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Trick or Treat

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. The one day of the year when I am not only able to imagine myself in any role (think of the options!), but am able to dress the part without people doing a double-take.

And yet, trips to any costume store or section are sadly revealing … of what types or roles are available for girls and women. Allison Glock addressed this on a NY Times piece (that I bought on-line and haven’t been able to access, even after 24 hours … don’t even get me started) titled “Halloween on Heels.” Apparently she’d gone to a store to get some mouse ears to dress as a country mouse for her daughters. What she found were overtly sexy, “scanty costumes that were long on bared flesh and fishnets, and short on whimsy.”*

Or, as one character so aptly stated in the movie Mean Girls, “In the regular world, Halloween is when children dress up in costumes and beg for candy. In girl-world, Halloween is the one night a year when a girl can dress like a total slut and no other girls can say anything about it. The hard core girls just wear lingerie and some form of animal ears.”

So what does this mean? On a day when one can be anything in the world, why do the choices seem so limited? Are women and girls interested in wearing only scanty costumes, or are they trying to conform to societal expectations? Do costumers and vendors only make and stock bawdy body outfits because those are the only ones that sell? How can we encourage healthier and more imaginative costumes for girls and women?

In response to Glock’s piece, 12 year old Julia Schwarz wrote that the options at costumes shops were, “too revealing … I could barely even get to my neighbor’s house without freezing in a costume like that.” Hmm … this is a heretofore unheralded benefit for having Halloween on October 31st (at least in the northern hemisphere). She ends by asking, “When did ghost and hippie costumes turn into French maids?” And even though I find it remarkable that a 12 year old reads the NY Times, and even comments on-line, I am glad to hear that there are girls asking these questions, and trying to find their own solutions.

However, it’s not enough to identify or remove ridiculous costumes. We need something good to replace them with. An appealing option, to encourage literacy and creativity, came from Raleigh Mayer (also in response to Glock’s piece), who wrote:

‘I have no talent or training for sewing, but my daughter and I have managed to pull together outfits for her representing one of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” from the Brothers Grimm, Ms. Frizzle from “The Magic School Bus” series, and Astrid Lindgren’s “Pippi Longstocking.”

Our inspiration for the character selections came from her school’s “Books Come Alive” event, which allows costumes to be worn on Halloween only if they represent characters from a book. Parents are invited to read stories in the classroom and participate in an all-school literary parade.‘

And, in a real world sense, I’d like to broaden the discussion to creating positive role models for girls and women. I would like to have a career-day-esque discussion of what we each do for a living. (I know, I know. This piece is already too long, but this could potentially be a great resource if we all chime in.) What type of job do you have? What did you have to do to get there? Perks and downsides. Insider tips on how to get into the field.

I work as a pediatric intensive care nurse. I actually got my undergraduate degree in a different (but related) field, then backtracked and got my ADN at a community college for a greatly reduced sticker price. I was lucky, because it was the first year they did the lottery for admission to the program, and I got in on the first try. Four semesters later, and I was employable all across the nation.

Benefits to a career in nursing: Flexible hours. Great job security and demand. Depending on experience and other needs, one can work 8 to forty hours a week. Career opportunities not limited by geography. Great potential for career growth (RN managers, teachers, multiple hospital/clinic/doctor’s office jobs, advanced practice careers such as nurse practitioners and nurse anesthetists, nurse lawyers, consultants, etc).

Suggestions: Volunteer in a hospital to get a sense of what it’s like. Santa Monica UCLA Medical Center has a fantastic program (Care Extenders) for college ags students interested in allied health fields, to get into the hospital and volunteer in all kinds of places (ED, med-surg, OR, OB-delivery). Some people start working as unit secretaries while in nursing school, in hospitals where they hope to work. Gets you used to the flow of a place, and gets a foot in the door. And when you’ve finished nursing school, look for a hospital that offers a good on-the-job training program with a combination of hands-on and didactic training.

So, if you’re still reading, that’s my two cents (times a few). Now, share your story. Please?

*Quote taken from the Best US Columns section in The Week, 10/27/2006.


Dora is a pediatric critical care nurse. Therapy to alleviate the stress in her professional life include traveling around the world, reading, partner dancing and hosting dinner parties.

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  1. Caroline says:

    Dora, I love that idea of having kids dress up as a character from a book. That would certainly limit the skimpy costume problem.

    As for me and my profession, I am a high school Latin teacher. I majored in Classical languages. (my mom always emphasized education for education’s sake, rather than for money’s sake.) I spent two years getting my M.A. at UCSB, then got an M.Ed and credential in one hectic year.

    I’ve been teaching full time or part time every since. I also moonlight as a substitute public library assistant, as I thought for a while librarianship was my future. I’m actually currently enrolled in a library science grad program, but I’m not sure I’ll see that one through. Now I’m fantasizing about entering into a PhD program in women and religion…. More on those thoughts on my personal blog.

