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After studying the assigned reading Sociology: 

The Social Construction of Gender

 and considering the concept of “gender as socially constructed,” answer the following questions and prompts.

Do not include the questions in the essay.

A) How does media create meanings about gender?

B) Provide examples of how this is manifested in our everyday lives.

C) Provide a link to a commercial/ad that stereotypes gender. Even though it is natural to find humor in some of these portrayals, in what ways is this problematic.

Also, consider that sex is a system of classification based on biology and physiology, while gender reflects the cultural meaning that is ascribed to a person’s sex, thus resulting in labels of “masculinity and femininity.” Furthermore, our biology is not distinctively male or female and a significant number of people are born “intersex” with variations in chromosomes or sexual organs. Most biological researchers agree on the estimation that intersex people are about as common as encountering someone with green eyes.

It is important to understand that masculinity and femininity are not oppositional, although it seems to be portrayed so in media. In Western society (such as in the U.S. and Western Europe) we typically adhere to certain ideas and values that define masculinity and femininity as we perform the roles. What if the list was different? All of us, in honesty, could reveal that we interchange among the qualities. Take a look at the list and answer the following questions:



· strength

· dominance

· aggression

· independence

· empowerment

· active

· rational thought

· production

· breadwinner

· subject

· outdoors

· technology

· weakness

· submission

· compliance/vulnerability

· dependence

· disempowerment

· passive

· emotion

· consumption

· nurturer

· object

· indoors

· nature


Provide answers to the following questions or prompts in your assignment submission.

D) How is the list being currently challenged?

E) What traits do you have that are typically considered “on the list” of the other sex?

F) What examples do you see in your daily life of people challenging the historic list?

G) What about examples in media of characters or people challenging the list?

H) Finally, do you agree or disagree that gender is socially constructed? Provide evidence that backs your opinion.  

Support your responses with research from the Learning Resources. Use 
APA in-text citations
 where necessary and cite any outside sources. Create an 
APA reference list
 at the end of the document.

Submit your responses in the file submission area for this assignment. If you choose to “add a file” by attaching an MS Word  document, please also copy and paste your response into the comments area.

500 to 600 words

©2020 University of Maryland Global Campus

Below are the required learning resources for this week.

Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender: Media

This reading discusses media, focusing on the issue of censorship.


The SAGE Handbook of Gender and Communication: Chapter 16: Gender, Race and Media Representation

This is a discussion of gender, race, and media representation.


The SAGE Handbook of Gender and Communication: Chapter 19: Gender and New Media

This article discusses the relationship between gender and new media.


Sociology: The Social Construction of Gender

Read this article on the social construction of gender.


: The Social Construction of Gender


Please comment on at least  2 to 3 of your classmates’ postings with questions or thoughtful, respectful, thorough responses.


Although this is not a media-based example, the first thing that popped into my head which I believe is a good example is that the job I have is considered a female-dominate job. I work in a makeup store and generally, it is ran by females, however we have had plenty of male workers in our facility. Whenever I tell someone where I work they immediately say “oh wow a job of all women… must be full of drama!”. That is a stereotype that society has placed on women and even has been expressed many times on television shows and other sources of entertainment. This website below shares 7 reasons why the stereotype that women mean drama is a myth. 

7 reasons to stop saying “Girls are too much drama”. GirlsLife. (n.d.). Retrieved April 23, 2022, from http://www.girlslife.com/life/friends/32379/7-reasons-to-stop-saying-girls-are-too-much-drama

After reading this weeks resources, I found myself thinking about the fact that discrimination is still a big thing in society. Discrimination is more so touched on with race but also with gender. From the readings, I learned that most of the gender studies have been conducted from females rather than males. Media also plays a role in gender and race discrimination and can point out reasons why we should continue to work towards or against a certain issue. I think that gender discrimination ties in perfectly with the example I gave above about my job at a makeup store. If we stop sharing stereotypes, do you think the amount of discrimination would decrease as well? What are your thoughts?


