Toddlers and Tiaras, the popular show on TLC about young girls vying for beauty pageant glory, has been controversial from the start. From everyday viewers to Vanessa Williams, people have criticized the parents who parade their very young children around the toddler beauty pageant circuit (which is a real thing, apparently). Many argue that this type of beauty pageant teaches these young girls that beauty is the most important characteristic for a female, and some even argue that the pageants sexualize these girls at very tender ages given the provocative costumes.
The controversy has now been brought to court in a custody battle over one of the Toddlers and Tiaras stars. Bill Verst and Lindsay Jackson, parents of Madisyn “Maddy” Verst, are locked in a custody battle that centers on toddler beauty pageants. The controversy of Maddy Verst’s Dolly Parton pageant costume hit in September 2011, and now Verst claims that Jackson is sexually exploiting Maddy by dressing her so provocatively in the pageants. Jackson claims that Verst is simply using the pageants as a way to gain custody of Maddy, and has never had an issue before the custody case began.
A court-appointed psychologist is now “recommending that Bill Verst and his ex, Lindsay Jackson, share temporary custody, with Bill Verst getting primary residential custody” due to the provocative nature of Jackson’s costumes for Maddy. This case is ongoing, but for now, Maddy’s pageant career is on hold as her parents duke it out in family court.
Until this past week, new fathers in Brazil got just five days of paid maternity leave from work to help tend for their child. This changed when the Brazilian social security agency held that Lucimar da Silva is entitled to the four months of maternity leave after he and his partner adopted a baby. The court determined that de Silva should receive the same amount of leave that a new mother would receive after giving birth.
De Silva and his partner argued that at least one of them should be granted the same amount of time for maternity leave, four months, as a new mother. The agency hearing the case agreed, as the same parental functions of caring for the new child would be performed by de Silva. An agency spokesman said “However unusual it may seem to grant maternity leave to a male person … this hypothesis is possible when the father takes care of the newborn.”
The Brazil Supreme Court in 2011 held that gay and lesbian persons are entitled to every legal right that a heterosexual person is entitled to. Under this precedent, the social security agency found it to be discriminatory to not grant maternity leave in de Silva’s case. However, the agency’s ruling is not in itself precedential. Each same-sex male couple in the future must individually petition the state to maternity leave. However, lesbian couples are already granted the four month paid maternity leave without the petition requirement.
Regardless of the legal precedential value of this decision, the social precedent is enormous. Granting a male couple maternity leave shows the social and domestic value of same-sex gay couples. It also attests to the fact that same-sex couples can, and are expected to, care for their children in the same way heterosexual couples can. Maternity leave for gay fathers will continue to add to the momentum of equal civil rights for gay and lesbian people in Brazil.