Halloween is a parenting landmine. All that candy! Does it have high-fructose corn syrup? Red Dye 40? How much sugar can one tiny person eat in a day?
On top of that Halloween costumes have become their own labyrinth of sexism and over-sexualization of children.
For example (all of these are actual screen captures taken from costume retail sites on 10/3/12):
This one is called “Police Chief”. Really? Could this be more fetishized? This isn’t a little girl that wants to grow up and be a cop – this is an intentionally tantalizing fantasy outfit.
If your daughter likes auto racing she can choose this ‘Sweet Lil Racer’. I can’t even fathom how this is related to actual auto racing.
A double whammy of cultural stereotypes and sexualized fantasy is this ‘Indian Princess’
And don’t think that boys are free from sexist costumes;
This ‘Mac Daddy Pimp’ costume for the future exploiter of women and girls for money.
Look even at a simple young-child costume like Thomas the Tank Engine:
Both of these baffle me. The one for the girl has zero bearing on the actual show (what is this Princess Thomas?). The one on the boy at least resembles a conductor but what is with the muscles? This makes no sense if you’ve seen the show. The decision to make one a skirt and one a muscled man is an intentional application of stereotypes rather than having a rationale involving the characters.
(Also note that most of these costumes are expensive, flammable synthetic material, and made in China with a carbon footprint bigger than your minivan!)
What’s a parent to do? Here are 5 ways to make sure your kids aren’t learning gender stereotypes from their Halloween Costumes.
- Make your own costume! There are whole sites out there for DIY costumes in a variety of difficulties. Some take minimal sewing or can be made with a hot glue gun alone. If you make it yourself you can control the details. Check out my Pinterest board for DIY Halloween ideas! Last year my daughter was a fried egg. This was simple sewing with felt and she wore black underneath (you have to be warm in Ohio on Halloween!)
- Stick to Animals. Although animal costumes can be made overly sexualized they are usually much easier to find in a more realistic look. I ask my daughter what animal she wants to be? Of course, she’s 3 so it won’t always be that easy, but this year she choose bat (which is super simple to make with a black hoodie and black felt).
- Avoid Characters. I try to avoid buying character-driven items. My daughter watches Dora but I don’t buy Dora shoes, bedding, dolls, etc. For me, it is just about avoiding commercialization, but it is also a great way to steer your kids toward more generic costumes. If my daughter wanted to be Diego, I would say “let’s make you your own Animal Rescue costume!” This year she originally wanted to be Blu from Rio and I was going to make her a blue macaw costume. This encourages creativity as well as avoiding the stylized costumes available in stores.In 2010, my daughter was Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz (below left) at the time store options were “extra glam” for no apparent reason.
- Talk About the Sexism. We don’t want to just shield kids from sexism. Especially as they get older, we want to show it to them and talk to them about what it means. If my daughter for some reason wanted the Indian Princess above, I would engage her on how that might make Native Americans feel. If she wanted to be a cop, I would ask her how she thought cops dressed and how the outfit shown above might hinder the job.
- Use It as a Learning Experience. If your daughter wants to be a “fairy” instead of buying the first costume you see – go to the library and look up fairy stories. Maybe read A Mid-Summer Night’s Dream for Kids and your child can decide she wants to be Titania, Cobweb, or Peaseblossom. You’ve introduced her to literature and helped her individualize her costume through creativity.
- (Bonus Tip!); Lead by Example. If you have a costume, don’t make it the “sexy” version of nurse or another costume that sexualizes a real profession. Kids watch what we do way more than they listen to what we say.
What are your kids dressing as for Halloween? How do you talk to your kids about sexism?
Paige Stannard is a Staff Writer for Everyday Feminism. She’s a former NASA research librarian happy to be home raising her 3 IVF babies after nearly a decade of infertility. She blogs about infertility, parenting, and women’s issues at Baby Dust Diaries as well as being the founder of the gentle discipline site ParentingGently.com and co-founder of the breastfeeding rights site NursingFreedom.org. She likes to cook and sew and has, in general, become her mother. Happily. Follow her on Twitter @babydust.