By Sarah Burstein, Staff Writer

Gender roles is a topic brought up again and again. We often wonder why and how we’ve created a society with such a strict binary between what is feminine and masculine. Walk into any store and you’ll see what I mean. Whether it’s hair removal products, deodorant, shampoo, or even pens, we have an obsession with dividing the most mundane materials into what’s proper for girls and what’s proper for boys. Where does this start, and why do we feed into it so much?

Gender acceptable Halloween costumes./PHOTO VIA Flickr user Tammra McCauley

Kids can (and should) be encouraged to dress up as whatever they want for Halloween, but more often than not, society discourages this./PHOTO VIA Flickr user Tammra McCauley

There doesn’t seem to be anything outwardly problematic about Halloween costumes. But when you think about it, children are often subliminally encouraged to choose a costume to “fit” their gender. Whether it comes from little girls modeling costumes of fairies and princesses or little boys modeling costumes of cowboys and superheroes, we send a message to children at a young age determining the “correct” way to dress up.

Back in 2012, Kelly Byrom wrote a blog post about her son, who preferred dressing in “girl” Halloween costumes instead of “boy” ones. Byrom couldn’t help but notice that while her son received some side-eye looks from fellow trick-or-treaters, her daughter, who was dressed in a more “boyish” dragon costume, received no comments or criticism. What are we telling our children when we praise them for acting tougher, or more masculine, while we condemn them for acting more feminine? What does that say about how we value women?

It says that we don’t value them very much at all.

I’m not saying that only women or young girls are suffering from this strict gender binary. All children, especially those who may not identify with one gender, can feel weakened by the system.

If you think about it, the gender binary is pretty ridiculous. It’s a concept that bases appropriate identities off of anatomical parts, and one that has no true biological roots. Perhaps people go to such lengths to defend it because it cannot stand on its own due to its inherently weak nature.

Luckily, I don’t think all hope is lost. A relatively more open and progressive society in combination with more public figures who do not fit into gender binary roles (Laverne Cox, Janet Mock, etc.) is changing the way parents raise their children.

When I was younger, it was taboo to think that children may not fit into the gender binary. I honestly don’t think many boys my age were given the opportunity to be a fairy or a princess for Halloween (unless they had incredibly cool parents). Growing up during an era of change led me to start considering the way I want to raise my own future children. I want to allow my children to explore all paths and routes to their true identity, and support them through that entire process. After all, isn’t that what good parenting is?

It’s time we put our children’s desires and securities before the foundations of a repressive and shaky gender binary system, and Halloween costumes are an ideal place to start.