Here you go readers! Another gender paper..... not as good as the last one necessarily, though it's amazing that the idea was spawned thanks to the Daily Show. Ah well, paper after the break!~
Halloween Nightmares: Gender through Symbolic Interaction
Ghouls and princesses. Sexy pizza slices and grim reapers. These are a few examples of costumes that individuals can wear as part of Halloween. This holiday has become its own, unique ritual, and can be interpreted through symbolic interactionism and social learning theory to observe how gender roles are created, performed and muddied through the aspects of trick-or-treating and masquerades. Halloween costumes serve to act as symbols that create gendered roles while certain aspects of the ritual reinforce continued performance of the gendered roles through either direct or indirect rewards to the individual.
Costumes are symbols that can demonstrate an individual’s identity and gender to others in popular society. In the general case, this can be seen in most cases by what is added to a costume, like a tiara, frilly dress and a wand or scepter may be indicative of a princess or a costume gendered feminine. Likewise, a costume with artificial musculature, in dark colors or modeled after male characters could be seen as something gendered masculine. Nelson observes this aspect as well in the case of nightwear, where the feminine wear was coded by being pastel or trimmed with lace, while boys were coded by being “astronaut, athlete, or super-hero pajamas” as well as the absence of make-up in the model for advertising, if there was one (Nelson, 2000 p. 138). As there are gendered clothing that costumes and costume types can be gendered as well, and their symbolism can help define the roles expected of children trick-or-treating. Nelson breaks Halloween costume types into large groups, hero, villain, and fool, and then into smaller groups, like princesses, representations of death, or foodstuffs (Nelson, 2000 p. 139). From this observation, by analyzing the types and categories per gendered costume, the expected performance role of the participant can become slightly more evident in the Halloween ritual.
Between the feminine and masculine genders, the majority of observed costumes for feminine case were princesses, followed by beauty queens, animals, witches and foodstuffs (Nelson, 2000 p.141). Comparing this to the masculine cases were warriors, superheroes, manifestations of death, monsters or clowns (Nelson, 2000 p. 141). Following from these categories in the case of trick or treating, children are effectively rewarded for certain roles detonated by their costumes, young boys for largely for being scary, menacing or brave, while young girls are rewarded more for performing roles that highlight beauty, or looking cute (Nelson, 2000 p. 141-2). By then enacting this role through the constructed costume, the young children participating in the ritual of trick-or-treating are rewarded through sweets, or small toys, in addition to the occasional bit of praise. This ties in with social learning theory due to the role of rewards in reinforcing behaviors (Wood, 2011 p.41). Though there isn’t necessarily the explicit connection between the candy and gendered role, it stands to reason that the association between one “good” thing and another action will reinforce the idea to young children, that by dressing in a certain way, and highlighting certain attributes, beauty, cuteness, bravery or the ability to instill fear, the children will receive candy and be rewarded with phrases like “oh look how scary you are” or “my what a cute little princess”.
In the adult’s aspect of the Halloween ritual, the costumes still aid in creating gender roles, but vary slightly from the case of children. As adults primarily do not participate in trick-or-treating like children, they instead attend other events, like masquerade parties that still involve the use of costumes by the individual. The role of the costume in the masquerade aspect of the ritual is observable easily through those costumes designed and marketed to make women appear as “sexy”. This is something that is mostly observed from the feminine perspective, and can be observed within the name of the costume, like “Enchantra, Midnite Madness, Sexy Devil, (or) Bewitched” (Nelson, 2000 p. 142). This, combined with the appearance of the costumes, like miniskirts or bare arms to ensure that skin is shown, and still connects with the visualization of women as being commoditized or beautiful, with one of the options being a sexy pizza, or even sexy corn (Popken 2013). This role brought on by the costumes defines women as sexual objects, or commodities, and allows an excuse for individuals to peruse them, especially with men dressing up more often than women as things associated with death, or violence, as the role created is one that could be considered traditionally deviant.
However, it also connects to social learning theory, not necessarily due to the way that performing the role is rewarded, but the lack of punishment for performing it. Under societal norms outside of the ritual, women could be scorned for appearing “slutty” and by allowing women a chance to take a more sexually aggressive role in some cases through their costumes, being sexualized as temptresses or erotic queen it can allow it to become more normal and natural through the ritual as a result (Nelson, 2000, p. 143; G, 2011). Furthermore, the possible praise for the overtly feminine and more sexualized roles reinforces the continued performance of the overtly “sexy” roles that were constructed through costumes. However, in masquerades, men are less likely to be praised for costumes seen as “sexy” as there is a higher focus on appearing “successful” or “powerful” (Nelson, 2000 p. 142). It follows that praise and reinforcement then comes from performing roles that follow these standards, which can explain the popularity of warrior as a costume, as it is symbolic of male power in the physical sense, and in the case of better, more elaborate costumes, it can make men appear to be more successful as a result for looking closer to the real thing.
Halloween’s rituals in the case of trick-or-treating and masquerades both clearly create and muddy gender roles during the ritual through the use of symbolic costumes, and it can be seen in the light of queer theory, as individuals are freer to deviate from expected norms. Furthermore, individuals even be rewarded for this deviation as described in social learning theory. However, this isn’t necessarily the correct case, as costumes are gendered and in the marketing standpoint, male participants may not opt to deviate too far from expected norms, and may be encouraged by parents to wear certain costumes, as parents are the primary purchasers. Combined with how few of the costumes are considered gender-neutral by absence of discernable gender, sexed language or by the inclusion of masculine and feminine models for the costume, it can be seen that the costumes do create gender roles which are enforced by candy or other treats for trick-or-treaters. In the case of older participants in the ritual, while the creation of roles is easily seen in the case of women and “sexy” costumes, the rewards for doing so are less evident, outside of attention from others or the simple absence of scorn for enacting and associating with the more sexually promiscuous roles. However, it does fail partially as while the behaviors and roles may be deviant outside of the holiday, for the most part, individuals still conform to gendered norms formed outside of the ritual as part of the ritual.
G., S. (2011, Nov 9). [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://www.gendersexuality.net/blog/2011/11/09/331/
Popken, B. (2013, October 17). TODAY.com. TODAY.com. Retrieved February 24, 2014, from http://www.today.com/id/27425520/ns/today-today_halloween_guide/t/sexy-little-devils-policing-kids-costumes/#.Uw6l4HlFyoV
Wood, J. T. (2013). Gendered lives: communication, gender & culture (11th ed.). Stamford: Cengage Learning.