For the past two Halloweens, both of my young sons have chosen to dress up as female characters instead of male ones.
Last year, my youngest went as Sabine Wren, the artist provocateur from Star Wars Rebels, and this year my oldest is dressing up as Valka, the mother of Hiccup in How to Train Your Dragon 2.
And to be honest, I never gave either costume a second thought even though every Halloween there seems to be a debate about whether boys should be allowed to dress up as princesses and other female characters.
As a father, I couldn’t care less. Since they were very young, my boys have been passionate fans of everything from Bob the Builder to Hello Kitty, light saber battles to fairy wands, toy tool benches to kid-sized kitchens. Gender roles, gender constructs, or gender binaries just aren’t a thing we do in our family. I mean, their first memories are of a working mom in a military uniform and a stay-at-home dad with a diaper bag. And when I look at my boys, I don’t wonder what kind of men they will be. I wonder what kind of people they will be. We live this way not in spite of our Christian faith, but because of it. It actually grows out of our understanding of who God is. As a priest and a dad, I teach my children that God transcends and includes all genders, of God being he and she and beyond both, and that is the very image of God in which we are made.
Of all the things to fret and worry about as a parent, whether my son dresses up as a male or female character for Halloween is pretty low on the list. Frankly, I think cavities are probably a bigger holiday concern this time of year.
Frankly, I think my kids have chosen awesome costumes for just the right reasons. They didn’t chose Sabine or Valka because they were women, but because they like who those characters are (although it would be totally legitimate and just fine if they did chose those characters because they were women). My youngest loved Sabine for her artistic sensibilities and the way she stood up to the Empire not just with weapons but with a spray can and sneaky art. My oldest loves Valka because he sees himself in her, a person who loves, communicates to, and wants to protect endangered animals.
So, no, I’m not worried about my sons dressing up as female characters. In fact, I celebrate it — not primarily because they are dressing up as female characters, but because they are choosing characters for healthy, positive reasons that reflect their personalities and their developing values.And that has not always been the case, of course.I just can’t seem to be concerned when my kid chooses their costumes based on a love of art or a desire to care for wounded animals when in the past they have each dressed up as Darth Vader for Halloween. I mean, which is more troubling: A boy who dresses up as a girl for Halloween or a kid who dresses up as a genocidal maniac who destroys planets and slaughters children?
Through the way Halloween costumes are marketed and sold, children are already being taught gender roles and societal expectations about what a man or a woman is and that there are only male and female characters. If I arbitrarily restrict my sons to “boy costumes” only, I’m teaching them something that will last throughout their childhood and beyond — that there are only boys and girls and that there are only certain ways that boys and girls can act. And that there is no overlap, that girls can’t be military heroes like his mother and that boys can’t be homemakers like his father.
In other words, I’d be teaching and reinforcing a lie not just about gender, but about our lives.
However, if we walk down the costume aisle and see not “girl costumes” and “boy costumes” but a variety of characters and identities we can try on and test out without judgment then perhaps we can begin to prepare our children for their own inevitable exploration of identity and values that will happen later in life.
So, in a way, I think the gender of Halloween costumes are actually quite important and I am quite worried about it, because Halloween costumes directly reinforce gender stereotypes and binary gender constructs from a very young age. Because from a young age, a boy will learn that the beautiful, lacy fairy wings are not meant for him. Instead, as a boy, he is meant for the raging Hulk costume, swords, and guns in our culture. A boy will learn that the princess with its dazzling beauty and jewelry are not meant for him. Rather, in our society, he is meant for muscles and violence.
How much better would it be for the boy with the wings be given the opportunity to fly rather than caged?
How much better for the boy with the tiara be given the chance to see himself as beautiful rather than as an ugly distortion?
Note: This post is from the perspective of the father of two sons. There are really important e concerns regarding hypersexualized costumes for girls that I don’t mention here, but are no less critical and important to this conversation.
Image Credit: Stéfan, Flickr Used Under Creative Commons