Halloween is the time when goblins come out from under bridges and vampires emerge from creepy coffins. It is also the time when gender and racial stereotypes fly onto the racks of costume shops with frightening speed. It seems with every passing year the line blurs between sexy get ups and age appropriate ones. Sexy women’s costumes are converted into sexy tween costumes and re-named “cutie.” Like cutie little red riding hood with a special place above her corset for her budding breasts. There’s also “cute”–and totally stereotypical–Indian and Geisha, among others.
Boys are also a target. Once upon a time hero costumes were just jumpsuits. Now they’ve taken testosterone and boast huge, bulging and perfect muscles promoting an unattainable masculine ideal that has recently been studied and shown to cause body image issues in men.
At a media literacy workshop I just led on gender roles and stereotypes, a group of young women looked specifically at the meaning behind costumes and toys. The girls analyzed the media, cultural messages and toys not only noting the gender roles and stereotypes costumes promote, but also how these toys and costumes reflect our cultural norms and values.
Here’s a list my students came up with showing the character traits, abilities and values most toys and costumes generate.
Boy Toys and Costumes
Speed, action, destroy, build, strategize, be handy, guns, violence, buff, powerful, balance, exercise, athletic, logic, heroic, save people, no relationship to women, doesn’t have a family, strong
Girl Toys and Costumes
Pretty, perfect body, wealth, fashion, party, wear little clothing, into boys, raise babies, caretakers, be responsible, clean up after others, dance, cook, clean, be domestic, be a princess saved by a man/prince
It’s a sad list, don’t you think? Especially when you think about how children are told who to be on such a subversive level.
An ah-ha moment came from this lesson when one student said that dolls were just for girls. I asked why? When she realized that boys turn into fathers who care for children she said,
“We should raise our boys to play with dolls.“ Then she said, “The only problem is that people would tease them for being weak or gay.” She thought for a moment and then finished by saying,
“That’s messed up.”
It’s All in Good Fun
According to many psychologists and educators, play expands children’s understanding of themselves and the world around them.
And when it comes to girls and women dressing provocatively, Cady from Mean Girls said it best, “Halloween is the one night a year when girls can dress like a total slut and no other girls can say anything about it.”
Boing boing.net notes:
This year 3Wishes.com adds to the old standards of slutty nurse, slutty catwoman, and slutty police officer with slutty eating disorder by introducing the “Anna Rexia” costume. We doubt they grasp the irony of stuffing a busty model into a costume that invokes anorexia nervosa much less the idea that this costume whips up more female body issues than every season of Baywatch combined. But they are an equal opportunity offender. The get up is available in a plus size just in case big-boned chicks want to get in on the screw-with-the-mentally-afflicted Halloween action.
These costumes and play will collapse, not expand, a child’s understanding of him/herself and the world around them. What are we teaching our children about their world? What are we telling them is important to strive for?
Related Content: Five Surprising Ways to Love Your Body this Halloween