We tell our children that they can be anything they want to when they grow up. And, while they are children, Halloween allows them the freedom to choose a new identity for themselves. Fantasy can become reality. Halloween is desire made real.
I love Halloween. I love the costumes and the kids hyped up on sugar, asserting their independent little selves by speaking to adults and, well, asking for candy.
But this year, I feel a little bit different. I am indignant and annoyed. All because of a little trip to one of those pop-up Halloween stores.
My strong and independent daughter had decided upon her costume: a superhero of her own making, named Fire Girl. Wanting to help her make her dream a reality, I went to the store with her to see if we could find the elements she insisted that she needed for the costume: cape with “flames,” orange mask, red sparkly boots, red and orange dress, and orange tights.
We started off strong, thanks to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and got an orange mask. Check.
But the party stopped there. That is when I asked the salesperson for help.
“Do you have a red cape?” I asked. She said that they did, and walked us over to the other side of the store. The adult side.
The store sure did carry a red cape, and it was pictured on a very grown up portrayal of Little Red Riding Hood. My daughter vetoed it for its lack of flames, but in the meantime, had wandered over to the “fairy” section of the store.
“I don’t want to be Fire Girl anymore,” she said. “Can I be this?” A bright green bustier with a sheer skirt. Sexy Fairy. Crap. “No.” I said, “It’s for grown-ups,” and I steered her over to the other side of the store.
But now that the floodgates of possibility for a new costume were open, I had an even bigger problem on my hands.
The young girls’ costumes are also inappropriate. From the skin-tight, short skirted, high-heeled police officer to the black vinyl go-go dress of the girl firefighter, we were in a minefield of my own making. The boys’ costumes were more in line with what one would actually need to do the job, but the girls’ costumes were inexplicably sexualized and did not resemble the professional attire at all. Raina Delisle, commenting on her own similar experiences Halloween shopping with her daughter (who wanted to be a firefighter), said, “The message this sends is that boys can do the real job and wear the real gear, girls cannot. Girls can only dress up in ensembles that put the focus on their appearance instead of on their abilities.”
I am, of course, not pointing out something that we did not know before. But, as the parent of a five-year-old girl, I am experiencing it first hand, and for the first time.
Back on track, I led my daughter out of the store with our Ninja Turtle mask in hand, quickly assessing what I was prepared to do to make our Halloween one that both my daughter and I could enjoy.
I hitched up my bag, held my daughter’s hand, and we walked into the fabric store.
Let me repeat. The. Fabric. Store.
There are plenty of crafty moms and dads in this world, and sometimes I wish I were one of them. I have, now and again, tried to do the odd project. A poorly knitted scarf here, a Pinterest-fail dessert there.
And now, for this Halloween, I am a seamstress.
There are a lot of wonderful costumes for our girls out there. Ms. Magazine has a fantastic list, from Dolores Huerta to Angela Davis. But for most of them, you are going to need to get crafty.
And so I broke out the dusty Singer sewing machine I had inherited from my sister, and proceeded to read the manual. Several attempts and a lot of frustrated hours later, we had a workable “Fire Girl” costume in place.
In the seventeenth-century, poet Frances Vaughan, in praise of her fellow woman writer Anna Weamys, instructed women to:
Lay by your needles, Ladies, take the pen,
The only difference ‘twixt you and men.
The poem advocates that women set aside their needlework and write, that women’s wit and talent suffers under a blanket of repression and tyranny, most keenly represented by the emphasis placed on “women’s work” such as sewing and household work.
And now, in the twenty first century, how ironic is it that I have to take up the needle once more, this time, to advocate against the tyranny of misogyny and institutionalized sexism that targets even the youngest females.
My daughters, you can be whatever you want to be. But you are going to have to learn be crafty about it.
Melissa Geil is a freelance writer and English teacher. Although originally from New York, she moved to North Carolina the first time for college (go Tar Heels), and now she is back to stay. She enjoys reading, hiking, and gallivanting around the triangle with her family.