Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Feminist Parenting: The Wet Blanket Dilemma, Halloween Edition

Halloween is on Friday and its costume crunch-time for tons of parents here in the U.S. The kids need costumes ASAP if they're going trick-or-treating and, of course, the easiest way to remedy the situation quickly would be to go buy costumes, but maybe the thought of dressing the kids as baby sex symbols or racial stereotypes makes you queasy - then what?

Yup, as our friend FeministGal notes, it isn't easy to find a feminist-parent approved kiddy costume on the shelves:
Halloween, if nothing else, allows children to play dress-up and use their imagination to be anything they want to be. Or in the case of the mainstream costume industry, gives kids the chance to further perpetuate gender roles, reinforce stereotypes, and dress little girls in hyper-sexualized outfits.
That's right, in stores all over the U.S.A. there are the racks are full of costumes like:

Sexy Teen Witch

French Maid Jr.

and whatever Major Flirt Girl is supposed to be:

Last year we brainstormed some home-made alternatives like Marie Curie, Hermione Granger, Amelia Earhart, Billie Holiday, and Janis Joplin - but we failed to address one major question. What if your little daughter really, really wants the Major Flirt Girl outfit? What if all her friends are dressed as flirt nurses and trollop fairies and have stuffed melons down the tops of their midriff-bearing coquette pop-star outfits? How can feminist moms and dads turn All Hallows Eve into a good experience instead of an exercise in gender role reinforcement and stereotypes?

No holding back - all of the last-minute feminist parents need ideas on how to pull together some good costumes, and how to get their kids excited about some age-appropriate options. What's your family doing for Halloween this year? What was your favorite costume as a kid?


:-jon said...

my daughter is going as an insect...oh wait...she's a lady-bug.

Amelia said...

Kate and I addressed this problem on our radio show yesterday. And it really is a problem.

As a kid, my mom always made our costumes (and she couldn't even sew!) because of the problem of age-inappropriate selections in stores.

My favorite costume of all time was in first grade when I was a picnic. My mom took some cardboard, glued some checkered fabric to it, and topped it off with plastic food items (including ants).

I loved that costume because it was so unique and it got a lot of attention. While everyone was a princess or a witch, I was the only picnic.

I think there is something to be said about the special attention that is paid to kids who done unique costumes. And that's something that, maybe, parents should try to communicate to their children. Yes, all the other girls might be dressing up in a certain way, but wouldn't it be more exciting to be different?

At least it always was for me.

Anonymous said...

When I was five, I wanted to be a bunch of grapes. I begged to be grapes. My mom covered me in balloons while I wore a green sweatsuit as the "stem". People got a huge kick out of that.

I have to be honest: if the only thing your kid wants to be is an off-the-rack maid, then your child might be severely lacking an imagination and need an injection of culture, STAT.

FeministGal said...

One of my coworkers has two girls, really smart, progressive kids. Every year they tell my coworker MONTHS in advance what they want to be for Halloween, and it's always something COMPLETELY random and not at all mainstream. Last year they were mustard and hot sauce. This year they're that angry tree from wizard of oz and a jelly fish... it's always up to my coworker to make the costume and she does an amazing job, the whole time thankful her girls don't buy into the whole conventional girls theme of either princess or super sexualized something or other (i'm still waiting for the "Sexy Princess" costume to hit shelves) ;)

Maggie said...

As a kid, my mom never bought me costumes. (She did for my younger sisters a few years later, which annoyed me to no end, but let's save the sibling grudges for another time.) But she was always very creative about putting them together.

In 5th grade, I was a "household drudge." I didn't know exactly what that meant. But I did know I got to wear a nightgown and slippers to school, have curlers in my hair, cold cream on my face, and (score!) carry a bag of potato chips all day. (There may have also been a copy of Soap Opera Digest, if not in execution at least in the planning stages.) I didn't know why I was such a hit with all the adults at the school Halloween parade, but I was too happy with my massive bag of potato chips to care.

NewsCat said...

Whatever happened to the plastic-outfit-with-plastic-mask costumes that were less than $10? My parents must have bought me at least one of those. We found a box for an E.T. costume like that in the basement (no costume though...probably would have brought in some dough on eBay).

You know I remember seeing the child "french maid" costume in the store a while back and it disturbed me then. All the other costumes have non-sexual connotation. But there is no unsexual interpretation of dressing as a "French Maid."

Jake Aryeh Marcus said...

The boy parallel problem is costumes without weapons. :( We usually stick to animals, dinosaurs, or Star Wars characters sans light sabers.

My fourteen year old is making me very proud this year. He decided he wanted to create a costume that was part performance art, part word play. He is drawing a brick pattern with Sharpie ink on a white shirt (to look like a wall), wearing a solid gray tie with a broken white line down the center (to look like a street), and at each house will crumble on the ground. He is "Wall Street collapsing." :)

Mächtige Maus said...

My favorite costume was the leopard suit my mom made for me when I was about six. Full body suit not unlike the bunny from A Christmas Story. Sadly I came down with the flu so never made it out of the house. I was inconsolable.

Smirking Cat said...

The best costumes I've ever worn were homemade, as a child and as an adult. Most of them were homemade because I reject the slut version of costumes, which is about all that's offered to women and girls in stores.

I like old school scary costumes: witches, skeletons, zombies, vampires, etc. Especially vampires. Such a delightful combination of elegance and danger.