Dressing Up As Daphne And Challenging Gender Norms

This past week, in my class on deviant behavior, we talked about gender norms, and how important they still are to how we present ourselves. The discussion concentrated on how parents teach their children what is expected of them and why the parents feel motivated to encourage “normal” behavior.

Though attitudes about what kinds of behavior are appropriate  seem to have softened slightly, it still seems that it is important to maintain standards of femininity and masculinity. Many parents are afraid that their children will be bullied by others if they appear to be different or fail to maintain gender norms.

I think this blog post about a boy who decided that he wanted to dress up as Daphne from Scooby Doo, highlights this issue pretty well. His mother was completely supportive of this costume idea, acquired it for him, and even tried to alleviate his fears that the other kids would tease him about it. It was a costume after all and you should be able to dress up as whatever you want for Halloween (And he is totally adorable in his Daphne costume). As she expected, the other kids didn’t think anything of it. The only ones who seemed to have a problem with it were the other mothers.

I think it is important to consider that if a girl wanted to dress up as a male character for Halloween the response to the costume would be a lot different. It is often more acceptable for girls, at least young girls to exhibit more masculine traits. Masculinity is often viewed as a positive trait, but it also seems that it is more vulnerable to disruption than is femininity. Girls who enjoy activities typically gendered as male are expected to grow out of it, while boys who enjoy activities typically gendered as female are expected to stay that way.

The criticisms from the other mothers may have been well intentioned, but it seems to me that their attitudes about the costume are part of the problem. They are encouraging the author to maintain gender norms and not leaving open the possibility that there is something inherently restrictive about those norms. The only way for norms to shift is by challenging them and I think it is fantastic that the author was willing to support her son’s desire and seems willing to support him no matter what he may do in the future. If more people adopt that attitude it may help change the range of what is acceptable.

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  • http://twitter.com/bored_agitated Francisco Duran

    I know I was always bugged by the fact that the women’s clothing departments in stores always had more variety than the mens, and to top that, women can successfully wear mens clothing.

    Recently though, I’ve begun wandering around the women’s sections and have bought some sweaters and a jacket. It was hard to ignore some of the uncomfortable feelings of doing it, but the clothes I’ve bought this way don’t look feminine when worn, and are actually rather flattering.

    And it’s not like anyone can tell, how many people know women’s clothing buttons on the opposite side?