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It’s Virtual Halloween at She Writes! Enter Our First-Ever Caption Contest
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Deborah Siegel gets her Halloween on, reveals some not-so-costumed gender assumptions, and kicks off our She Writes Halloween Caption Contest! My twins turned one last week. Our start up here turned 1.25. Needless to say, this is the year Halloween nearly blew me by. I bah-humbugged it all the way to Tuesday. While shopping for diaper wipes online on Wednesday, a neon orange tagline from the crypt—“Last minute deals on Halloween costumes!”—caught my eye. Who in their right mind could resist images of cuddly babies in bear suits? I landed on a bee costume for Baby Girl (just $12!) and a dragon suit for Baby Boy ($18). The joy of these purchases? Priceless. And that’s how it hit me: At one year old, my babies were people. People who wouldn't remember what they wore for their first real Halloween, but people who would newly experience the magic of disguise. What do the disguises I chose for these here babies say to them, to you, to me? Bees are busier and daintier than dragons, and they make honey, though let’s not forget: they sting. Dragons lope, and breathe fire. I thought about a ladybug for my son, to match my daughter’s bee, then vetoed it. He’s really more a dragon-y type of guy. And so it goes. Gendering—imposed by even the feminist among us—begins. “Babies are born to parents who have a host of assumptions and expectations about gender, whether or not they consciously endorse those expectations. Studies have shown that parents have a tendency to see boys as more boyish and girls as more girlish than they actually are,” says Cordelia Fine, author of the new book Delusions of Gender, in a recent interview at Salon. Until they reach age two, my babies apparently won’t know which side of the gender divide they’re on. Gender, at this early stage, is what we heap on. So why all this fuss around costumes and kids? Because it matters (can't friggin wait for Peggy Orenstein's forthcoming Cinderella Ate My Daughter!). Though my babies are only one, in an era when pre-packaged girl costumes are sluttier-than-thou and boy costumes are more violent than ever and make Freddy Krueger look quaint, masquerade is rarely the innocent thing it seemed in the days when my friends and I dressed as a cluster of grapes by scotch taping balloons on sweat suits. Dressing up—whether it’s about unleashing a hidden identity or trying on a role—can make us feel a certain way, deepen our sense of play, enlargen our sense of who and what we are. Dressing up the way a sexist culture (or some other predetermined script) tells us makes us horribly small. As writers, we know this dilemma intimately. In our heads, we imagine ourselves America’s next great polemicist one week, a failed artist living out of paper bags the next. We’re the daughter whose father told her she couldn’t be a writer one day, the woman who sees herself as her generation’s Jane Austen the next. Some of these disguises empower us. Others defeat us. It’s all a part of the Great Writerly Mindf**k—er, head game. I know you know what I mean. So here’s the kicker: On Halloween, we choose who we want to be. We can be as powerful or playful, as serious or silly as we dream. And since we’re writers, we can use our words here to shape what we think costumes say, connote, and mean. This is gonna be fun. Join me in documenting—in words and images—this year’s Halloween. STEP ONE: Post a Halloween-themed photo (in the forum linked to above, not here in comments!) STEP TWO: Post a caption for someone *else's* photo (likewise, in the forum linked above) (Think: New Yorker magazine caption contest, only here you get to post the images to be captioned too.) I'll post the winning combination next week!

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Comments
  • E Victoria Flynn

    Deborah,

    I struggle with some of these things with my daughters, but not all, not yet. Since they aren't in preschool they mostly get what I give them which is...just about anything. For instance, we love space toys, and math books and arty art. My oldest is 4 and is now in her first "class", ballet. They all wear lovely little tutus and bounce around, but why was I so annoyed when they did their "princess dance" for their recital? Because inevitably, it's a Disney princess they want to be. My daughter always chooses Snow White.Though, since she has a bit of a Shrek fixation at the moment, I suggested maybe she'd like to be Princess Fiona, you know, to change it up a bit. (She's a lovely little girl, I'm not suggesting she's an ogre, mind you)

    Overall, we haven't in our four Halloweens had to fall in to the princess trap. This year, both girls were "Super Sisters" complete with shining capes and, yes, shimmering skirts. We have a long way to go, but I want them to feel they can take on the world.

    Happy first birthday to your little darlings! I've no doubt they both know how to roar. :)

  • Rebecca Rasmussen

    I have been having this very dilemma with my daughter, who is 4. We are constantly working against things like Disney, sexy, etc. She ended up a sweet lady bug, but still...I completely sympathize with you. Do you know that in our Target, they sold girls thongs? size 6 and up. for a time anyway. Dear Lord, did that made me crazy!