What are you going to be for Halloween?

It feels like a different question than it used to be – and maybe that is because I work in sexual violence prevention, and maybe it’s because I’m not a kid anymore, but when it comes to picking out Halloween costumes, there are some important things to consider!

I know that you can walk into any Halloween store and find a wide assortment of costumes, but look closer and you will find some problems. The one I hear about most from my friends and colleagues is the strict gendering of costumes – while the “boy” version of the costume will closely resemble the character, uniform, or profession, the “girl” version may be drastically altered to be more form fitting and show more skin. Let’s be real – it’s the “sexy” version of the costume. You can see the difference in this photo:

These gendered costumes have a few problems –they sexualize young girls and they reinforce the harmful gender stereotype that a girl’s main role in life is to be pretty or sexy. While it is not wrong for any child to want to be pretty, we can encourage the kids in our lives to use Halloween as a time to explore another character, a profession, or a dream – and that can be about way more than just being “pretty.”

Cultural appropriation is another common problem in the Halloween aisle. This might not stand out as much to you as the “sexy” costumes, but it is just as big of an issue for people like us who care about ending sexual violence.

Haven’t heard about cultural appropriation before? I really like this definition from SJ Sindu:

“Cultural exchange is organic and mutually beneficial, the kind of melting-pot culture that takes place because of trade and peaceful contact between cultures. Cultural appropriation, on the     other hand, is parasitic—it is the use of one culture by another, and usually only the taking culture benefits. It isn’t just about inspiration. It’s about feeling as if you’re entitled to take whatever you feel like from a culture without paying respect to its history or present context.” (You can read her blog post here: http://www.blackgirldangerous.org/2014/09/can-keep-bold-riley-thoughts-c...)

Wearing something that turns someone else’s culture into a costume (like a “geisha” costume) reduces an entire culture into a stereotype. In the sexual violence field, we know that one of the ways that people justify violence against others is by dehumanizing them – reducing a person or people into objects. These kinds of Halloween costumes perpetuate harmful stereotypes about different cultures and contribute to a society where some people are viewed as less human than others. While it is great to have interests in other cultures, wearing a costume that appropriates someone else’s culture does not show respect or interest and that is important to consider when thinking about Halloween costumes.

So, for all of you who are in need of some Halloween costumes, here are a couple of tips for you!

1.  Talk about costumes before you go to the store. Help your kids think creatively, and encourage them to dream big! A childhood friend once dressed up for Halloween as a chainsaw, and it still ranks in the top 5 costumes I’ve ever seen.

2.  Once you have decided on a costume, think about shopping. Can you make the costume yourself? Or if you do want to pick up a costume at the Halloween store, could you go without your kids? Maybe a helpful friend will pick up that size 4T Cookie Monster costume for you! This gives you the ability to pick whatever costume works best regardless of “boy” or “girl” labels, and even a chance to remove any gendered packaging before your kids see it.


3.  Don’t forget to talk about what you and your kids see at the store! Many kids are really into fairness, so maybe you could frame a conversation that way, and ask their opinions about the differences in costumes. This can be an opportunity for you to share your values about self-worth, beauty, and stereotypes, too.

4.  Think about cultural appropriation! People’s identities and cultures are more than just a costume, and you can help your kids understand why these kinds of costumes are not okay. Some things you could say are: “I don’t like the way this costume makes fun of people of ______ culture,” “Dressing up as another person’s culture is not a nice thing to do. You wouldn’t want someone to make fun of you because of your culture, so let’s not do it to others,” or “This costume is a stereotype of _______. Let’s be more creative and find a costume that doesn’t hurt anyone else.”

I hope you have a fun and creative Halloween!



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