Halloween! Playing dress up! It’s so much innocent fun, is it not? Well … not so much if you’re trying to buy ready-made costumes. If you’ve ever set foot in a costume store or seen an ad for kids’ costumes, you’ve noticed the disparate offerings for girls and boys. Often, the same characters are available for each gender – police officer, pirate, vampire, farmer – but the costumes are not the same. Not even close. They are markedly, disturbingly different.
Just do a quick search. Humor me. See what you find. I guarantee you’ll be as grossed out as we are at Smarty Mommies.
I’ll start for you. My kids are big into Star Wars, so I’ve spent a fair amount of time looking at Star Wars costumes. There are tons out there. But check this out.
Look for Star Wars costumes for boys and you find this:
Look for Star Wars costumes for girls and you find this:
Now, I’m happy to see a lot of the same characters here. Stormtroopers, X-Wing pilots, Boba Fett, and Darth Vader are all represented for both girls and boys. Hurray! But take a closer look at the costumes themselves. In the search for boys’ costumes, everything looks pretty normal. The costumes are fairly accurate and not cutesy in the slightest. They look, as they should, like the characters from the movies.
But now take a look at the costumes from the search for girls’ costumes. The Stormtrooper’s costumes are either laughably tight and missing armor in rather important places, or involve a floofy little dress with knee socks and an inexplicable knit hat. The X-Wing pilot is wearing a short, poufy skirt and knee socks. So is Darth Vader, but She-Vader’s skirt is even shorter. The Boba Fett costumes are either a skin-tight bodysuit, or another short, floofy dress. I mean… even if I could somehow move past the insane sexualization of small children (which I cannot)… I would still be losing my mind because these costumes make absolutely no sense. They are not remotely accurate. They do not reflect the needs of these characters. Space is cold. People fighting wars do not wear miniskirts. And these costumes are needlessly cutesy. A little girl who says she wants to be a Stormtrooper for Halloween does not mean that she wants to be called a Stormtrooper while wearing a ridiculous little dress that looks nothing like the character she wants to pretend to be. It’s ludicrous and insulting.
The Smarty Mommies have been noticing this problem for quite some time. Plenty of people have commented on the weird sexy [insert anything in the world] costumes for women (though few have done it as hilariously as Kristen Schaal on the Daily Show), but it’s beyond that. These are KIDS’ costumes. For children. Small people whose ideas about themselves and about the world are not yet fully formed. Teaching children that girls are only valuable if they are cute, or sexy, or delicate, or pretty, is doing every single one of us a disservice. And that is precisely what these costumes are doing. They are minimizing girls and women. They are reducing us to nothing more than objects. They take away the purpose of the costume -- to be a Stormtrooper – and cheapen it. And let us be crystal fucking clear: They are cheapening and objectifying little girls.
Lin Kramer noticed the very same phenomenon upon entering Party City’s website to search for Halloween costumes for her 3 year old daughter. She was shocked. She was grossed out. She was afraid of the messages these costumes send to girls like her toddler daughter. And she should be. We should all be afraid of what happens when we sexualize and devalue girls and women. So, Lin took action. She wrote an open letter to Party City and posted it on their Facebook page. Not surprisingly, Party City deleted it. And then banned Kramer from their page. For pointing out the gross neglect of selling and advertising costumes that sexualize and degrade little girls.
So, just in case it seems like Kramer was off base, let me show you some of the offerings available from Party City.
I typed in Sesame Street, and got these:
Typed in Minions, and got this:
Typed in skeleton, and got this:
Typed in firefighter, and they didn’t even offer a firefighter costume in the girls’ section. Typed in doctor, and they didn’t offer a doctor costume in the girls’ section, either.
So what are we saying to our little girls? That they’re incapable of achieving in certain fields? That unless they’re wearing a short, poufy skirt or looking “cute” or “pretty,” we have no interest in them? That they cannot be treated with the same respect as little boys? That’s not okay. And we shouldn’t allow it. Sometimes kids want to dress up as princesses and fairies and beautiful butterflies. And that is 100% okay. But when kids want to dress up like doctors, or scientists, or teachers, or firefighters, or zombies, or ghosts, shouldn’t we allow them to do that? Why does gender come into play here? There is no reason to put a firefighter in a dress. There is no reason for a farmer to wear a short skirt. There is no reason that a soldier would wear a skin-tight bodysuit.
We, as consumers, have the power to begin to institute change. You might remember Target’s powerful decision in August to remove gender labels in their toy section after a consumer’s tweet went viral. And Disney recently decided to list costumes simply as “costumes for kids” or “costumes for baby” rather than separating by gender. So, let's take charge of the way our kids see themselves and each other. If your child asks to be a firefighter, show her the costume that actually looks like a firefighter. Talk with your kids about why it’s silly for a police costume to have a bitty, frilly skirt. Show your sons and daughters examples of real women in these roles. Set the expectation that women and men are capable of the same things and should be treated as such. Teach your kids that showing your body isn’t what makes you important. Don’t buy costumes that minimize and sexualize our daughters.
Let’s change the paradigm, Smarties. It starts with us.