Flipping through this year’s Halloween magazines, I realized I might actually cry tears of joy if I saw a little boy pictured in a princess costume, or a little girl dressed as Superman. It is 2014, after all, and we have come a long way in the past few years. States have outlawed numerous forms of discrimination against LGBTQI people. Globally, conversations have shifted to encourage girls to become involved in traditionally male-dominated STEM fields.
Apparently we have further to go. Having no such luck in magazines, I turned to an Internet search for “Halloween stores,” hopeful that Halloween websites may practice a bit more gender neutrality in their ads. Not quite.
Of the top Halloween stores to appear in the search, each site’s kids section is split into categories for boys and girls.
By the time a child is three years old, they develop their “categorical self,” meaning they begin to identify as this or that, boy or girl, good or bad. So, one can probably assume a three-year-old visiting one of these sites also begins to understand boys have the following categories to choose their dream costume from:
- Featured: Guns and masks.
- TV, Movie, & Famous Faces: Muscle-clad ninja turtles. Also with masks. Oh, and a sword.
- Classic: More masks and swords.
- Horror: Another mask, but this time accompanied by a pickaxe.
- Humor: Read—racially insensitive sumo wrestler.
- Occupation & Military: Police officer, because boys can’t be nurses or teachers.
- Sports Teams: Self-explanatory.
- Time Periods: A mobster with… you bet, a gun.
A child visiting the girls’ page realizes girls can be categorized as:
- Featured: The jury’s out on what this is. Perhaps a pretty fairy-princess hybrid.
- TV, Movie, & Famous Faces: Bubblegum-pink pop star.
- Classic: Kudos, girls can wear masks too… but they still have to wear dresses.
- Horror: A bloodied zombie bride… and another skirt. But maybe this is subliminal messaging meant to teach girls to be wary of the horrors of marriage (just kidding).
- Occupation & Military: This is good. A police officer option for girls. Though when was the last time female police officers wore skirts…
- Time Periods: A Grecian goddess. This is at least historically accurate, because back in the day women definitely were not allowed to engage in war, or thought, or really anything substantial for that matter.
- Build A Costume: i.e. take your pick of heeled shoes, tights, tutus, and pink sparkles.
This page alone does not deserve all the criticism. Other top websites are no different. And Party City even deserves credit for offering girls the option to dress as superheroes. Though they still do have to wear skirts in all but two of the costumes. And none of these options come equipped with the same muscly arms and weaponry included for their boy counterparts.
I was a girl who loved pink sparkly princess pop-star costumes, and I am sure there are many girls who still do love those options. I am also sure there are just as many girls who would like to dress as a police officer, and wear the kind of uniform real-life female police officers wear. You know, the ones with pants. Similarly, I know some boys would be thrilled to dress as a pop star, or as their favorite princess.
Sure, the argument may be that “those” girls and boys could buy from the boys’ police officer or girls’ princess sections. Okay. Or we could get with the times and not categorize costumes based on a strict gender binary.
Why are there girls’ and boys’ sections? If the same sub-categories are offered on the “girls” and “boys” pages, why not simply split the site into Featured, Horror, Time Period, etc? And within those categories, maybe we can depict boys and girls in all kinds of costumes so the innocent, imaginative, and malleable minds of children have free range to dress up as whomever they please.
As we grow up, we constantly receive the message that we can become anything we dream. Eventually, life serves up the harsh reality that this may not actually be the case. On the one day of the year children are allowed to dress up as anting they wish, the least we can do is get rid of any subliminal messaging that tells kids otherwise. Even if only on Halloween, children deserve the opportunity to be anything they want. Who knows, maybe it will stick. Maybe the costumes that portray the dreams of those three-year-olds will actually become their realities.
Gabrielle DeFranceschi is the creator of The Language Effect. Her passion for the effect language can and does have on individuals and the world developed during her time as an undergraduate at the University of Maryland in College Park, MD. She is intrigued by social challenges (especially their solutions), and is currently traveling the country to absorb the craft of political organization. Connect with her on Twitter @GabDeFranceschi or on Instagram @gabdefranceschi.