Pell Center

The Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy at Salve Regina is a multidisciplinary research center focused at the intersection of politics, policies and ideas.

The Reign of Beauty Pageants in America With Hillary Levey Friedman

Air Dates: August 3-9, 2020

Whether you love them or hate them, beauty pageants continue to play a significant role in American popular culture.  Hillary Levey Friedman argues that their evolution is wrapped up in the history of feminism in the United States. 

Hilary Levey Friedman is a sociologist and expert on beauty pageants, childhood and parenting, competitive afterschool activities, and popular culture.  She is Visiting Assistant Professor of Education at Brown University.  Her new book, “Here She Is: The Complicated Reign of the Beauty Pageant in America, uses beauty pageants to trace the arc of American feminism from the 1840s to the present.  Her first book, “Playing to Win: Raising Children in a Competitive Culture,” followed families with elementary school-age children involved in chess, dance, and soccer covering the history of the activities, what they mean to parents and children, and implications for inequality and gender in the educational system.  Levey Friedman is the President of the Rhode Island chapter of the National Organization for Women (RI NOW).  She also serves on the Public Policy Committee of the United Way of Rhode Island and is a volunteer Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA).  She holds degrees from Harvard University, Princeton University, and the University of Cambridge. 

On this episode of “Story in the Public Square,” Leavy Friedman explores the American beauty pageant’s historic ties to feminism, linking the sashes worn in pageants to the banners that read “votes for women” worn by suffragettes in parades and at public events.  She says, “the sash was co-opted by beauty pageants to show this new phase of women in the public sphere.”  Leavy Friedman goes on to note the “muddled” messaging about women in society surrounding the pageants today.

“Story in the Public Square” broadcasts each week on public television stations across the United States. A full listing of the national television distribution is available at this link. In Rhode Island and southeastern New England, the show is broadcast on Rhode Island PBS on Sundays at 11 a.m. and is rebroadcast Thursdays at 7:30 p.m. An audio version of the program airs 8:30 a.m. & 6:30 p.m. ET, Sundays at 4:30 a.m. & 11:30 p.m. ET on SiriusXM’s popular P.O.T.U.S. (Politics of the United States), channel 124. “Story in the Public Square” is a partnership between the Pell Center and The Providence Journal. The initiative aims to study, celebrate and tell stories that matter.

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