  2. Kaimi says:

    Me, I’m a law professor. I went to law school, then took a journey through hell. (Otherwise known as law practice.) Eventually, I wrote a few law review articles, interviewed with some schools, and ended up in sunny Southern California.

    Also, Dora, did you see that Jana Reiss wrote about the problem of costumes, at http://janariess.typepad.com/reviews/2006/10/sluts_in_traini.html ; and that law professor Ann Bartow did the same, at http://feministlawprofs.law.sc.edu/?p=1135 . It’s an issue on a lot of peoples’ minds.

    You should encourage kids to dress as a law professor, if they’d like. Let’s see, for a teaching day, it’s a suit and tie, um, and a case book, and a code book, and an attendance list. And a powerpoint clicker. That’s about it. Or they could go as a law professor on a non-teaching day. That would be someone in jeans and a T-shirt, surrounded by a pile of books and papers, surfing the web while they should be answering e-mail or working on a lecture. Or they could be a law professor on their way to a conference. That would entail feverishly writing out a talk on the back of an airline napkin. 😛

    And how does one get here? That’s a post in itself. The short answer is that you go to law school; write a few law review articles; interview with schools; and get a job, hopefully. There are lots of side avenues and back doors, though — many people start out on a visitorship, for instance, or a fellowship of some sort. And it’s pretty much the awesomest job in the world, other than Rock Star.

    Caroline writes:

    “Dora, I love that idea of having kids dress up as a character from a book. That would certainly limit the skimpy costume problem.”

    Not if you’re reading the right books! 😉

  3. Caroline says:

    Kaimi, how true 🙂 I more than anyone know that (says the unabashed reader of racy novels.)

  4. Dora says:

    Caroline ~ I love the idea of having a literary Halloween … not only because it encourages kids to read, and to use their imagination in creating costumes. The other week I went with Jana to a “Meet the Author” event at Whale of a Tale. E. Colfer, who writes the Artemis Fowl series, talked to a mixed audience of children and adults, and the enthusuasm was palpable. Lots of questions on his writing process and how he developed certain characters and plot twists. I’ll bet there are more than a few of these kids who opt to dress as a character from the series. He also encouraged young writers to keep plugging on, don’t get bogged down by discouragement, and look on each writing piece as a learning eperience.

    Kaimi ~ Glad to have you in So Cal! Thanks for the links (although I couldn’t get the Reiss one to work) to similar posts … I’m glad that people are thinking and talking about this issue.

    And so … being a law professor is on par with being a rock star? Do you get students asking you to autograph sundry body parts?

  5. Tatiana says:

    My profession: Electrical Engineer. I grew up with a passion for building things, blocks, tinker toys, erector sets, k’nex, legos, just about every building toy I loved. I also liked to build stuff out of wood and metal, and was lucky that my family had a pretty sweet setup in our basement, with lots of woodworking tools as well as a lathe and milling machine for metal work. Most nights and weekends I would hang out down there either working on some project of my own or watching and kibbitzing on someone else’s.

    Now I get paid for kibbitzing! I’m serious! I loved math and science always. I used to do experiments with toys, water, electricity, figuring out how gravity worked, inertia, fluid flow, and all that fun stuff. I also read for fun all the science-for-laymen books of Isaac Asimov, George Gamov, and so on, some time around high school. I’m a big science fiction fan too. I guess it was inevitable that I would go to engineering school, since my family on both sides for generations was full of scientists, engineers, and inventors.

    I graduated school, and persisted in doing the fun interesting stuff that engineers get to do, like getting dirty, playing with tools and machinery, and figuring out how to make stuff work, instead of the dull, clean, administrative jobs that they mostly try to shuffle off girls to doing. I traveled around the Western Hemisphere for 5 or 6 years starting up equipment and installing industrial control systems that I had designed. For a long time I was the only female in the pulp and paper industry who did anything like this. Then I began to meet others here and there.

    Now I get to do design changes for nuclear power plants. It’s fun! It’s really just playing with blocks, like I did when I was a kid, (only the blocks are bigger and more complicated), and kibbutzing while people build stuff. I love what I do! I hope lots of other girls will get involved in engineering because it’s a great job, and the field needs smart people.

  6. Tatiana says:

    Oh, to dress as an engineer for halloween, one should wear khakis and a polo shirt, with pocket protector, of course, filled with many pens, pencils, and highlighters. A nerdy haircut helps, and possibly glasses duct taped together. To complete the picture, be sure to carry a flashlight, and one of those tools like a swiss army knife, or the kind that look like needle nosed pliers that have tons of attached accessories like a swiss army knife. If you want, you can wear a hard hat, but it should be clean and white with at most one sticker in front. Hard hats that are colors, or have multiple stickers, signify solidarity with or identification with, the people who do the actual work. The stereotypical engineer stays clean and just kibbitzes. =)

  7. jana says:

    Well, to dress like a historian (my profession), you need to go to thrift shops and buy clothes that were in style 10-20 years ago and wear those. 🙂

    Seriously, one thing I like best about my job is that I can wear practically anything I want to, and no one even seems to notice.

