Halloween Beyond the Cliché: Packaging Boyhood Part Two

halloweencostumes-boysOct. 7, 2014 Update I realize I’ve been ‘deconstructing’ Halloween for years with pushback on the societal sexploitation of girls as we fiercely try to “Take Back Halloween” by mythbusting “market demand”…

But the little boys’ lens of how some of the girls costumes land on them is one to watch too, instilling critical thinking early on…in this case, two posts by SheKnows.com talking with boys as young as 5 about the trouble with girls’ costumes, and defying gender roles and rules.

I’ll reprise this Part One and Two about Packaging Boyhood beyond the cliché…as Jennifer Siebel Newsom’s upcoming 2015 film “The Mask You Live In” poignantly conveys, media stereotypes perpetuating roles and rules DO have a colossal impact…on BOYS too.

Halloween’s fun fest is the perfect time to deconstruct this stuff with kids to ensure “The Mask You Live In” doesn’t rub off with any permanent residue…Critical thinking for the win! Happy haunting…

Original Post Oct. 27, 2009 It’s the Tuesday before Halloween, perfect timing to wrap up part two of our Packaging Boyhood post about gender clichés, costumes, and ‘Saving our Sons from Superheroes, Slackers & Stereotypes’ as the book’s title says.

Moreover, we have tips & tactics for those eager to hear how to best play dodgeball with ambient influences.

We’ve all heard those exhausted “NOW what?” frustrations from media literate parents confronted with pester power and exposure to “what’s perceived as cool” even if the wee one has never “seen the movie, show, or media attached to it.” (THAT is ambient marketing, my friends)

Media and marketing are so ubiquitous with saturation on so many emotional levels of ‘peer acceptance’ that if you try TOO hard to veer elsewhere you may land smack dab into ‘forbidden fruit’ territory…one step forward, three steps back. So the first given that the Packaging Boyhood authors impart is to try not to ‘over-react’ and make such a ‘huge’ deal out of it all in wide-eyeballed, ‘omg, what are you even thinking!’ mode.

Truth be told, I used to predict a direct correlation with the playground posse…the more sanctimonious the parenting style,  “My child will NEVER be seen with a ____ gun, weapon, Barbie doll, makeup, Lunchable, piercing, tattoo, etc. (insert item du jour) the more likely that very same child would be the one coveting said item the most.

tv-clip-art.jpgI include myself in those life lessons, as I blew it by giving TV more power than it ever could’ve wielded on its own simply due to the ‘heat’ I inadvertently had bubbling up on the issue.

Not saying you wanna let lil’ Johnny be a pimp at age 4 decked out with bling and thugwear, just saying that sometimes the ‘wannabe’ of Halloween gets muddled in the satirical/older sibling media mix and the wee ones get caught up in the imitation without attaching any ‘meaning’ to it…

Tiny tots may not even know where the cues came from much less why they ‘wannabe’ something…and this is something I think we should ALL take a closer look at, from a social responsibility standpoint…

life-ringI say pick your battles, hold your values, and surf the everchanging tides of those ‘lines in the sand’…by lifeguarding your sons (and daughters!) with critical thinking skills, creative alternatives, and a healthy dose of self-determined ‘cool’ regardless of where you finally end up on the costume conundrum.

Oh…and when it seems ‘all too much’ think back to what YOU wanted to be for Halloween to gain some perspective…um, right? 😉 Banzai!

Here are tips from the Packaging Boyhood authors who have analyzed this to a farethewell in their important work and from The Dad Man (Joe Kelly) who has championed change for decades, heading up Dads & Daughters. As this USC college student, Bryn writes in her blog about boys cues AND girls cues this Halloween, it’s readily apparent you don’t have to be ‘a parent’ to be concerned with some of the more toxic cues landing on kids these days! Clearly, all ages and stages agree we could use some ‘deconstruction’ on the social responsibility/pop culture front…

Ten Tips for Choosing Halloween Costumes

For Your Son

packaging boyhoodBy Drs. Lyn Mikel Brown, Sharon Lamb, and Mark Tappan (authors of Packaging Boyhood: Saving Our Sons From Superheroes, Slackers, and Other Marketing Stereotypes) and The Dad Man, Joe Kelly

1. Help him think outside the scary ninja, fighter, superhero box that equates being a boy with full-throttle, over-the-top aggression. Imagination and creativity help boys break out of gender stereotypes, increase their resiliency, and provide great practice for reality.

