Are We Confusing Young Children with Feminist Principles or Helping Them Think Critically?

The Anna and Elsa sister duo from Frozen were the hot costume this year

As Halloween draws to a close and many children in America, and now many parts of the world, hang up their costumes, I have begun to ruminate over several issues pertaining to Halloween and femininity. 



Every year in the months leading up to All Hallows Eve, the same arguments about female costumes get tossed around social media and popular media outlets—they are too sexy, not sexy enough, the women who dress “sexy” on Halloween are just seeking attention or the argument that they are confident women validating their own sexuality.

All of these conversations are important to have, and I am quite pleased that the topic of feminism and female sexuality seem to be much more popular topics as of late. However, what I begin to find a bit confusing, and wonder if it is productive, is when we transfer these conversations to our children. Preschoolers, with little to no awareness of human sexuality or the ideas of misogyny and feminism seem to get sucked into these debates and issues through no fault of their own. And is it really helpful for these children? Does it help them think critically about the roles of females in society or does it simply confuse them?

Recently, I read a blog post from a woman whose 4-year-old daughter wanted to be Elsa from Frozen for Halloween so badly that she began to cry when her mother tried to talk her out of it. Her mother felt that Elsa was not a good feminist role model and tried to persuade her daughter to be a myriad of other feminist friendly characters, to no avail. When the mother finally relented, she asked her preschooler why she wanted to be Elsa, as though she was going to pull a feminist manifesto out of her hat. In the end, the mother was disappointed that she only wanted to wear the costume because it was pretty—and because Elsa has some sweet magical powers.

While my own mother may have not been the paragon of the feminist movement, she still somehow managed to raise a daughter that turned out to be fiercely feminist. And she did so whilst allowing her to dress up as a princess on Halloween (on more than one occasion), sing along with Disney films and  play with Barbies.

The thing is, when I was a child, things were put in context. I loved Disney movies, but I also fiercely loved Little House on the Prairie. I played with my Barbies for hours, but I still held hope that one day I would be an astronaut. It didn’t really occur to me that I couldn’t be one until a boy in my kindergarten class asserted that girls aren’t allowed to go into space. Obviously, he had never heard of Sally Ride, thankyouverymuch.

To me, I never really saw cartoons or dolls as people to aspire to live like. In fact, I didn’t see them as people at all. Sure, Barbie was beautiful and had an impossible waist to bust ratio, but since I had never met someone like that, it didn’t really occur to me that I would be expected to look that way as an adult.  Similarly, I had never met anyone who had married a prince. My own mother and many mothers of my friends had jobs, so it also never crossed my mind to make it a life goal to find a man to rely on for the rest of my life.

Maybe some children do need these things broken down for them a bit more than I did, but personally, I find that what is broadcast to kids ages 9 and above a bit more concerning than 4-year-olds dressing as Disney characters. At that age, many little girls start to eschew Barbie dolls and conform to what their peers are doing. Recently, I saw a website showing “sexy” costumes for girls as young as 10 or 11, which I find far more problematic than a child wanting to be Cinderella for Halloween.

This is all not to mention the idea that some schools of feminist thought have which attempts to demonize feminine toys and clothing, steering girls toward more androgynous or masculine toys in order to help them grow up to be empowered. However, I feel that feminism means allowing your child (boy or girl) to engage in whatever dress or toy he or she finds appropriate and gravitates to, and not shaming them or going into complicated diatribes over the issue. Feminism, essentially, is about choice and thinking critically, and it shouldn’t be about feminine shaming.

I say, let your small children (boy or girl) wear their Elsa and Belle costumes if that is all their little hearts desire. Then, when they are old enough to begin to grasp the nuances behind these films, have frank conversations with them at an age-appropriate level about the messages they’re seeing in popular culture.

After all, I’m a feminist PhD candidate who wore a princess gown to her preschool Halloween parade. And I still grew up to be critical about the world around me and my place as a female in it.  
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8 comments

  1. Can I just say, I love how you mix in lighter stuff with more thought-based pieces :)

    And I do agree with you, I think awareness to feminist issues often happens quite naturally when you get to a certain age and open your eyes a little to the world around you x

    Jasmine // Magpie Jasmine

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    1. I am so glad you like the mix, Jasmine! I have been told mixing isn't a good idea, but I appreciate it in other blogs and magazines, so I'm trying to do my own thing. And agreed about when you get to a certain age. There are appropriate times to have conversations about feminism, and at age 4, I'm not sure that really is the time.

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  2. This post is great. I think feminism isn't as clear to everyone as it should be. I think you hit it on the nose, though. I completely agree with you in this post. Thanks for such a thoughtful and good post.

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    1. Thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed this. And I agree...I think a lot of people think feminism is about being more "manly" when that is the last thing it should be!

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  3. This was really interesting! It does seem like imposing feminist ideas on a child goes against what feminism is about - which, as I understand it, is giving women the freedom to be or believe what they want to.

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    1. Agreed Allie. And I find it very confusing for children.

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  4. This year my DD (8) wanted to be the 10th Doctor (Who). I was worried that no one would recognize the costume but I didn't care one fig that she'd be dressing up as man. I'd feel the same if I had a boy. Halloween costumes are for Make Believe, and while I draw the line at sexy costumes (I saw one for a pimp for a 4 year old boy!) I think pretty much everything else is a-ok. Sent here by My So-Called Chaos but so happy that I came.

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