Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. I've loved it since I was a kid, since it was one of a few opportunities during the year I was able to be a totally new character, or dress up like whatever I wanted to be when I grew up. So many kids see Halloween as a chance to take a risk and do something they want to do but can't any other days of the year. That's why it makes me sad when their enthusiasm gets dampened by the subtly sexist things people say about costumes, among the other offensive behaviors that have plagued the holiday in recent years.
I'm consistently amazed that there are teenagers and even adults who, for whatever reason, do not understand the horrible history of dressing in black-, brown-, red- and yellowface, or that it's a terrible idea to dress up as a cultural stereotype for Halloween, or who think there’s something funny about dressing up like murdered Black children or famous domestic abuse perpetrators and victims. Fortunately, thanks to social media, this kind of behavior is called out and people have learned (although far too slowly) that these "costumes" are nothing if not awful. Still, many more people do, unfortunately, let more subtle expressions of sexism and other kinds of bigotry slip when talking about kids' and others' costumes.
The following subtle (and not-so-subtle) sexist digs on kids' Halloween costumes and makeup are pretty common. If you've got a neighbor or in-law you just know will have something like this to say when they see your child's choice of a costume, you might practice a clever retort, or just shoot them a sideways glance, tune them out, and/or just enjoy some pilfered halloween candy as you walk away.
“Well, At Least They’re Just Dressed Like *That* One Day Of The Year”
Usually aimed at parents and/or kids whose costume doesn't fit prevailing gender norms, this one suggests that there's something wrong with letting kids express themselves outside of a very narrow range of what's "acceptable" for their gender. Welp. At least we know who to avoid if our kid ever comes out as trans.
“Did They Not Have Any More Boy/Girl Costumes?”
Oooh. The extra slippery "shame-y judgment dressed up like an innocent question" move. Whatever costume a child is wearing, is the costume they and their families have settled on. If we can't all be nice about it — and that's for real nice, not subtle attempts at shaming masquerading as nice — we should at least be quiet.
“Oh! You’re Such A Cute [Gendered Label For A Gender-less Role]”
There's no such thing as a "boy nurse," or a "girl doctor," or a "boy teacher," or a "girl engineer." There are just nurses, doctors, teachers, and engineers. Modifying job titles or other roles with a gender teaches kids that people like them don't normally get to be in those roles, or that it's somehow different or even weird when they are.
“Should A Little Boy Really Wear *That* In Public?”
Yep. He should wear whatever he wants, as long as he's comfortable and not hurting anyone and safe from the elements.
“What Message Is *That* Sending When She Knocks On Doors?”
Kids wear makeup and otherwise pretend to be grown-ups, or scary characters, and lots of other things on Halloween. Some folks aren't into that, though, and take it as their cue to shame kids or parents for letting their kids look "trashy" or some such. Ugh.
“[Anything That Suggests A Girl Or Teen Should Be Wearing The "Sexy” Or "Girl" Version Of A Costume]”
I'm not categorically against the "Sexy [Whatever]" trend; I think grown people should feel free show off or express their sexuality whenever they want, Halloween included.
However, the idea that anyone, especially girls and young women, should feel like they have to wear something close-fitting or revealing bothers me. It's especially problematic that even young kids whose bodies really aren't that different yet, are given the choice of the "boy version" of a costume, which is a full garment, or the "girl version," which is often unnecessarily sexualized.
“Well, No More Candy For You, Miss! That Costume Is About To Burst!”
For the record: not-so-subtly fat-shaming a child, or denying them treats (which is the point of the holiday after all) is crummy regardless of the child's gender. That it's probably more likely to happen to girls because of people's heightened expectations for what they look like (and closer-cut costumes), is just sexist icing on a stale, outdated cake.
“I’ve Never Seen A Boy/Girl Be [A Traditionally Opposite-Gender Costume]”
This is the kind of thing that may not seem like a big deal to an adult, but can be really problematic if said directly to a kid. Kids are still learning how to be in the world, so when adults suggest that they're doing something "wrong," it can really rattle them.
I pick and choose my battles when it comes to people saying problematic stuff to me, but I always choose to say something if they say it directly to my kid. Simply saying something that affirms the child — "Plenty of folks I know have done that. I admire their costume talents, just like I admire yours." — is often enough.
“Are You Worried Letting Them Wear That Sends A Bad Message?”
It seems like when people are concerned about something another parent (especially a progressive parent) is doing, they ask they parent if they're "worried" about it. Good parents are worried about a lot of things, but their kids feeling free to express themselves in harmless ways isn't usually one of them.
“When I Was Young, Little Boys/Girls Would Never Be Allowed To Wear That”
"Good thing times have changed, then! I'm glad people are becoming more accepting of kids getting to be who they truly are. Or who they truly aren't, on Halloween."