A) Mass Communication sets or perpetuates some gender agendas. Provide links to examples and develop your viewpoints while referring to your weekly learning resources. 

Clorox bleach made an ad that stereotypes women doing the laundry. They vaguely mention that a man might do the laundry, but it is directed at just women and their efforts in doing the laundry. There is much debate about gender roles and doing household chores. Clorox used the knowledge that women were mainly the ones doing the laundry, but in today’s society, that is no longer the case, and many people pick up different roles in a family unit. The use of gender roles in advertising was meant to focus on who was buying and targeted the gender most thought to be using the product (Consalvo, 2022). The commercial is older, probably around 2007, but it is interesting how much has changed in gender roles and how we see them as time and culture change. 


B) Mass Communication influences attitudes and opinions about gender, race, and sexuality. After reading The SAGE Handbook of Gender and Communication, 
Chapter 16
: “Gender, Race and Media Representation,” pose a question or statement in the group discussion that you now have after completing the readings. 

This week’s readings brought to my attention the evolution of genders in today’s society. How past roles are no longer the same as today’s culture and how there are even stay-at-home dads who do amazing jobs. There are no longer specific roles that an individual has to fill. Men or women can do the laundry, housework, be a stay at home parents and do a great job. It was interesting to see how each gender role has progressed into something different. The media has understood the changes in culture and has started to break away from the traditional roles once held by stereotypes (Brooks & Hebert, 2022).


Brooks, D., & Hebert, L. (2022). Chapter 16: Gender, Race, and Media Representation. Sage Knowledge. https://sk-sagepub-com.ezproxy.umgc.edu/reference/hdbk_gendercomm/n16.xml

Clorox commercial…Laundry timeline. (2007). YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TZeQUxSjHwU

Consalvo, M. (2022). Chapter 19: Gender and New Media. Sage Knowledge. https://sk-sagepub-com.ezproxy.umgc.edu/reference/hdbk_gendercomm/n19.xml




n the video called Adventures in the Gender Trade, Kate Bornstein, a transgender performance
artist and activist, looks into the camera and says, “Once you buy gender, you’ll buy anything to
keep it.” Her observation goes to the heart of deep connections between economic processes and

institutionalized patterns of gender difference, opposition, and inequality in contemporary society.
Readings in this chapter examine the ways in which modern marketplace forces such as commercial-
ization, commodification, and consumerism exploit and construct gender. However, before we explore
the buying and selling of gender, we want to review briefly the major elements of contemporary
American economic life—elements that embody corporate capitalism—which form the framework for
the packaging and delivery of gender to consumers.


Corporate capitalism is an economic system in which large, national and transnational corporations are
the dominant forces. The basic goal of corporate capitalism is the same as it was when social scientists
such as Karl Marx studied early capitalist economies: converting money into more money (Johnson,
2001). Corporate capitalists invest money in the production of all sorts of goods and services for the
purpose of selling at a profit. Capitalism, as Gitlin (2001) observes, requires a consumerist way of life.

In today’s society, corporate capitalism affects virtually every aspect of life—most Americans work
for a corporate employer, whether a fast food chain or a bank, and virtually everyone buys the prod-
ucts and services of capitalist production (Johnson, 2001; Ritzer, 1999). Those goods and services
include things we must have in order to live (e.g., food and shelter) and, most important for contem-
porary capitalism’s survival and growth, things we have learned to want or desire (e. g., microwave
ovens, televisions, cruises, fitness fashions, cosmetic surgery), even though we do not need them in
order to live (Ritzer, 1999).

From an economic viewpoint, we are a nation of consumers, people who buy and use a dizzying
array of objects and services conceived, designed, and sold to us by corporations. George Ritzer
(1999), a leading analyst of consumerism, observes that consumption plays such as big role in the lives
of contemporary Americans that it has, in many respects, come to define our society.

