Of Skimpy Halloween Costumes and Dress Codes

So Flora is going to be a skeleton queen for Halloween this year — I should’ve taken a picture of her sketches, because she did a brilliant job. I went to Amazon to buy a simple skeleton costume for her. We are going to add a multicolored tutu and a tiara, and Day-of-the-Dead stylized face makeup.

This is what I found.

Boy, boy, girl. FAIL.
Boy, boy, girl.

And this was pretty much my reaction.


The whole gendered toy/costume/computer games thing bugs the crap out of me. We display little girls in very girlie costumes, hands on hips, big smiles on. We sell them toys that teach them about fashion and games that turn buying stuff into the whole point. The emphasis is on pretty and in some cases, very inappropriately, sexy.

And then we turn around and tell girls they can’t wear *that* to school because it’s going to be distracting. I could link to at least 10 stories about a tween or teen girl pulled out of class because her shorts were a little short or the straps on her shirt were a little narrow. And she’s the one shamed, and punished, and distracted — not the boys, who may or may not be having unpure thoughts, because “boys will be boys.”

I got into an argument with an older male relative over a skirt that Kate was wearing one day. She’s 8! “It’s too short,” he told me. “Too short for what?” I asked. It was a skort-style denim skirt, so it had built in shorts underneath it, and I bet when Kate put it on she felt pretty and also like she could run around the playground.

I told him not to police Kate’s clothing. I told him that if anyone looked at Kate in her clothes and had sexual thoughts, it wasn’t Kate’s fault or her issue; the issue was with the viewer. His response was that if his daughter went out like that, he’d have hit her. “Kate is not your daughter,” I said, and left the room.

I was MAD.

I’m also right. Kate is an 8-year-old little girl. Flora is 10. But the same will be true when they at 14 and 16 or 20 and 22 — they are not responsible for inappropriate or sexual thoughts that other people have.

It’s time for us to tell boys that they can control themselves. That if a girl has on clothing that emphasizes her physical characteristics, it’s not so he can comment on it. It’s not permission to touch. And, yes, he may have thoughts that make it hard for him to concentrate, momentarily, on his math work, but guess what. He’s strong enough to bring his thoughts back to where they need to be.

It’s not up to girls to police boys’ thoughts about them. It’s time for us to let boys know we have enough faith in them to do the right thing. To treat girls and women with value and respect. That some skin isn’t carte blanche to use hands on someone else’s body. That only “yes” means yes.

And in the meantime, we have to let girls be children too: let them run and jump and get messy, not put them on display. Ask them what books they are reading and why they like them. Let them be loud and say no. Teach them it’s okay not to like everyone, but it’s not okay to be mean; and it’s okay when people don’t like them. Life isn’t a popularity contest.

Let them speak up and speak out. We have to teach girls that they have voices, and they deserve to be heard, not just looked at.

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