If you’re a parent who struggled to find an appropriate costume for your child this Halloween, you’re not alone.
“There’s a lot of gender stereotyping that goes on,” said Richard Weissbourd, a child and family psychologist at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
In a nutshell, boys get the superhero and cool career costumes while girls get to choose from costumes that are cute and increasingly sexy.
READ MORE: The sexification of Halloween
Gender bias isn’t just limited to Halloween, of course. But it can be especially problematic with costumes as it can affect how kids view their role in society.
“We want girls to be athletes and scientists and astronauts, and political leaders and business leaders. And you don’t see costumes that are geared toward those professional options,” Weissbourd said. “
“I do think this is a problem.”
It’s something seven-year-old Shaelyn Adams, from California, took real issue with this year. She’s always been drawn to career costumes, and has dressed up as an astronaut, doctor and UPS driver in previous years.
Shaelyn decided to write an open letter to her local costume retailer Party City after a disappointing trip there that made her realize how few career costume choices there were for girls.
“There was a waitress, a cop (in a dress), and a pop star. I don’t think that those should be the only costumes for girls. When I checked online, the boys had 24 career costumes and the girls only had seven.”
To the critics who say “just buy it from the boys section,” her mom says: “You are missing the point.”
Shaelyn suggested the store provide not only more options, but a career costume section that isn’t divided by gender.
Around the same time, John Marcotte also joined the fight. He’s a father of two girls aged 10 and eight, and the founder of the site Heroic Girls. A couple weeks ago, he started the #morethancute hashtag “to inspire girls and their parents to create costumes that tell girls that — even though they are adorable — that is not the only thing society values and it is not the only thing they should dream to be.”
The campaign quickly went viral.
Gender bias not just a girl issue
As frustrating as gender stereotyping can be for girls, one expert says it can be even more constraining for boys.
“I don’t think it’s all that brave for a parent to put their daughter in a doctor costume,” argued sociologist Lisa Wade of Occidental College.
“It’s a lot more risky for a parent to put a little boy in a nurse costume.”
So it should come as little surprise then that research shows boys don’t see themselves as child workers or nurses even though “those can be wonderful careers for boys,” Weissbourd said.
Still, some parents are brave enough to break the mold.
(Side note: When I posted this photo on Twitter, one woman said it was “inappropriate” and suggested I take it down.)
“We value masculine things for everybody — for girls and boys. But we devalue feminine things and femininity very, very deeply — especially for boys. And that I think is the last frontier.
“That is what we really need to change.”