This is 1.5 holidays late, but that’s how we’re rolling at the Moonlight Mile HQ, where we have been very busy proofreading homework, fulfilling other writing obligations and making tons of Thanksgiving food. From scratch.
Halloween provided a candy bowl of opportunities to reflect on what costume purveyors market to our most impressionable consumers-in-training:
These are purportedly an Alice in Wonderland (crossed with a French maid), some sort of feline, a zombie (crossed with a ballerina in a prom dress), a “spider-girl” in go-go boots, and (drumroll) a “Buckaroo beauty child.” Not that they look like any of those things. They’re just a bunch of multi-colored short skirts. So limited, and so limiting. And outside of Arizona or Florida, their wearers would be freezing cold.
The sexualization of Halloween seems absurd, like someone misread the directions. It says SPOOKY, not SEXY! But I’m no match for the tsunami of slutty Made-in-China costume options. So we do our own thing. However. The universe has been reminding me that this unfortunate situation is not restricted to a single holiday, and it could use some attention.
My daughter’s school had a Western-themed dress-up day last week (she wore jeans, plaid shirt, boots and bandana) and I thought I’d send her a cowgirl GIF for our midday text exchange.
These pop up when you search cowgirl:
Not what I had in mind or wanted to express to my cowgirl. I hunted in vain, then gave up and searched cowboy, and lo, up popped up fully clothed, non-sexualized cowboys of all stripes. Cartoon, live action, funny, serious, tough, not tough. A spectrum of cowboy expression. My daughter gets annoyed by gender stereotypes anyway, so I texted a cowboy GIF of Dwight Shrute from The Office. She replied quickly with a cowboy Clint Eastwood. It was a full conversation, in our parlance.
But how one-dimensional those cowgirl offerings were. Just like the costumes. And it doesn’t take a PhD to see how depicting females as objects to be displayed might prime girls to be receptive/captive to more overt media messages later in life that foster feelings of inadequacy – feelings soothed by spending a lifetime of disposable income on products to enhance/correct/hide “flaws.” And prime boys to see them that way as well.
This has been going on forever. We accept them, sometimes barely notice them. Which of course reinforces them. And oh, I don’t know…this fall somehow feels like a good time to mention that it’s BULLSHIT and SHOULD PROBABLY STOP.
From costumes to formal attire to younger and younger girls wearing makeup and skimpy clothing, families, friends and strangers assess and validate girls based on their appearances. Magazines, broadcast media and internet culture lock this cycle into place.
Kids grow into TV news anchors freezing their asses off in low-cut, sleeveless, thigh-high cocktail dresses and high heels, makeup even on their arms to make biceps look better. And they grow into the comfortably shod, fully-clothed-in-business-attire men sitting next to those women. And into the men who hire the women and oversee the costume department that shortens and tightens their clothes. The kids also become the male and female viewers staring at the screen and listening to reports on Syrian refugees drowning and North Korean missiles firing, unconsciously taking male anchors more seriously and consciously picking apart female anchors’ hair, makeup, clothing.
These lunatic double standards have less obvious, but just as harmful, manifestations in other professions.
It’s worse than just unfair and insidious. This stuff lodges in all our psyches and shapes our lives, reducing us and reinforcing a culture that has come a long way (from 100 years ago, when we couldn’t vote, to 50 years ago, when we needed a husband’s permission for birth control, to 25 years ago, when some women weren’t allowed to wear pants to work) but still doesn’t remotely resemble equality.
It’s reassuring to acknowledge progress. But many of us are thinking hard about why we remain mired in such gender-based imbalances in power, along with an unholy amount of sexual harassment. (Pete asked me if I’d ever experienced harassment at a job, and I thought and realized I couldn’t think of any job where it had not happened. To me, directly. And I’ve had a lot of jobs.)
I leave it to the scientists to figure out what the hell is up with testosterone. The rest of us can and should think about the role our culture plays in producing unacceptably high numbers of men who demean and assault women and girls in seemingly endless ways.
The (usually male-controlled) industries manufacturing and marketing sexy costumes, preying magazines and cosmetics are not going to voluntarily de-sexy anything. So let’s not waste time thinking about disrupting the supply chain. Let’s reduce demand instead. Because extricating our daughters from the clutches of a culture that wants to position them as lifelong sex objects will be good for us. Every time a girl spends more time on her science homework than her eyelash extensions or pubic waxing, we all win. Girls deserve to explore who they are apart from the crushing pressure of what society tells them they should be or do or look like.
Toward this goal, these are some things Pete and I do with our daughters (Parents with sons, how do you teach these values? This list can work for all, though the bikinis and skirt items have a narrower focus):
I NEVER comment on my body negatively in front of them. Not even obliquely, as in “I can’t eat that, it’s so fattening.”
We NEVER comment on anyone’s body negatively.
We QUICKLY offer a different perspective when someone else does so. (Watching the Super Bowl in a group that included teens and young girls, a woman berated Katy Perry for looking fat; I countered that she looked strong and fabulous and anyway the point was her singing, right? Which felt herculean because I can’t stand Katy Perry.)
We JUST DON’T talk about people’s looks. We talk about their interests and achievements.
We TAKE THAT further, and let girls choose how they want to present themselves to the world. Pants at formal events? Fine, wear nice pants. Hair up, hair down, who cares? We don’t squeeze them into someone else’s mold.
I SET AN EXAMPLE, conveying through actions (like skipping makeup for days) that appearance is not my main focus. And I can’t think of how else to put this: don’t dress like a single person looking for action unless that’s what you are. Even then, should daughters really see Mom shrink-wrapped in skintight clothes with boobs spilling out?
We ALWAYS emphasize that exercise is fun and improves sleep, mood, immune system health, energy and strength to protect our aging backs. It’s not about ‘fitting into my jeans.’
NO bikinis/Snapchat/concerts featuring artists with X-rated/misogynistic lyrics. Not sure what age will feel right to us on some of this, or how things will play out in the future with our younger one, who is pop culture-loving (I predict tears and begging). But sexy swimsuits, and other trappings of older adolescence, don’t seem wise yet. Our media is so sexualized that social precociousness means sexual precociousness. Why do anything to move the needle in that direction?
We DON’T WATCH vapid crap on TV. No housewives of wherever or women “competing” for bachelors. Let’s not repeat the Three’s Company/Charlie’s Angels mistakes of our youth.
We WATCH things in which women are clothed and ideally, being some sort of badasses.
Let’s build on the part of our culture attuned to more than the male gaze and its object. And let’s not wait till next Halloween.
Accompanying description says “Make mouths water. Grab a slice.” I think we can do better. Do NOT grab the slice.