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In fact, as Ritzer notes, Americans spend most
of their available resources on consumer goods
and services. Corporate, consumer capitalism
depends on luring people into what he calls the
“cathedrals of consumption,” such as book super-
stores, shopping malls, theme parks, fast food
restaurants, and casinos, where we will spend
money to buy an array of goods and services.

Our consumption-driven economy counts on
customers whose spending habits are relatively
unrestrained and who view shopping as pleasur-
able. Indeed, Americans spend much more today
than they did just forty years ago (Ritzer, 1999).
Most of our available resources go to purchasing
and consuming “stuff.” Americans consume
more of everything and more varieties of things
than people in other nations. We are also more
likely to go into debt than Americans of earlier
generations and people in other nations today.
Some social scientists (e.g, Schor, 1998, p. 2004)
use the term hyperconsumption to describe what
seems to be a growing American passion for and
obsession with consumption.


Gender is a fundamental element of the modern
machinery of marketing. It is an obvious resource
from which the creators and distributors of goods
and services can draw ideas, images, and mes-
sages. The imagery of consumer culture thrives on
gender difference and asymmetry. For example,
consumer emblems of hyperfemininity and
hypermasculinity, such as Barbie and GI Joe,
stand in stark physical contrast to each other
(Schiebinger, 2000). This is not happenstance.
Barbie and GI Joe intentionally reinforce beliefs
in essential differences between women and men.
The exaggerated, gendered appearances of Barbie
and GI Joe can be purchased by adult consumers
who have the financial resources to pay for new
cosmetic surgeries, such as breast and calf
implants, that literally inscribe beliefs about
physical differences between women and men
into their flesh (Sullivan, 2001). As Walters
observes (2001), turning difference into “an
object of barter is perhaps the quintessentially

American experience” (p. 289). Indeed, virtually
every product and service, including the most
functional, can be designed and consumed as
masculine or feminine (e.g., deodorants, bicycles,
greeting cards, wallpaper, cars, and hair styles).

Gender-coding of products and services is a
common strategy employed by capitalist organi-
zations to sell their wares. It is also integral to the
processes by which gender is constructed,
because it frames and structures gender prac-
tices. Let’s look at the gender-coding of clothing
to illustrate how consumer culture participates in
the construction of gender through ordinary
material forms. As the gender archeologist
Sorenson (2000) observes, clothing is an ideal
medium for the expression of a culture’s gender
beliefs because it is an extension of the body and
an important element in identity and commu-
nication. No wonder corporate capitalists have
cashed in on the business of fabricating gender
through dress (Sorenson, 2000). Sorenson
(2000) notes that simple observation of the cloth-
ing habits of people reveals a powerful pattern of
“dressing gender” (p. 124). Throughout life, she
argues, the gender-coding of colors, patterns,
decorations, fabrics, fastenings, trimmings, and
other aspects of dress create and maintain differ-
ences between boys and girls and men and
women. Even when clothing designers and man-
ufacturers create what appear to be “unisex”
fashions (e.g., tuxedos for women), they incorpo-
rate just enough gendered elements (e.g., lacy
trim or a revealing neckline) to insure that the
culturally created gender categories—feminine
and masculine—are not completely erased.
Consider the lengths to which the fashion indus-
try has gone to create dress that conveys a “seri-
ous yet feminine” business appearance for the
increasing number of women in management
and executive levels of the corporate world
(Kimle & Damhorst, 1997). Contemplate the
ferocity of the taboo against boys and men wear-
ing skirts and dresses. Breaking the taboo
(except on a few occasions such as Halloween)
typically results in negative sanctions. The read-
ing in this chapter by Adie Nelson examines the
extent to which even fantasy dress for children
ends up conforming to gender stereotypes.

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Gender-coded clothing is one example of cor-
porate exploitation of gender to sell all kinds of
goods and services, including gender itself. Have
we arrived at a moment in history when identi-
ties, including gender identity, are largely shaped
within the dynamics of consumerism? Will we,
as Bornstein observes, buy anything to keep up
gender appearances? The readings in this chapter
help us to answer these questions. They illumi-
nate some of the key ways in which capitalist,
consumer culture makes use of cultural defini-
tions and stereotypes of gender to produce and
sell goods and services.