2.  Encourage him to be anyone or anything for Halloween–and the rest of his life. Help him to be inspired by real men doing fun, clever, cool things that go beyond showboating, super powers, wielding big weapons, or seeking revenge.

3. Listen to his ideas and encourage all the possibilities. Don’t assume he buys into the message that he must be some version of Super Scary Special Forces Ninja Bounty Hunter Fighter World Saving Man.  Let his costume choice surprise you!

4. Discuss and work on Halloween costumes together. It’s a great learning and bonding experience. Hey, boys enjoy a little sewing, too. Help him recall the best costumes he ever saw, and share some favorites from your childhood.

5. Add his own twist to action and adventure, and have his character do something other than control, dominate, look tough, and fight. Help him imagine an action hero who plays the ukelele, scales mountains, sings, or goes on eco-adventures.

6. Sit down and let your son create his own character and story. He can raid the family closets or dress up box to become the wildest, funniest, or coolest character ever! And he can keep using homemade costumes to play the part of great characters all winter long.

7. Tap his love for scary stories and the history of Halloween; help him go “traditional” and be Frankenstein, a ghost, or a skeleton. Avoid those pumped up costumes with the fake muscles sewn in. Use your own imagination and create a fun backstory to go with the scary, ugly, and awful look.

8. Draw on his favorite book or character. Reread the book with him to plan what he’ll need to Clancy of Clancy The Courageous Cow, Ron or Hagrid from the Harry Potter adventures, or Bilbo Baggins.

9. Is your son an athlete, a history buff, into science or music? Halloween is a chance to act out the activities he loves. The list is endless.  He could be Jackie Robinson, Joshua Chamberlain, Albert Einstein, Albert Pujols, or Bono.  And don’t rule out famous women – remember it’s about what he loves to DO.  His Jane Goodall can carry a stuffed gorilla; his Van Gogh can wear a bandage on his ear.  Once you start brainstorming, ideas will flood in.

10. Halloween is all about being what you aren’t for a night.  Help him try on new roles and be whatever wild and crazy identity captivates him in the moment. Teach him that it’s false advertising when stores label police officer, marine, and firefighter costumes as “for boys” or cats, colorful butterflies, singers, and dancers “for girls.”

Halloween is a day of imagination-a perfect opportunity to show him that he can be anyone and anything! Take this opportunity to widen his world when all those marketers out there are pressing him to narrow it.

Packaging Boyhood: Saving Our Sons from Superheroes, Slackers, and Other Media Stereotypes is an eye-opening look at the narrow version of boyhood that media and marketers sell to our sons—and what parents can do about it.

The authors serve on Shaping Youth’s nonprofit advisory board, and I’m thrilled to begin a series focusing on ‘Packaging Boyhood’ throughout the remainder of the year blogging on the topic every Tuesday.

Want A Copy of Packaging Boyhood? Comment on Tuesdays!

Join in the conversation!  We’ll be giving away a hardback copy once each month, through year’s end, and every time you leave a comment on our Tuesday posts you’ll be entered to win.

So for this post, tell us about YOUR Halloween costumes…Most/least favorite, creative, insightful/foreshadowing, regrettable, whatever you want to sound off about on the topic of ‘packaging boyhood/girlhood’

Stay tuned every Tuesday for ‘All Things Boy’…what they’re reading, wearing, gaming, liking and how today’s pop culture is impacting boys; from the hundreds surveyed in the new book.

Here’s a mini-roundup from Shaping Youth Archives:

Buffed Boy, Body Image & T(w)een Scene Hottie Factor

Halloween MakeUp Tips For Kids Costumes on the Fly

Halloween, Trend Tracking & a MoshPit of Parenting Styles

Practical Tips to Combat Halloween Horrors of “Wicked Innocence”

Reverse Trick or Treating: Isn’t That..Um..Marketing?

The Life Cycle of Media Madness & Parental Panic: When Annual Candy Scares Go Viral

Corporate Pirates Raid Boys’ Souls (boys cologne/packaging etc.)

Other Great Resources We Like For Boys (add more!)

