It seems we’ve been caught in the trap of a holiday that may be the most sexist day on the American calendar. I’m not even talking about the sexy kitty costumes for adult women. I’m talking about the cute kids’ costumes.
Many of us parents spend the rest of the year working to offset cultural stereotypes. We make sure to present strong role models for our girls, kind role models for our sons and share messages that are, generally, gender neutral. But for several days in October (because Halloween has become a week-long extravaganza, has it not?) we dress our girls, or allow them to dress themselves, as princesses, fairies and ballerinas and our boys as soldiers, construction workers and superheroes. It’s the one day when so many of our kids revert back to what our great-grandparents expected they might be.
On Target’s Web site, we can scroll through dozens of costumes whose designers seemed to miss that whole ERA dust-up. Only under the boys section is there a costume category for “occupation.”
Of course, there are the more creative parents among us who come up with ingenious stereotype-free costumes, such as my friend Holden. Her daughter was adorable as Justice Sotomayor.
In a city like Washington, with the intense intellectuality, we might expect many similar high-minded outfits. But the region is also filled with the workaholics and the over-obligated, who are quick to grab an off-the-shelf costume. Hence the parade of girly girls and manly boys.
This year, I was determined to outsmart these cultural forces. I avoided the princess costumes both my daughters asked for, and instead chose what I thought was the perfect feminist answer: Wonder Woman.
The original cartoon had been a break-out female role model. Yet it was the later 1970s television show that I identified with and upon which the costumes were based. I remembered the show as a celebration of female strength and fortitude.
When the costumes arrived, we ripped open the packaging and tried them on. Very cute. Very short skirts, though nothing some leggings couldn’t fix.
The problem came later, when in trying to convince my daughters that Wonder Woman was a far better character to emulate than voiceless Ariel, I Googled some old episodes.
Very quickly, I realized my memory was wrong.
In the pilot , we first saw Linda Carter jogging on her tippy toes in a gauzy slip on the beach. “Is that Wonder Woman?” my older daughter asked, confused. This was not the hero I’d talked up.
I fast-forwarded to when it looked like superpowers were about to be unleashed. By now Lynda Carter was wearing a costume so tight it’d take special powers to breathe. I let the girls watch as she clumsily air-kicked and bear-hugged the male villains. The whole show was a male fantasy of a really big-hearted dominatrix.
I know, I know. I should have previewed these bits before allowing them to watch our pathetic television history. And, I probably should have repacked those costumes up and sent them back. But I had so promoted Ms. Woman to my girls, that I felt like I was stuck in a magic lasso. (Plus, I fall into the over-obligated camp and I had already allotted too much time to over-thinking Halloween.)
So this year, my girls will join the parade of stereotypes. They will wear the bracelets and little skirts. They won’t challenge any misguided notions of womanhood.
On their feet, though, they’ll wear sneakers. I have to draw the line somewhere. I’m drawing it at the red gogo boots.