Sunday, October 29, 2006

Fear Thy Neighbor

Halloween becomes more disturbing every year, it seems. Others have already commented on the appalling Halloween costumes for girls and women being advertised everywhere this year. Even the New York Times has recorded the phenomena as an excuse to post salacious pictures.

I was naively shocked by the sexism of the costumes in the Toys-R-Us insert in the Sunday paper a few weeks ago, not only by the sexualized girls' costumes and the child-porn attitudes in which the 8 to 10-year-old girls modeling them were photographed, but also by the utterly stereotyped division between boys' and girls' costumes. All of the girls' costumes depicted anonymous, passive characters to be pursued, possessed, adored or feared by men. Princesses, fairies, cheerleaders, demon-ettes, etc. The costumes that came near suggesting an active role in real or imaginary life -- a vaguely military costume, a witch -- were also the most suggestively depicted. Meanwhile, the boys' costumes were all action characters --mostly cartoon superheroes, in aggressive, energetic poses. They jumped, kicked, gesticulated, brandished weapons, without a single coy smile or out-thrust hip among them. Many of the boys' costumes could have had female counterparts but didn't -- there was no Wonder Woman, no Superwoman. Scantily-clad as these characters are in their native environment, the tights-and-trunks look in Halloween costumes for boys generally translates into loose-fitting nylon pajamas, far less revealing than this year's typical witch (whatever happened to long black robes, anyway?). And it is hard to imagine anyone posing Wonder Woman pigeon-toed with her little finger in her mouth. Nor were there any unisex costumes (although anyone might have been behind that ninja turtle mask). Granted, a girl could easily have worn the firefighter's costume, but first she'd have to find it on the boys' costume rack. The whole thing was like the 50's, only with sex.

But what I meant to complain about was the whole trick-or-treating in the mall phenomenon as a symptom--a condensation, really, of everything wrong with the world. We fear our own neighbors, but trust our children to Guess and Wal-Mart.

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