UPDATE: Spirit has begun changing the descriptions of some of the costumes highlighted below thanks to our supporters’ #NotBuyingIt tweets! (Read more)
by Imran Siddiquee
A supporter sent us an email this week to discuss Spirit Halloween‘s problematic attempts at marketing costumes to girls (many of which are detailed on her site.)
In order to explain just how troubling and somewhat creepy the website is, here are some examples of how the popular costume retailer describes their products to teens, tweens and even younger girls.
From the disturbing notion of turning 13 year-old girls into playthings for “big boys,” to the more subtle suggestion that creating your own “sassy storybook tale” on Halloween necessarily involves some sort of sexual experience with a boy, this is a flat-out terrible way of marketing costumes to teenagers. It plays into the media-created idea that women and girls are most valuable when sexualized and objectified.
Tellingly, you can actually find the “Teen Costumes” section of the Spirit website under the “Adult Costumes” tab.
At least “tweens” are still considered kids by Spirit. Sort of.
Being a “Major” is in fact a powerful position in the military, and unfortunately our girls aren’t always encouraged to see themselves in these types of leadership positions (think nurse costumes versus doctor costumes). Yet Spirit completely undercuts any kind of positive message here by relying solely on the “flirt with boys” card. For a costume whose target demographic includes 10 year-olds.
Oh, but it gets worse.
“Drama Queen Major Flirt” does not make any sense AT ALL. You can’t just put words together and pretend like it’s a real thing. Also I’m pretty sure even 4 year olds know there are no Queens in the U.S. Army and will be really disappointed when they realize there isn’t a crown in the box.
That is what is most appalling about all of this – that none of it is actually intended to appeal to 4 year-olds. Tweens and little girls (in most cases) are not buying their own costumes. Spirit Halloween is directly speaking to parents, and is doing so by randomly throwing out heavily gendered words (“sassy,” “drama,” “flirty”) and weird sexual innuendos.
Why do any of us want our girls to think of themselves in this limiting way? Dressing up can and should be fun on Halloween, but it should also be about more than women showing off for men – especially for kids.
There are numerous other examples of poorly written and sexist costume descriptions on the Spirit Halloween site, but suffice to say they are contributing to the increasingly frightening gendered culture around Halloween.
So we’re #NotBuyingIt. Click below if you’d like to let @SpiritHalloween know how you feel:
(Another way to challenge this kind of selling is to to actually write a review of the product on the website itself. The hilarious skewering of “Bic for Her” pens on Amazon earlier this year eventually brought the sexism of that product into the national conversation.)
In response to your tweets, Spirit has adjusted some of the language on the costume’s we spotlighted here. For example, on the Rag Doll Teen Costume, they’ve removed “sassy” and the entire line about “big boys” playing with dolls. Check it out:
They haven’t received the complete message though, as they continue to use highly gendered language and many of the other suggestive descriptions for tweens and girls remain the same. There is now a petition, started by the National Organization for Women – San Gabriel Valley Chapter, which you can sign in addition to continuing to tweet the company!
Written by Imran Siddiquee at MissRepresentation.org. Follow him on Twitter @imransiddiquee