Give kids the treat of a wide variety of Halloween costume choices

Don’t be tricked by costumes that perpetuate narrow and hurtful gender stereotypes.

When choosing Halloween costumes, it’s easy to be tricked into thinking that girls and boys can only dress up as princesses or superheroes. Stroll through one part of a store’s Halloween section and you’ll notice an array of “girl” costumes featuring pinks and other soft pastels and labeled with words like “cute,” “sweet” and “pretty.” Move into the next section and you’ll see “boy” costumes featuring lots of reds and blues, fake muscles, and a focus on weapons and action. If you look a little further, you’ll see costumes that are marketed to teens. While this section might have more focus on the scary and ghoulish aspects of Halloween, you’ll also notice that the girls’ costumes are often highly sexualized.

There are many ways to provide Halloween costume choices for kids that can make the experience a more meaningful treat. In their book, Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters From Marketers’ Schemes, authors Lyn Mike Brown and Sharon Lamb emphasize the importance of helping girls confront limiting gender stereotypes by tapping into their creativity and wholeness. Michigan State University Extension stresses that girls can dress up as people who do brave and amazing things. They can design costumes of women they admire (like their favorite athlete or a historical figure) or someone they’d like to learn more about, such as a scientist they’re learning about in school.  If a girl is really focused on having a pink and glittery costume, encourage her to create a costume that has an action component, such as a pink superhero. Brown and Lamb also suggest that if a girl loves the scary aspects of Halloween, you can encourage her to create a costume that features the ghoulish and frightening aspects of a ghost or skeleton (or another kind of Halloween character), as opposed to the “seductive scary” costumes so prevalent in stores.

In another book titled Packaging Boyhood: Saving Our Sons From Superheroes, Slackers, and Other Marketing Stereotypes, Brown and Lamb, along with their co-author Mark Tappan, provide similar suggestions for helping boys think outside the box when choosing Halloween costumes. Encourage them to be inspired by a range of male role models that go beyond those with superpowers, big weapons and revenge-seeking motives. Help boys use their imaginations to create “traditional” scary costumes like Frankenstein or ghosts or to dress up as a someone they admire or want to learn more about.

Since children learn about gender stereotypes from many sources including books, toys, television, and the language and behaviors of the people around them, talking about these issues is important during the Halloween season and throughout the year. It’s also important for the adults in their lives to be aware of ways that messages about gender, and about other kinds of human differences, can translate into hurtful language and bullying behaviors. For example, a 2012 study conducted by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) surveyed kids in grades 3-6 and their elementary teachers about experiences with biased remarks and bullying. The study found that 23 percent of the students said that the reason kids get bullied is for being a boy who acts or looks “too much like a girl” or a girl who acts or looks “too much like a boy.”

Halloween can provide a perfect time for conversations about gender messages and opportunities for kids to try on new roles, identities and possibilities – all of which can influence kids’ choices long after the last piece of Halloween candy has been eaten.

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