In our “consumers’ republic” (Cohen, 2003),
the mass media (e.g., television and magazines)
play a central role in delivering potential con-
sumers to advertisers whose job it is to persuade
us to buy particular products and services
(Kilbourne, 1999; Ritzer, 1999). The advertising
industry devotes itself to creating and keeping
consumers in the marketplace, and it is very
good at what it does. Today’s advertisers use
sophisticated strategies for hooking consumers.
The strategies work because they link our deep-
est emotions and most beloved ideals to products
and services by persuading us that identity and
self-worth can be fashioned out of the things
we buy (Featherstone, 1991; Zukin, 2004)).
Advertisers transform gender into a commodity,
and convince consumers that we can transform
ourselves into more masculine men and more
feminine women by buying particular products
and services. Men are lured into buying cars
that will make them feel like hypermasculine
machines, and women are sold a wondrous array
of cosmetic products and procedures that are
supposed to turn them into drop-dead beauties.

Jacqueline Urla and Alan Swedlund’s article
explores the story that Barbie, a well advertised
and wildly popular toy turned icon, tells about
femininity in consumer culture. They note that
although Barbie’s long, thin body and big breasts
are remarkably unnatural, she stands as an ideal
that has played itself out in the real body trends
of Playboy magazine centerfolds and Miss
America contestants. The authors provide evi-
dence that between 1959 and 1978, the average
weight and hip size for women centerfolds and

beauty contestants decreased steadily. A follow-
up study for 1979–88 found the acceleration of
this trend with “approximately 69 percent of
Playboy centerfolds and 60 percent of Miss
America contestants weighing in at 15 percent or
more below their expected age and height cate-
gory” (p. 298). One lesson we might glean from
this story is that a toy (Barbie) and real women
(centerfolds and beauty contestants) are converg-
ing in a culture in which the bonds of beauty
norms are narrowing and tightening their grip on
both products and persons (Sullivan, 2001). To
illustrate the extent of media’s influence even
further, Kirsten Firminger’s piece on represen-
tations of males in teenage girls’ magazines
demonstrates the power of print media to guide
readers not only toward consumption of gen-
dered products and services but also toward con-
sumption of (stereo)types of people who are
packaged much like other gendered products.

Any analysis of the marketing of femininity
and masculinity has to take into account the
ways in which the gendering of products and
services is tightly linked to prisms of difference
and inequality such as sexuality, race, age, and
ability/disability. Consumer culture thrives, for
example, on heterosexuality, whiteness, and
youthfulness. Automobile advertisers market
cars made for heterosexual romance and mar-
riage. Liquor ads feature men and women in love
(Kilbourne, 1999). Recent research on race and
gender imagery in the most popular advertising
medium, television, confirms the continuing
dominance of images of White, affluent, young
adults. “Virtually all forms of television market-
ing perpetuate images of White hegemonic
masculinity and White feminine romantic fulfill-
ment” (Coltrane & Messineo, 2000, p. 386).
In spite of what is called niche marketing or mar-
keting to special audiences such as Latinos, gay
men, and older Americans, commercial televi-
sion imagery continues to rely on stereotypes
of race, gender, age, and the like (Coltrane &
Messineo, 2000). Stereotypes sell.

Two readings in this chapter address intersec-
tions of prisms of difference and inequality in
consumer culture. The first, by Toni Calasanti
and Neal King, offers detailed insight into the

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mass-marketing of “successful aging” products,
services, and activities to old men. They highlight
the fact that marketing that targets old people
plays upon the stigma of aging in American cul-
ture and, in the case of men, the often desperate
attempts of aging men to hang onto youthful
manliness. The second, by Minjeong Kim and
Angie Chung, is a close analysis of multicultural
advertising strategies that rely on racialized, sex-
ualized, and gendered stereotypes of Asian
American women as the “Other” not only to sell
products but also to sell Orientalism itself.


