We tell our kids they can be anything they want to be, and now their favorite stores are finally starting to get the message, too. The Disney Store surprised everyone recently by taking a cue from Target and totally revamping the way they market their Halloween costumes.
Disney’s online Halloween shop usually organizes costumes into “boy” and “girl” categories with corresponding pink or blue labels, but The Mary Sue reports that this year they’ve changed it up. Costumes will now be displayed in one big section and will only be labeled “costumes for kids” or “costumes for babies” with inclusive promotional photos that show both boys and girls.
Here are some screenshots from their website in 2014:
And here is what it looks like this year:
Gendered categories still exist on some of the site’s menus and yes, the girls in most of the ads are still dressed as princesses, but the change is a step in the right direction, especially for a company like Disney. Disney is notoriously bad about promoting old-fashioned, stereotypical gender roles. The fact that they’re even starting to pay attention to what moms and dads have been saying for decades is a promising sign.
Opponents of gender neutral signage will tell you that the way toys and clothing are marketed to kids doesn’t matter, but nothing could be further from the truth. Kids notice when the aisles they’re browsing are painted in Pepto Bismol pink. They notice that boys get made fun of for playing with dolls and that almost everything marketed to girls is covered in glitter and frills. Kids get shoved into categories and marketed extremely gender-specific clothing and toys from birth, and it does make a difference in how they view the world and how they think of themselves.
A 2008 study by Megan Fulcher, a Washington and Lee University psychology professor, found that children with gendered decorations in their bedrooms were more likely to hold stereotypical views of men and women. Similarly, Lori Day, a psychologist who authored a book on the effects of gendered toys and marketing, says the influx of gender-based divisions in children’s merchandise has made boys and girls stop playing together at a much younger age than is developmentally normal. There’s even evidence that gendered clothes and toys affect kids’ future career choices.
If we want to overcome ridiculous ideas about gender and the way gender roles eventually limit us in our adult lives, then we have to stop teaching them to young kids. We have to stop passively accepting and actively reinforcing the idea that toys, clothing, bedding, books, movies, shows, and even character traits are gender specific.
Disney’s move towards inclusive Halloween sections isn’t perfect but it’s an encouraging start. Eventually we’ll get to a place where advertisements show little boy Elsas and girl Darth Vaders and the idea of gendered kids’ costumes will seem totally absurd. Until then, I’m happy just to see progress. If one kid goes costume shopping this year and feels like they have the ability to pick any costume they want regardless of their gender, that’s a victory we can all celebrate.