My Son Wants to Be Snow White for Halloween

“One day early last fall, I returned from work and discovered my son in a dress. And not just any dress. A Snow White dress. I can’t say it was a complete shock. Luke had been telling my wife and me for more than a week that he wanted to be Snow White for Halloween. Whenever Melanie or I gently suggested an alternate costume, he would calmly respond, “No, I think I have to be Snow White. I dropped my bag and made what I hoped was a suitable fuss over the costume. My face still taut with manufactured glee.

I read about this man’s conundrum in salon.com several weeks ago. It reminded me of an episode from Roseanne when DJ wanted to be a witch for Halloween. His dad tried every which way to dissuade him and explain that girls are witches and boys are warlocks. But DJ wanted to be a witch.

Both of these dads felt threatened and worried that their sons might end up with bruises or black eyes for their choice of costume. But the dads’ discomfort went beyond fear of bodily harm. Both were emotionally twisted into knots. Snow White’s dad wondered if his discomfort was due to seeing “the dress as a threat to my legacy, an insult to generations of men who fought wars and presided over propane grills?” 

But as a progressive dad, he wondered why he was so troubled. 

Why? It’s called “gender ranking.” 

We value males and male things over females and female things. Boys are seen as devaluing themselves when they take on feminine accessories or behaviour. That’s why many women think back happily on a time when they were tomboys, but most men weren’t – or won’t admit they were – sissies.  

If we valued males and females the same, a Snow White costume wouldn’t be a problem. 

Actually, valuing males over females wouldn’t be a huge problem if it were just about guys in dresses. But devaluing the feminine leads to all sorts of problems that I will go into greater depth later: Women don’t expect as much for themselves, including pay. In societies and subcultures where masculine is valued over feminine we find high rates of rape, wife battering, gay bashing, daughters-for-sale, and female infanticide.  STDs are more widely spread. Women’s sexuality becomes repressed. Even the feminine value of compassion is diminished in the face of masculine go-it-alone “personal responsibility.” The list goes on. 

Dressing up like Snow White may seem petty, but ranking males over females is not trivial, at all. 

Georgia Platts 

Quotes are edited for length. See original text at salon.com.  

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on October 28, 2010, in feminism, gender, men, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 18 Comments.

  1. Very helpful and insightful. I’ve been thinking a lot about this sort of thing– as a parent, how not to pass on signals that I am ranking based on gender, ethinicity, etc. It’s funny, I automatically encourage girls to be tomboys (like many, I consider myself one) but am concerned with either gender embracing “girly” stuff. In part, I don’t want princesses, pink, unassertive, dainty to define my gender.
    I love seeing your great mind at work in other areas in addition to our Wed night conversations.

  2. I agree with Meredith. I too dislike the idea of my daughter embracing pinkness and being a girly girl.

    I don’t dislike it because I feel that women are inferior (’cause we sure as hell ARE NOT!) but because I resent that pink is now the all encompassing symbol for female. Why must we identify our children, using arbitrary markers no less, by their genitals.
    For the record, I also resent that the toys I grew up with are now coloured pink, lavender and white (especially for girls!) as well as the traditional blue, red, yellow, green etc. Boys are expected to play with the normal coloured doctor’s set while girl’s have the special coloured set. I think it reinforces the meme of females as “other” which is detrimental to women.

    As for the young man wanting to dress up as snow white I say let him be who he wants to be (I do wish he’d chosen a character who was less of an empty headed doormat but what can you do?) I’m sure he’ll grow up to be a healthy, well adjusted, well liked man.

  3. I think by emphasizing to the boy child that it is abnormal to wear a snow white dress or like pink that it creates a subconscious view of liking pink or enjoying feminine things and associating that as gay. Most dads would not encourage their daughters to not play with “masculine toys” but would not encourage their sons to play with “feminine toys.”

    I believe boys and girls should be allowed to play with whatever toys, or dress whatever way they want. They are children growing up trying to figure themselves out with wonderful ideas and imaginations. A parent should be supportive whatever the outcome of the child.

    I think by devaluing women and putting men on a pedestal in society is not accurate, especially in this day and age. As far as finances are concerned living in the bay area it is pretty much a requirement that both the man and the woman have jobs that contribute to the function of the household.

  4. I agree with your statement that “boys are seen as devaluing themselves when they take on feminine accessories or behaviour.” I agree because I have seen many men calling others gay or girl. However, I don’t think it is just men who think that way. I think mothers will also try to encourage their son to wear male costumes if their son wanted to be Snow White. Even though I would allow my children to choose what they want to be for Halloween, I’m not sure if I’d be perfectly okay if my son wanted to be Snow White.

  5. This article is very interesting. I think its okay for boys to dress up as girl for one day. Parents should let them dress up how ever they want because it’s Halloween. Everyone says “Its Halloween you can be someone else.” So I don’t think it is that big deal to dress up different from your gender.

    But if you look at long term I do agree “boys are seen as devaluing themselves when they take on feminine accessories or behaviors.” For example, if boys wear pink they take them as sissy and call them “gay.” especially in middle school and high school. There is more violence and bulling.

