Editors' Note: Guest blogger Cassandra Keenan is a professional journalist living in Las Vegas who works as a copy editor for print media. She also writes about gender, trans issues, queer sexuality and other LGBTQ topics on her blog.
I was recently browsing Halloween costumes online, via Web sites such as Target.com. If you do the same, you'll notice that the scariest monster you'll come across is the one that holds up a giant mirror and shows us how little social progress we've made as far as relaxing and even abolishing our unwritten gender rules.
Not to my surprise, the vast majority of girls' costumes I browsed consisted of skirts and dresses, or generally outfits that rendered them as objects of beauty and allure: a cheerleader, a princess, Little Red Riding Hood, a "sexy" witch. With boys' costumes, the vast majority were superheroes, sports figures, villains and other fantasy- and reality-based get-ups that revolved around traditionally boyish stuff, infused with themes of aggression, bravery, virility, power and status. A doctor, a gorilla, a ninja, a football player, a monster.
So I was reminded once more that the Haunted Holiday is a time when the rules of gender are strongly reinforced. But interestingly, it's also a time when those rules are more apt to be flagrantly broken.
Parents and guardians enforce the gender rules day in and day out, 365 days a year. They're the ones who ultimately make the decisions as far as how their kids will present themselves. But that role comes into play even more during costume shopping, because unlike the rest of the year, apparel takes on a more hyper-masculine or hyper-feminine flair. How likely would it be to see a dad grant approval for his boy to go trick-or-treating as Hannah Montana?
Of course, another way gender rules are reinforced is through the manner in which costumes are marketed -- certain ones are for boys, while others are for girls. Again, it's the same principle that applies year-round, but it seems to take on added significance during Halloween season. Same goes for our stuffy and simplistic way of viewing sexual and gender identity -- our regressive mentality regarding those matters seems magnified many times over.
Luckily, Halloween also is a time that presents an opportunity to transgress gender norms. It's a time when closeted queers and the gender-confused or those who are merely curious have a chance to express themselves and experiment without being targeted and harassed. It's the one time of year when customers are not considered nearly as suspect if they purchase something that onlookers would typically expect the opposite sex to be purchasing.
Normally, one of the biggest hurdles for individuals who want to feel out what it's like to dress and behave like the opposite sex is the stigma that is attached to shopping for the clothing and accessories. Having been in situations like that during an earlier period of my life, I say that from personal experience. My panicking heart used to feel like it was going to eject via my eyeballs when I waited near the register to procure my lipstick, nail polish and other traditionally girlie merchandise. In fact, I aborted many a shopping trip due to that crippling anxiety. But that fear became tolerable during that one magic time of year: Halloween.
I'm lucky enough to have reached a point where I don't have to worry about such things any longer. But come November, the old rules go back into effect, causing discomfort to those customers who are in fact intimidated.
If only people had the more open-minded attitude year-round.