The tension between creativity, resistance, and
rebellion, on the one hand; and the lure and power
of commercialization on the other, is a focus of
much research on consumerism and consumer cul-
ture (Quart, 2003; Schor, 2004). Can we produce
and consume the gendered products and services of
corporate capitalism without wanting and trying to
be just like Barbie or Madonna, the Marlboro Man
or Brad Pitt? Does corporate, commercial cul-
ture consume everything and everyone in its path,
including the creators of countercultural forms?

The latter question is important. Consider the
fact that “grunge,” which began as antiestablish-
ment fashion, became a national trend when
companies such as Diesel and Urban Outfitters
coopted and commercialized it (O’Brien, 1999).
Then contemplate how commercial culture has
cleverly exploited the women’s movement by
associating serious social issues and problems with
trivial or dangerous products. “New Freedom”
is a maxipad. “ERA” is a laundry detergent.
Cigarette ads often portray smoking as a symbol
of women’s liberation (Kilbourne, 1999).
Commercial culture is quite successful in entic-
ing artists of all sorts to “sell out.” For example,
Madonna began her career as a rebel who dared
to display a rounded belly. But, over time,
she has been “normalized,” as reflected in the
transformation of her body to better fit celebrity
appearance norms (Bordo, 1997).

The culture of the commodity is also success-
ful in mainstreaming the unconventional by

turning nonconformity into obedience that
answers to Madison Avenue (Harris, 2000).
Analysts of the commodification of gayness have
been especially sensitive to the potential prob-
lems posed by advertising’s recent creation of a
largely fictional identity of gay as “wealthy White
man” with a lifestyle defined by hip fashion
(Walters, 2001). What will happen if lesbian and
gay male styles are increasingly drawn into mass-
mediated, consumer culture? Will those modes of
rebellion against the dominance of heterosexism
lose their political clout? Will they become mere
“symbolic forms of resistance, ineffectual strate-
gies of rebellion” (Harris, 2000, p. xxiii)?


The global reach of American culture is yet
another concern of consumer culture researchers.
Transnational corporations are selling American
popular culture and consumerism as a way of life
in countries around the world (Kilbourne, 1999;
Ritzer, 1999). People across the globe are now
regularly exposed to American images, icons,
and ideals. For example, Baywatch, with its array
of perfect (albeit cosmetically enhanced) male
and female bodies, has been seen by more people
in the world than any other television show
(Kilbourne, 1999). American popular music
and film celebrities dominate the world scene.
Everyone knows Marilyn Monroe and James
Dean, Tom Cruise and Julia Roberts.

You might ask, and quite legitimately, so what?
The answer to that question is not a simple one, in
part because cultural import-export relations are
intricate. As Gitlin (2001) observes, “the cultural
gates . . . swing both ways. For example, American
rhythm and blues influenced Jamaican ska, which
evolved into reggae, which in turn was imported to
the United States via Britain” (p. 188). However,
researchers have been able to document some trou-
bling consequences of the global advantage of
American commercial, consumer culture for the
lifeways of people outside the United States. Thus,
social scientists (e.g., Connell, 1999; Herdt, 1997)
are tracing how American categories of sexual


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orientation are altering the modes of organization
and perception of same-gender relations in some
non-Western societies that have traditionally been
more fluid and tolerant of sexual diversity than the
United States.

Scientists are also documenting the impact of
American mass media images of femininity and
masculinity on consumers in far corners of the
world. The island country of Fiji is one such
place. Researchers have discovered that as the
young women of Fiji consume American televi-
sion on a regular basis, eating disorders such as
anorexia nervosa are being recorded for the first
time. The ultra-thin images of girls and women
that populate U.S. TV shows and TV ads have
become the measuring stick of femininity in a
culture in which, previously, an ample, full body
was the norm for women and men (Goode,
1999). The troubling consequences of the global-
ization of American consumer culture do not end
with these examples. Consider the potential neg-
ative impact of idealized images of whiteness in
a world in which most people are brown. Or how
about the impact of America’s negative images
of older women and men on the people of cul-
tures in which the elderly are revered?

