Challenging Social Norms

It’s that time of year again; the leaves are changing color and falling from the trees, children have returned back to school, the air is crisp, and Halloween is right around the corner.  Along with the celebration of Halloween comes the familiar tradition of choosing a costume to wear for the spooky festivities.  But how often to do we really stop to consider the harmful effects of the marketing of these costumes and the garments themselves as they relate to domestic and sexual violence?

Would you be shocked to know for the past several years a “pimp” costume has remained on the list as one of the most popular for young boys in the United States?  And costumes advertised as “sexy” and “naughty” have steadily increased in popularity with young girls.  Gone are the days when dressing up as animals, clowns, and ghosts was sufficient.

One may argue these are merely costumes, meant to enhance a child’s whimsy and imagination, and the harm in allowing a child to dress up is only present when adults make a mountain out of a mole hill.  However, when we look through a different lens and begin to evaluate the cultural norms in our society which allow for domestic and sexual violence to occur in the first place, we are better able to see the harmful effects allowing children to dress as a “sexy pirate” or a “blinged-out pimp” can have.

There have been several social norms identified which allow for the perpetration of domestic and sexual violence to take place.  They include:

  1. Narrow definitions of masculinity
  2. Limited roles for women
  3. Power Over
  4. Privacy and Silence
  5. Acceptance of Violence
  6. Sexualization of Children

It is, of course, this last norm that has the largest effect on children.  When children are bombarded by message from a very early age that they should be “sexy,” “naughty,” and “seductive,” it sends the message to them that their self worth and importance comes only from their sexuality.  They begin to equate their importance with their sexuality and nothing else.  This is a dangerous precedent to set.  For male children, focusing attention on costumes that encourage behavior like “pimping” or even that of violent superheroes allows for them to equate their self importance and worth with aggression and the ability to harm or demean others.  These are lessons that promulgate the perpetration of sexual assault and domestic violence in our society.

So what do we do about it?  We, as adults, need to hold ourselves to a higher standard.  We need to hold ourselves accountable.  Are you hosting a Halloween party in your home this year?  Set a dress code.  No demeaning or over-the-top sexy outfits will be allowed.  Do you have children?  When you are out shopping for costumes explain to them the parameters they have to abide by when looking for a costume and why.  Are you dressing up this year?  Hold yourself to a higher standard and challenge yourself to find a costume that is appropriate and doesn’t encourage disrespect or harm to another person.  It is in these small but meaningful ways that we begin to challenge our social norms and bring about a community and a society that will one day be free from domestic and sexual violence.