Do You Want to Dress Up As a Unisex Snowman?

It’s that time of the year again. That time where many people can’t wait to dress up and have fun, while others (including myself) want to escape and hide for a weekend until it’s all over. I wrote about it last year and not much has changed from that article. But this year it is harder for me to escape the claws of Fasching.

For one, my oldest daughter is getting dressed up too. Last year she could be convinced to go as a witch, but this year it had to be Elsa from Frozen. Which seems to be the default costume for any girl that age. I don’t mind the movie as much as others (which I will get to in my Disney series in about 10 years or so), but it’s still a queen/princess thing and it’s girly and a dress and pretty hair and so on. She does have a wand for her ice magic (which is why she prefers Elsa over Anna), giving her a certain amount of power. And Elsa, it has to be said, doesn’t care about men at all (because she is too busy being depressed, but, well, let’s not get into it). It is not the costume I would want for her, if I decided it, but on the other hand it makes her so happy. It poses that eternal question for parents like me, in how far you give in to the wishes of your kids and how much it influences them. If I don’t like princesses and other female stereotypes, will that influence be stronger than the culture that shows her that this is what girls have to be? I still think that if you fight the kid’s wishes too much, it will lead to a backlash, so giving in a little bit seems the alternative to me. And, as John Siracusa likes to say, kids have bad taste anyway and they often grow out of it, so who knows? I guess I just have to let it go.

But again, looking at what costumes are sold and how much gender roles are reinforced is just depressing, just look at the girls.

For some reason I find the “bestseller”, the Asian Princess, the most disturbing for its ethnic stereotype. There are some exceptions here, like a cowgirl, a Viking and a pirate, but mostly it’s the same pinky, cutesy, partially sexualized costumes. Including Elsa of course.

But of course it’s not much better for the boys. They are mostly fighters with weapons, leaders or a certain “wooden doll”, as the description says. When you look for “unisex” costumes, its mostly just animals, as if this was the only possibility to avoid a gender role. Because a male pirate has a sword and the female pirate has to look sexy, the boys can be race drivers, football players, rock stars who achieve something through some kind of talent while the girls are mostly decorative items who either don’t achieve anything or only with their looks. (Oh, and by the way, how come there are three Star Wars costumes among the popular costumes for boys but among many more costumes for girls there is no Rey? That's kind of sad.)

The other incident where the “happy time” swept me up was my task of helping to supervise the carnival party at my new school. While I have avoided doing anything carnival-related for years (decades?) I know had to walk through a dark gym, filled with loud music and bright lights to check for phones and food, to interrupt fights or any other indecent behavior. Everyone was dressed up of course and I could see a glimpse of the fun this might bring for some. But I also saw the peer pressure, the latent aggression within many and often the simple boredom that comes up after an hour or so. They are kids, so I was more okay with it than I had thought, but when I imagined seeing this with adults, in big crowds, with alcohol, the horror came back to me. This image of the drunken, horny mob of people, hiding in their costumes is a reality that takes any fun away for me. Today I can see the appeal for the kids more than ever before but when I see what it becomes when they turn older, I still only see the ugliest parts of our culture hiding in cheap costumes.