Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Thoughts on Costumes: Gender Stereotyping

In last Saturday's entry,  I wrote my thoughts on the trend of sexy costumes aimed at women and even young girls, something that has parents riled every year. Though I'm not a parent, I still see stories about this in newspapers and on the Internet.  In that blogpost,  I quoted the following from this news story :

When it comes to Halloween costumes, boys can still be ninjas, doctors and mad scientists. A box of popcorn, even. Men can still be bananas or beer cans. ....

I then stated the following:

I always thought food, beverage, inatimate objects and various humorous costumes were designed for both genders!  A girl I used to work with even came as a banana two years ago, when the above article was written!  Apparently people think that these are now for men only.   But I see no reason for that. All of you women out there who've been bothered by the lack options other than "sexy this-or-that" did you ever consider this: If I went into a store and bough a banana or beer can, would someone tell me I can't wear those because I'm a  woman? Would they tell me to get a  "sexy___" instead?  If I want to do this ever, I will!  If a man can humorously put on a dress, then there is no reason a woman can't wear a beer can costume.  

At least most people believe the tourist costume is a unisex one.  Almost ever site that sells this one has both a man and woman modelling it, with the woman on the left side of the photo:

Tacky Tourist Adult Costume

Tacky Traveler  Adult Costume

If you want to make this yourself, it's quite easy. Just get a tropical-print, beige shorts, sandals, a hat and some leis and you're good to go. However, look at this do-it-yourself idea from this site:

The American tourist: Guys loud Hawaii shirt, shorts (if weather permits), Large straw hat. Gals bright loud dress, flats, big sun hat, straw bag. Don't forget to have a camera, and maps hanging out, and that look of being lost. Guys can use a tourist bag, (like you get from travel agents, and gals can use the straw bag for their treats. 

Wait a minute!  I thought girls could wear shorts, too! I've been wearing shorts since I was kid! I actually made this one myself a couple years ago and I used beige shorts, almost like those in the pictures of the store-bought versions.  Stating that girls should wear a tropical-print dress is just one of the stereotypes costumes today seem to be perpetuating.   Pirate costumes for women often have skirts instead of pants--have costume makers forgotten that women wear pants, too????

I thought that costumes representing food, beverages and inatimate objects were supposed to be gender-neutral.  I've been noticing these for sale for a few years now, but it was around that time that the sexy trend began emerging.   But is there really any reason that women can't wear a beer-can costume or a banana? I actually saw a girl (whom I used to work with) wearing a banana one year.   The banana costume shown Banana Deluxe Child Costume from contains five reviews, four of which were from parents who bought it for their daughters.  

A box of popcorn costume just for boys?  Um, they show a girl modeling this one.Movie Night Popcorn  Child Costume

A New York Times article from 2006 stated the following:

“Decades after the second wave of the women’s movement, you would expect more of a gender-neutral range of costumes,” said Adie Nelson, the author of “The Pink Dragon Is Female: Halloween Costumes and Gender Markers,” an analysis of 469 children’s costumes and how they reinforce traditional gender messages that was published in The Psychology of Women Quarterly in 2000.

While researching “Pink Dragon,” Dr. Nelson found that even costumes for little girls were gendered. Boys got to be computers while the girls were cupcakes. Today, there are bride costumes for little girls but one is hard pressed to find groom costumes for little boys. Additionally, Dr. Nelson said, the girls’ costumes are designed in ways that create the semblance of a bust where there is none. “Once they’re older women it’s just a continuation of that same gender trend,” she said.

Again,  why shouldn't an inatimate object like a computer be for girls as well?  Girls use them, too, what are these people thinking?   On the other  hand, a boy in a cupcake costume is likely to get teased.  As for a boy trying to be a groom on Halloween: all grooms wear is a plain old tuxedo--how can you  convince everyone you're supposed to be a groom?  Put on some nerdy glasses with a tuxedo and you might be able to pass yourself off as Bill Gates.  Put on a tux, do your hair right and you can be Pee Wee Herman.  But really, how can you convince everyone you're supposed to be a groom?  

One of the biggest gender stereotypes perpetuated by Halloween costumes are those of the doctor vs. nurse. It's as if costume  makers have forgotten that both professions are held by both men and women.  As this blogger stated:

I thought the whole girl = nurse/boy = doctor thing was so last decade?? Guess not. Not to say there is anything wrong with being a nurse, because there isn't. But to lead girls to believe that they don't have the option to be a doctor and boys to believe that they cannot be a nurse is outdated and damaging. 

Very right!  Almost all of the nurse costumes sold are for women and are of the sexy variety and look nothing like a real-life Pink Nurse Costumenurse in gender-neutral scrubs.   Doctor costumes, on the other hand, look like their real-life counterparts, and there's no reason a girl should be allowed to buy and wear one.  Some may just want to do so.  Most boys, on the other  hand, would not want to wear any of the nurse costumes available.  Although this nurse costume looks more like real-life nurse uniform (pictured above),  most likely it made in pink to get men to not want to wear it.  Same with this vet costume for children. It is likely in pink so boys won't want to wear it.  Pink Vet Child Costume

And here's an interesting  quote about costume stereotypes (the full story is here):

Their costumes reflect the gender stereotypes we and Hollywood have been trying to instill in them at an early age. The girls dress up as princesses and fairies and anything else pretty. We give the boys guns and capes and encourage the machoism out of them. If your girl wants to strut her power she has Catwomen, Supergirl or Violet from the Incredibles to choose from. And your pretty much out of luck if your boy wants to be an angel. 

Good point about angels for boys.  Angels are almost always personified as females.  and girls have plenty of opportunities to be devils, even though many she-devil outfits fall into the racy variety. 

And from this blog:

I hope she answered the "where's the monsters" query with "Apparently Target thinks only men can be monsters -- isn't that stupid?" (referencing this article)

Very stupid indeed!  And another commenter says:

...I'll add that there's no reason this woman (or the kids' dad) couldn't buy her kids a boy's costume -- a monster, or gorilla, or what-have-you. Or even make her kids a costume.

Yeah, there is no reason she couldn't do any of  this!

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