Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. Over the next couple of weeks, we’re going to talk about Halloween books and movies to get in the spirit, but today we’re tackling the tough issue of gender in Halloween costumes. Halloween can be a wonderful time for your child to exercise their imagination in generating creative costume ideas. It can also quickly devolve into the Annual Celebration of Gender Stereotypes.
I see two primary issues with gender in Halloween costumes. The first is gender stereotypes in costume choices generally, and the second is sexualization of girls in their choices, regardless of how stereotyped the choice. This cartoon, posted earlier today over at Rebecca Hain’s blog, sums it up for me:
Halloween can seem very limiting for girls when every choice can be made “sexy.” Boys are in a pretty tight box as well when it makes national news that a boy goes to a school Halloween day dressed as Daphne from Scooby Doo. We talk a lot at Fair Play about how the available options shape a child’s interests and attitudes – so when those options are limited and gender-unfair, attitudes and interests become stereotyped. Walk in to your nearest Halloween store and you’ll see the trouble. Your boy may want to be a ballerina now, but it may be much harder for him to pick up that pink packaging when you’re there. Your girl may want to be a police officer, but that may be harder for her to pull off the rack when the surrounding costumes are also clearly marketed for boys.
My mother encouraged the dreaming to happen at home. She also loved to sew, and made those costumes we dreamed up every year. They were incredible labors of love considering she worked a demanding (more-than-)full-time job but they were important to her, and to us. The greatest value from a gender-fair perspective was the work she made us kids do in dreaming up our costumes at home. We thought more freely that way, unconstrained by what options were on the shelves at the store.
So, I highly recommend that you and your child first pin down the costume that is the End Goal. The next step is obtaining the End Goal, and that is yet more work. If you have time, shop around online so you can see the four or five options online instead of the one option (which you might hate) at the store. If you can swing it, go to the store alone. This is the #1 very best gender-fair thing I can think of because when you enter that Halloween store with your child, the Disney princesses in their shiny packages and all the other branded, stereotyped characters just look so darn alluring. Save yourself. Make the End Goal, that costume you bring home, a present. A surprise. Your child knows what it will be, you can just orchestrate the big reveal. Incidentally, our sewn costumes were just that because my poor mother worked on them in the dead of night between raising us and working all day.
One good example of this, I think, is the year I declared “no more sewn costumes! I will be a princess, and it will be store-bought!” (I’m so sorry, mom. Thank you for working through that with me.) Instead of saying no or being frustrated with that ungrateful behavior, my mother bought me a flowy gold-ish princess-y dress from Costco which she presented to me to wear. It fit the bill, it wasn’t part of any kind of branded collection, and it wasn’t pink. It also sated my appetite for store-bought costumes because the cheaper fabric itched and was freezing cold. I immediately went back to her homemade ones.
Let’s review: Determine the End Goal. Shop around online. Shop alone. Big Reveal. Halloween costume success!
I want to showcase some of my mother’s costumes here to thank her, and also to spark your imaginations a little bit. Yes, that’s me in the clown costume at the top of this page.