hawk eyed feminism: halloween; a celebration of sugar and stereotyping (the gender kind)
Whilst meandering through the second realm of reality, this tweet by @laureningram caught my eye:
Australia is increasingly absorbing and exhibiting the culture brought to us by the great inventors of spray cheese. Halloween is just around the corner, a festivity that is catching on. The above tweet was a pretty good summary of the gender stereotyping that has been rife within children’s dress ups and toys (we’ll tackle that one another day).
But hey, its 2012 now, we’re passed this yeah? Like any good writer, I hit up the World Wide Web in search of answers. Now I’m just sticking to kids costumes here — I’m way underprepared to get into what is being marketed to teens and women. Naughty Maid, Heidi Hottie or any kind of sexualised insect i.e. Sexy Bee or Fantasy Butterfly do come to mind though.
Looking through the top ranked websites on Google it appears that boys can be pirates, firemen, super heroes, doctors, ninjas and astronauts. Girls can be fairies, princesses, witches, ladybugs, nurses and skeletons. Oops, I mean Skelton Sweeties. Before you lose your cool, girls can be super heroes too. Just as long as they are pink,i.e. Pink Spider Girl, Pink Bat Girl and Pink Super Girl.
But maybe boys really do just want to be pirates and girls just want to be fairies? Well, I’m now going to delight you with a relevant yet distracting anecdote. Back in the day, my mum and her friend Kathy made kids costumes for their shop, often taking them to other rural towns. I have vivid memories of copious amounts of tulle and Dorothy-the-breaching-copyright-Dinosaur tails. Mum remarked that in general, the girls would go ape for dress ups, not really caring what they could wear as long as it was something neat (by that I mean rad, not 50s housewife style).
Interestingly, the boys almost always wanted to wear the fairy costumes. And why wouldn’t they? They were the brightest, had killer wands to perform woodland magic with and, let’s face it, glitter is kids’ catnip. Sadly though, nine times out of ten this choice was met with disapproval from Mum or a comment along the lines of ‘OK, but we won’t tell Daddy.’ And you thought your eyes couldn’t roll back that far.
So this article may read more like an energetic round of Trouble than a well strategised game of chess but I think the notions of gender stereotyping and children are actually pretty big to tackle. Of course there is absolutely nothing wrong with boys wanting to dress as pirates or doctors and girls as fairies or nurses but why do these costumes need to be marketed and displayed exclusively to one gender? All this does is entrench the idea to young children (and parents) that gender determines who you can and cannot be and what characteristics you can and cannot have.
How can gender stereotyping in children’s costumes be minimised? Is it up to the makers, stores, parents or all of the above?