Jackson Katz.com (Tough Guise/MEF; fabulous site)

GuyLand: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men

PBS: Understanding & Raising Boys

Parenting Boys to Become Healthy Happy Men

Boys to Men

True Child: Masculinity, Bullying & Aggression

True Child: Fast Facts: Stats on Masculinity, Bullying & Violence

Gender Differences: Socially Conditioned, Reinforced Through Media

Achilles Effect: Raising Boys w/a Healthy Perspective on Gender

Boys Feel the Heat, Just Like Girls



  1. Another great post. How *does* she do it?!

    We talk about stereotypes a lot in our household – and while Halloween isn’t so big in Aus, there’s enough around to keep the themes at the front of children’s minds.

    Had a very enjoyable conversation this morning about what costumes the boys would like to wear if we did celebrate Halloween (a zombie and a spider) and much mirth around how we’d achieve said costumes – we’re talking fabulous face putty and newspaper-stuffed stockings for tarantula legs.

    On book day earlier this year where kids were encouraged to dress up as their favourite book character, I loved it that my elder son nominated Garfield as his. I think kids – as well as adults – are craving far more diversity in the limited role models they’re currently offered. It’s great to know how to help them think outside the box.
    .-= Tania´s last blog ..tandrusiak: ‘We need a national strategy on #bodyimage’ (@JulesyParker of @BFoundation in National Times) http://is.gd/4F958 #medialiteracy =-.

  2. ooooh, Tania, this link you left to Julie’s piece in the National Times is sublime…thanks so much for the heads up. You two are quite the dynamic duo in the land down under, lobbying for Aussie accountability. Fabulous efforts one and all!

    As for your eldest wanting to be Garfield as a book character, um…er…isn’t Garfield the quintessential ‘slacker cat’ 😉 Wonder what the good docs would say about THAT ‘media cue’? heh. Then again, one could argue Garfield has that wry wit and edgy ‘ask me if I care’ attitude that says INDIE all the way, so I’m gonna stay w/the sweetness of that depiction of the eldest being a cartoon cat…as it represents a ‘don’t fence me in’ persona that goes beyond the snorefest of ‘kapow-biff-bam’ archetypes. Totally agree males in my circles are ‘craving far more diversity’ than the limited models being lobbed into the media stream.

    btw, How old are your boys? Do they ‘get’ what you do? Curious. I have another theory goin’ here…;-)

  3. Heh! Elder (8; younger is 6) reads the old comic books and loves the wit and humour – also says he loves the ‘secret friendship’ with Odie. Have to wonder if that relationship is appealing because it’s an awful lot like sibling rivalry… 😉

    They talk a lot about the salient aspects of gender stereotypes, like pink, makeup, Bratz etc for girls and violence, action, machismo and rescuing for boys, and mix it up in their dramatic play & art quite a bit (so boys can wear pink, nurture; girls rescue people, fix cars & lift weights etc). The understanding evolves along with their development.

    What theory have you got bubbling away? 🙂
    .-= Tania´s last blog ..tandrusiak: RT @sidneyeve: New Canadian govt report on "oversharing" & related issues concerning youth privacy online http://is.gd/4Dg1v (via @klbz) =-.

  4. All: Wanted to add this interview with Lyn and Mark in today’s “Daily Babble” here:


    A few great examples?

    Babble: How do you accommodate a boy’s natural tendencies and still adhere to some of your ideals? (I do think that there are some inherent things about boys: they usually are more high-energy, they usually do gravitate toward a ball instead of a baby doll.)

    Lyn: What we’re talking about is the way that energy is translated into a very narrow stereotype. Why is action translated into violence? Action can be channeled in other ways.

    Babble: So how do you try to address some of these issues of violence? Do you ban Bakugan? Say yes to Spiderman but no to X-Men? How do you decide?

    Mark: There are choices parents have to make about what’s appropriate. We’d like parents to pay more attention to the ratings of movies, for one, so they don’t let their kids see PG-13 movies just because they got a Batman toy in their Happy Meal. We want parents to talk to their sons so the violence is a topic for conversation, not something that has to be banned. Ask them: “What does this mean? Why do you like it?”

    Lyn: The important thing is to listen. We don’t always know why they are attracted to something, say violent video games. One of Mark’s students helped us see that boys often like these games because of the complex storylines. As parents, if we listen to them, we can help channel that in other ways, help them find other ways to get that complex storyline.

