of a gazillion equally nauseating points on the Porno-Feminine Continuum within which all female citizens of the globe are confined by a culture of oppression.
So, if it’s troubling when girls do it (and, for that matter, also troubling to many when men do it), then why isn’t it troubling when women do it? (Anyone watch the Golden Globes this past weekend?)
Also in gender transgression, see our posts on the third gender in Oaxaca, the pregnant man, the threatening transsexual, the female body builder, a makeover for the manly athlete, and women who dare to be fat.Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.