Halloween, once again, has got me thinking about gender. I went out to look for a Halloween costume today with some of my friends and was bombarded by provacative costumes designed for females aged 6 to 30. As if the abundant signage wasn’t enough (girls, boys, women, men, plus size women, plus size men), the costumes in each section perpetuate just about every stereotype that exists. Female costumes are overwhelmingly frivolous and “sexy”, while male costumes range from serious to terrifying. Even the costumes for little girls are sexualized, with short-skirted fairies and “rascal” animal costumes. Of course, many little kids tend to go for the cooler costumes that cross gender boundaries, like Harry Potter or Phineas and Ferb themed costumes. (That’s what I would do, at least.)
But the fact remains that there is a HUGE gap in the costumes offered for males and females – or what we are told is appropriate for us depending on our gender. I could not help but noticing that the female costumes were predominantly sexy cats, sexy fairies, sexy nurses, sexy bunnies, sexy witches…you get the point. It’s as if we’re expected to dress like children but also be sexy. It’s the whole women need to be innocent but provacative at the same time (the virgin-slut predicament). Meanwhile, the men’s costumes include, but are not limited to: doctors, firemen, police officers, and politicians. I’m sensing some kind of trend you guys! Don’t get me wrong, there are male costumes that are highly sexualized – but not to the degree that female costumes are.
Why is this a problem, you ask? Well, it’s just another way that our society promotes gender stereotyping and “puts people in their place,” so to speak. If you are female, you are not meant to be taken seriously. Frivalous and revealing costumes emphasize appearance only. In contrast, male costumes exude an air of importance, seriousness, and power. Yeah, they are just costumes. But the implication is that men are to be taken seriously even when they’re dressed up. Women can dress as politicans and doctors too – but they had better be sexy politicians and doctors.
So what is the message? The message – which has a particular impact upon young girls – is that they should not take themselves and their ambitions seriously. The message is that looks are everything. Why bother to become a CEO if your success will only be gauged by your sex appeal? Halloween costumes may seem like a trivial thing to be upset over, but I can’t help but think about the implications. And really, how far off are these costumes from the costumes we wear every day? Gender is a performance, and you better believe that we’re all constantly performing.
I want to be a cat for Halloween. Not a sexy cat. Just a cat. I love cats, and I want to dress up like my kitten, Luna. But all of the costumes and accessories available for cat costumes don’t focus on actually looking like a cat…it’s more like some kind of cat/hooker combination. So I’m probably just going to end up making my own costume out of whatever I can find in my closet. Wish me luck…
One more thought: why not try dressing as ambitious and successful women? Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama, Athena, Isis, Hatshepsut, Cleopatra, JK Rowling even? I saw a Michelle wig today and was absolutely giddy. Just saying.