    Babble: When it comes to violence — what is the difference between what kids see today and what we watched? I remember adults thinking that Wile E. Coyote trying to blow up the Road Runner was too violent.

    Lyn: We have so many examples of how things are different from the way they used to be. We were totally struck by Nerf and how big the guns are now. There are also Legos now where it’s not about creatively making what you want to make, it’s about making the Transformer. We looked at racetracks; it used to be that the idea was to keep the car on the track, now the idea is to crash. We saw the word “hyper” in a lot of toys and other marketing; even the name has to be over the top.

    read more on Daily Babble today here:


  5. I can imagine the struggle especially of the mom to get her son or daughter to wear a costume that the mom picks. Especially today when the kids are so much aware of what’s in and what’s not. Today what all children could do is watch Cartoons all day – with advertisments in the form of commercials almost dictated to them what’s cool, what to include on their wishlist and what should not.
    .-= Therabreath´s last blog ..Therabreath Plus Coupons =-.

  6. I remember one of my favorite costumes was in 7th grade – I was the “Lucky Star” Madonna with the mesh t-shirt and armful of rubber bracelets. In 5th grade I went as “Miss America” – i look back in frustration at my highly gendered costumes…but I still do it now because gender is fun to play with and I’m not usually highly feminine in my attire. I just really dislike how Halloween has gone from a chance to be scary to a night to be sexy for teens and young adults — but it does give everyone an opportunity to play with gender and try something different for a change. BE CREATIVE!!

  7. yah, I’d NEVER say the parent should ‘pick’…it’s a day of imagination, after all! That said, it’s the commercialization of the cues coming at them, as quoted in the Philadelphia Inquirer today on this topic,

    “”We’ve definitely seen an increase in costumes with muscles in them,” said Howard Beige, executive vice president for Rubie’s Costume Co., a leading manufacturer based in New York City. Five years ago, he said Rubie’s had 10 padded styles for children, including Superman and Batman. This year, it offers nearly 40. Batman, Clonetrooper, and Darth Vader are among top sellers, Beige said.

    “We even have a toddler costume with sewn-in muscles,” he said of the superhero line. “It’s extremely cute. The kids love it. . . . You see them walking around flexing their biceps.”


    Marketers just don’t see how this is showing up in kids’ body image dissatisfaction and fouling up the works w/kids psyches…Here’s more in the article quoting us (Shaping Youth and Packaging Boyhood’s Lyn Mikel Brown) today:


  8. Thanks, Liz, I don’t feel so bad about being a ‘bride’ one year and ‘Cinderella’ as my very first ‘pull it out of the cellophane box with the cheesy mask and glitter glue ready-made ‘sack’ look that passed for uber-marketing in yesteryear. (much to my mom’s eyerolling dismay)

    Much needed perspective…heh. That said, as I posted above, I think EVERYthing is ‘Xtreme’ in the marketing of media messages now, so totally agree with Lyn that it’s one thing to play with gender cues and spoof one’s self (I too, am a bit of a ‘Murphy Brown’ type so it’s always hilarious when I go in the other direction as a bit of an inside joke) and another to have media/marketing pre-determine what’s ‘hot or not’ and take any humor/fun/creativity out of play and instead reposition it by selling insecurities for profit that last looooooooooooooooong after Halloween is over.

    Let’s see what else was I…Oh! My martian was a fave…I’ve never been one for horror film stuff as the girl always ‘gets it’ in the end and I have WAY too vivid of an imagination, so my costumes were always more on the ‘animal-vegetable-mineral’ makeup…(The lifesize Fruit of the Loom crew from the studio set/commercial props of an undies commercial might be my fave…but that was cheating since I had access to same) 😉

    Gotta call my mom and jog my memory.

    btw, Liz…Lucky Star, eh? Hail Madonna as she’s the #2 celeb pick for youth costumes NOW in that Teen Vogue voter poll I wrote about. (Lady GaGa was #1) http://rosalindwiseman.com/2009/10/29/im-not-a-prude-but-why-we-cant-let-ourselves-become-culture-sheep Le sigh.
    .-= Amy Jussel´s last blog ..Media Morsels for Lil’ Goblins: Next to New BOOks as Treats! =-.

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