    My fav Halloween costumes from my youth include: Pippi Longstocking (with braids standing out straight from my head courtesy of a hanger that my Mom twisted into the necessary shape), Peter Pan, a nurse, and a pirate.

    This year my kids are both dressing as characters from fantasy books. The only thing is that they aren’t recognizable characters–only SF-reading geeks know who they are.

  8. VirtualM says:

    I’m only a sometimes poster, but I thought I’d chime in. Last week at work I was talking to a girl that almost bought a ‘sexy Dorothy’ (as in Wizard of Oz) costume. The women around me and I then launched into a conversation about sexy Halloween costumes and how it’s gotten out of hand. We didn’t talk about solutions; we mostly griped, but it was good therapy. 🙂 Creativity is key – and learning how to make your own costumes.
    As for my job (it’s hardly a career), I work part time at a national cable television station in the marketing department. I did my undergraduate work in media arts and got my job through an internship while getting my master’s degree in film studies. I now get paid the small bucks to do research for brand extension through book publishing. I must admit, I can hardly believe I managed to get such a great gig. It hardly feels like work. I have aspirations of getting a PhD, but I’m not sure if I have it in me to commit the time now while p-nut (ds) is so small and demanding.
    The women in my department (and gay men- no straight men market classic movies!) all dress like Club Monaco threw up on them, so that’s how you get the ‘thirty-something in marketing’ look. (For the record, I cannot afford to have Club Monaco throw up on me, and don’t know that I would if I could!) My hubby, on the other hand, works in TV, but at Cartoon Network, so he gets to wear grubby, free t-shirts (they hand them out like candy there) and jeans to work everyday. That’s the real dream.

  9. Anonymous says:

    I have to work really hard to like Halloween. It is a lot of work for Mom and seems a little low on the meaning compared with Christmas and Easter and Thanksgiving Independence Day. I have to remember that imagination and pretend are worth celebrating and make the holiday about that instead of about scariness (or sexiness!)

    My job, for that part of things, is much more fun than it sounds. I do public relations for a small, growing public university. I find stories by talking to people and writing about them and their work. I work with reporters to help them find stories – some initiated by me and some not. I write for newsletters, the Web site and other publications. Most of my writing is about science and engineering research, but I also help with admissions and student life work.

    To get here, I majored in English and took a writing/editing track. I worked as a software magazine editor for a couple of years and then did PR for a software company. None of that was very exciting or fulfilling.

    When my first child came home I quit working full time and freelanced instead. Some of the work I did was for my dad, an engineering professor. Some was for my former employer, and some was for a translation company working on a science dictionary being translated from French to English.

    Moving to the town where we live now coincided with most of my freelance work drying up. Searching for new clients, I brought my resume and samples to several departments in the university. One of those packets led to freelance work for the communications office, and just at the time I needed a full-time job (my husband was transitionining from research staff to Ph.D. student with a sadly predictable pay cut involved), a position opened. I’ve been here just more than 2 years now and still love my job.

    I wish finding Halloween costumes would work out so perfectly.

  10. Kaimi says:

    Well, we like Halloween around here. The kids were video game characters; my wife was a (very cute) witch; I was a music pirate. Dressed as a pirate; with a sah full of CD-Rs. It was a fun costume. I wore it to class, since I teach on Tuesdays; some students came in costume too. Good fun.

    Dora asks:

    “And so … being a law professor is on par with being a rock star? Do you get students asking you to autograph sundry body parts?”

    I wish!

    (No, actually, I don’t. Despite all of the “extra credit” jokes I make with my wife, the truth is, to be a law prof one has to be a lawyer, and lawyers are naturally skittish about anything that could bring liability.)

    It is always fun though, to joke with my wife about the perils grading students “on a curve” . . .

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  12. KiriClose says:

    Me? i like to dress up for Oct.31st, but like you, Dora, I realize the limitations in how sex sells–even as Halloween costumes!–in our base minded society (modern-shmodern).

    PROFESSION: I’m a thinker. Lemme rephrase that: I’m an UNthinker. I like to UNthink the sophistications of status quo. I do it naturally, & I eventually got a Phd in Philosophy from a fabulous little school in the Swiss Alps under a visiting faculty that includes Judith Butler, Slavoj Zizek, Avital Ronell, etc.

    I am not interested in tenure track full time. I would like to do law school (& possibly a joint MBA) so I can write & UNthink more books on more topics, particularly on the following topics:

    –any other criticality.

    I haven’t decided if I would like to be a teacher since I hate leaving the house for a job that restricts me to lecture only at a certain time, in a certain location, on a certain payroll.

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