    But if young adult or grown up men wear pink shirt, most of women and men would say, “they are men enough to wear pink” which is a good thing.
    If we look it over all I think any men or women shouldn’t care how we dress up because at the end of the day the life we live is our life and we should be able to live how ever we want to live.

  6. I agree with your comment about “many women think back happily on a time when they were tomboys, but most men weren’t – or won’t admit they were – sissies.” because there are a lot of girls who grow up being tomboys, and to everyone that doesn’t affect them, but when we see a little boy putting on make-up, mommy’s heels, dresses etc… it becomes a problem. I think it shouldn’t be a problem because little kids do go through this stage and then later on they start to notice what they are doing isn’t what they should be doing. For personal experience my little sister is 2 years old and she does things that makes us think she is going to end up being a tomboy, but we don’t take it seriously because she is just a little girl.

    Also why is it wrong for boys to dress up as a girl costume when girls dress up as men when they are older, that doesn’t seem to affect a lot of people. i just think little boys are still little and shouldn’t be treated wrong at a young age. Let them be kids!

    • What’s considered ok to wear varies by cultures. In some cultures men wear dresses: Scottish kilt, Romeo wore what looks like a skirt and tights, Romans wore something that looks like a skirt. Jesus wore a long robe that looks dress-like.

      Also, women can wear pretty much anything a guy wears and no one thinks it’s a big deal. But then, women aren’t seen as devaluing themselves when they take on masculine wear or activities. But men are seen as demeaning themselves when they do anything feminine.

      Devaluing women causes all sorts of problems from killing infant girls to not feeding them, to rape and spousal abuse. The list goes on.

  7. I was definitely an active child, the thought that something was not lady like or too manly never came to mind for me. It seems the older I am I realize how much people want to make sure there children are fitting the correct mold that represents boy or girl. It seems like fathers in general seem to be really concerned with there sons not being manly enough, or even some moms feeling there girls are not being lady like. I feel it seems to be more of a bigger deal when parents see there sons wanting to dress up as women or in more feminine clothing . I agree with M.P why is it such a bigger deal?

  8. Although women get more rights nowadays, women are still subordinated or treated as less than equal. Boys are often socialized to live in a male-dominated world. It is considered disgusting when boys take on feminine accessories or behaviors like the boy in this story. If ranking males over female is just limited to behavior or dress, it is not a big problem. However, it provides an excuse for the actual devaluation of women. That’s why crime against women and gender based biases are still common in most societies. The road towards change is long and winding because gender ranking has a deep root in culture. Women should accept and take pride in their physical selves and appreciate the roles as mother, wife, and employee. At the same time, public support is critical to resisting crimes against women, such as rape and domestic abuse.

  9. This is just like an episode of According to Jim. Jim’s son Kyle wanted to be Cinderella for Halloween and would not allow it. He tried to put him in a dinosaur costume because that’s what boys are supposed to wear. In my personal opinion, I would let my child wear whatever he wants to on Halloween. If girls can go as football players I do not see a probably as a guy going as a cheerleader. Yet people in the world do. They do not think that men should be dressing like women because then they are like them. I do not see that changing anytime soon, which is a real shame.

  10. It is looked upon as weird if a young boy wears feminine clothing or plays with barbies, but the girl can dress as a tomboy and play with a construction set which would appear as fine. The father must be suprised because they probably assume that their child will look up to them and try to be like them. When he saw his son in a Snow White costume, he probably feels uncomfortable because he didn’t have the same type of behaviors as a child. I would think that a dad would look at their son as a younger, kid version of themself. The comment afterwards about men’s values being higher then female’s values is interesting because it does put more pressure on men to be more masculine when in my opinion, there’s no problem with a guy who wants to be snow white for halloween.

  11. Danielle Cannon

    I wonder whether there is any example of a society that devalues men to which we could compare these phenomena. I understand that in Pakistan, though men still occupy a higher status, trans-gendered individuals are given their own legal gender and range of societal roles. Can we see this as a step forward even if they are institutionally devalued? How can we approach gender equality without risking a swing in the opposite direction? These are the questions that keep me up at night.

    • Not aware of any societies that devalue men. However, there are and have been egalitarian societies. (Yes, women can have equal power w/out going the other direction toward female dominance.) And there are societies that value the transgendered – very much in fact. As patriarchy arose, both women and transgendered people became devalued. See American Indians of the American east coast as one example of what I’m describing. I’ll write more later.

  12. I agree that the fathers in both these examples were afraid for the physical harm that might occur with their sons if they chose to dress in a women’s role or costume. But, I do think that the fathers also would be embarrassed which is why it was such an issue for them. No “man” wants to see their son dressed in a females costume. If it was his daughter wanting to be a power ranger for Halloween his response would most likely be “that’s my girl” as I have experienced this first hand. It should not be okay for one and not the other

  13. The thing which I always like about your writing is that you wonderfully make complex things clear….in short your articles are eye-openers. Sexual discrimination starts from infancy…isn’t it? when we offer Barbies to a girl child and Hot Wheels to boys….

    Sexual ranking, I think, will take ages to stop..or will it… ever …!

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