“Generally speaking, real life uniformed female police officers do not wear short skirts and low-cut shirts,” a furious mother has fumed on Facebook in an open letter to Party City that’s going viral.
Urging the store to stop selling “sexualized” Halloween costumes for young girls, Lin Kramer’s Sept. 14 post explained that she was “appalled” by the options available to her 3-year-old daughter on Party City’s website when she browsed their Toddler Costumes category.
“While Halloween costumes are undoubtedly about ‘make-believe,’ it is unfathomable that toddler girls and boys who might be interested in dressing up as police officers are seeking to imagine themselves in the incongruent way your business apparently imagines them,” she blasted. “Toddler girls are not imagining and hoping that they will grow up to become a ‘sexy cop’…Please, Party City, open up your view of the world and redesign your marketing scheme to let kids be kids, without imposing on them antiquated views of gender roles.”
Party City responded to the note, but not in the way Kramer had hoped. The company deleted her letter, as well as the comments on it, and blocked her from posting on their page in the future.
Not that the mom is deterred. “In so doing,” she noted in a follow-up comment on Facebook, “they ignited the passion of people who already had an interest in seeing *this* particular change happen.” (Party City did not respond to request for comment from Yahoo Parenting, nor did Kramer). Kramer’s hope in sharing her concern, she told The Huffington Post, is that “others will be encouraged to pause and critically think about what they are seeing — and accepting — from retailers.”
This retailer, however, is standing by its merchandise — and the manner in which they market it. “Nothing we carry is meant to be offensive,” reads a statement from Party City issued to the Huffington Post on Sept. 25, the same day that the company explained in a Facebook comment that Kramer’s original note was deleted against their corporate policy by an employee since let go. “We expect parents to be as involved in their children’s costume selections as they are in selecting their everyday wardrobe, and we encourage parents to shop with their children. We supply the types of products that our customers, and specifically parents, demand.”
The policewoman costume that Kramer calls out, they noted, is “one of our most popular costumes.”
But do Halloween duds really matter all that much in the end? Child development specialist Dr. Robyn Silverman tells Yahoo Parenting that a limited, sexist range of costume options does impact kids’ ideas, if only for that one day.
“When girls are repeatedly shown ‘girls costumes’ that provide short skirts, tight tops, and fishnets, they can begin to believe that this is the only acceptable way for a girl to dress on Halloween,” explains the body image expert and author of Good Girls Don’t Get Fat: How Weight Obsession Is Messing Up Our Girls And How We Can Help Them Thrive Despite It. “Girls should have a range of choices and choose whatever feels right to them whether it’s more traditionally ‘girly’ or more gender neutral. A greater range of choices that are marketed towards both girls and boys would make it easier for parents who are trying to get their girls to see that they can be whatever they want to be.”
If parents don’t approve of the options that they see, though, Silverman says they should simply take action: “Thankfully, there are many more choices for girls [than exist in big box stores like Party City] through other smaller or niche companies, from more realistic police officers and firefighters to female Presidents of the United States.”
The lasting message that kids receive about gender roles ultimately depends on mom and dad. “Parents do need to be strong and talk to their girls, even at younger ages, about media literacy and advertising,” Silverman says. “You can say, ‘There are many costumes to choose from and even if a boy is shown on the front, these costumes can be for a boy or girl.’” It’s not as easy as if both sexes were depicted on the costume’s container and marketing displays, she admits, “but as the trusted source in your daughter’s life, your words still matter.”
That’s a takeaway Kramer is counting on. “I look forward to one day sharing with my daughter this story,” she wrote on Facebook about her costume crusade, “of how I genuinely tried my very best to make this world a better place for her.”
(Photos: Party City).