Is Your Child's Halloween Costume Sending the Wrong Message?

The offending Spider-Girl costume. Photo: TumblrA Marvel Spider-Girl costume — consisting of a silver mask and a pink polyester dress with a spider on its chest — is just the latest gender-stereotyped girls’ getup to hit shelves for Halloween. “It’s not just the default pink for girls thing, or the default skirt for girls, or how this costume looks nothing like Spider-Girl’s costume, but that this is an official Marvel product and they have the comic heroine on the front so you can see just how wrong it is,” writes Tumblr user Ami Angelwings, who spotted the little number at Walmart recently. “Like, if your child likes Spider-Girl and wants to dress up as her, wouldn’t they be really disappointed at this costume?”

Great question, Ami, as the real Spider-Girl looks just like Spiderman, only curvier. While some kids, of course, might really want a pink Spider-Girl dress, the problem, experts tell Yahoo Shine, is that this costume and countless others like it — including the pink Batgirl tutu, the police girl uniform that’s skirted, an inexplicable Joker dress for girls, and this other bizarre version of the pink Spider-Girl — send reckless, disempowering messages to both girls and boys.

More on Yahoo: 5 Easy DIY Halloween Costumes

“I think it says to girls that everything they do has to fit in one small box—because even if they don’t want to be a princess, the Spider Man costume looks like a princess,” developmental psychologist Christia Spears Brown, author of the forthcoming book “Parenting Beyond Pink and Blue,” tells Yahoo Shine. “It says, ‘Your gender is more important than the costume,’ and ‘Being a girl is the most important thing about you.’”

The real Spider-Girl is fierce (Marvel/Wikipedia). “To boys,” she adds, “it says that girls can never be equivalent, which is a message that’s just as dangerous when we want to have boys and girls be friends and interact with one another. But with this, they learn that even if both are interested in Spiderman, it just can’t be the same.”

When boys see these costumes, New York child psychologist Jennifer Hartstein, author of “Princess Recovery,” tells Yahoo Shine, “it makes it challenging for them to see girls as equals.” The costumes also contribute to the overall pretty-obsessed ideal for girls, she adds.

“This is another example as to how girls are encouraged to focus on appearance, rather than on what they might want,” Hartstein says. “When they are not given options, it makes things that much more challenging.”

A Mighty Girl, a blog and online girl-empowerment marketplace, has heard over and over again this season from parents who are frustrated by the lack of “princessized” costumes and who can’t necessarily deal with building a costume from scratch. “The concern we have with the trend is that costumes have become very one-dimensional: They have to have either an accepted feminization element, or they are sexualized,” A Mighty Girl founder Carolyn Danckaert tells Yahoo Shine. “If a girl wants to wear a skirt, fine. But we’re about providing options for girls.”

To that end, she says, her staff “dug deep” to create a guide of nearly 300 costumes, many of them unisex, that meet their good-for-girls criteria. “One, they weren’t sexualized,” Danckaert explains. “And two, they provided girls with a variety of options and a wide range of interests, and that the costume actually looks as it’s intended — that it really looks like a firefighter uniform.”

Clever options on the site include the firefighter, a wizard, an owl, a doctor, Amelia Earhart, Catwoman, Dora the Explorer, Alice in Wonderland, and assorted witches and superheroes. “Of course, we do have plenty of costumes with skirts, especially for costumes where they fit the character depicted," Danckaert says. In addition, their Facebook page, A Mighty Girl Halloween, highlights cool, real-kid costumes from readers.

“Parents have to be OK buying the regular Spider-Man costume [for their daughters],” notes Spears Brown. “Sometimes they’re afraid to cross the gender aisle in Toys R Us, but marketers aren’t going to do it for us.” As she tells her 9-year-old daughter about hypersexualized tween costumes, “Just because that’s what others may be wearing, and just because it’s being sold and marketed as an appropriate girls’ costume, doesn’t make it OK,” she says. “I think parents have to be comfortable exerting that control.”

Finally, Hartstein notes, “children are children, and toys are toys. Creating such a separation is damaging to both genders, and leads to challenges as they grow and develop.”

Related:
Halloween Costumes That Shouldn't Be Sexy: Food Edition
Disney Princess Makeover Sparks Outrage: Merida Petition Goes Viral