Although corporate, capitalist economies pro-
vide many people with all the creature comforts
they need and more, as well as making consump-
tion entertaining and more accessible, there is a
price to pay (Ritzer, 1999). This chapter explores
one troubling aspect of corporate, consumer cul-
ture—the commodification and commercializa-
tion of gender.

A few final questions emerge from our analy-
sis of patterns of gender in relationship to con-
sumer capitalism. How can the individual develop
an identity and self-worth that are not contingent
upon and defined by a whirlwind of products and
services? How do we avoid devolving into carica-
tures of stereotyped images of femininity and
masculinity, whose needs and desires can only be
met by gendered commodities? Is Kate Bornstein
correct when she states that “Once you buy gen-
der, you’ll buy anything to keep it?” Or can we
create and preserve alternative ways of life, even
ways of life that undermine the oppression of
dominant images and representations?


Bordo, S. (1997). Material girl: The effacements
of postmodern culture. In R. Lancaster & M. di
Leonardo (Eds.), The gender/sexuality reader
(pp. 335—358). New York: Routledge.

Coltrane, S., & Messineo, M. (2000). The perpetuation of
subtle prejudice: Race and gender imagery in 1990s
television advertising. Sex roles, (42), 363–389.

Cohen, L. (2003). A consumers’ republic: The politics
of mass consumption in postwar America. New
York: Vintage Books

Connell, R. W. (1999). Making gendered people:
Bodies, identities, sexualities. In M. Ferree,
J. Lorber & B. Hess (Eds.), Revisioning gender
(pp. 449–471). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Featherstone, M. (1991). The body in consumer cul-
ture. In Featherstone, Hepworth, & Turner (Eds.),
The body: Social process and cultural theory (pp.
170—196). London: Sage.

Gitlin, T. (2001). Media unlimited: How the torrent of
images and sounds overwhelms our lives. New
York: Henry Holt and Company.

Goode, E. (1999). Study finds TV alters Fiji girls’
view of body. New York Times, May 20, p. A17.

Harris, D. (2000). Cute, quaint, hungry and romantic:
The aesthetics of consumerism. Cambridge,
MA: Da Capo Press.

Herdt, G. (1997). Same sex, different cultures.
Boulder, CO: Westview.

Johnson, A. (2001). Privilege, power, and difference.
Mountain View, CA: Mayfield.

Kilbourne, J. (1999). Can’t buy my love. New York:
Simon & Schuster.

Kimle, P. A., & Damhorst, M. L. (1997). A grounded
theory model of the ideal business image for
women. Symbolic Interaction, 20 (1), 45–68.

Marenco, S., with Bornstein, K. (1993). Adventures in the
gender trade: A case for diversity. Filmakers Library.

O’Brien, J. (1999). Social prisms. Thousand Oaks,
CA: Pine Forge.

Quart, A. (2003). Branded: The buying and selling of
teenagers. New York: Basic Books.

Ritzer, G. (1999). Enchanting a disenchanted world.
Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge.

Schiebinger, L. (2000). Introduction. In L. Schiebinger
(Ed)., Feminism and the body (pp. 1–21). New
York: Oxford University Press.

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Schor, J. (1998). The overspent American. New York:
Basic Books.

Schor, J. (2004). Born to buy. New York: Scribner.
Sorenson, M. L. Stig. (2000). Gender archaeology.

Cambridge, England: Polity Press.
Sullivan, D. A. (2001). Cosmetic surgery: The cut-

ting edge of commercial medicine in America.

New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University

Walters, S. D. (2001). All the rage: The story of gay
visibility in America. Chicago: University of
Chicago Press.

Zukin, S. (2004). Point of purchase: How shopping
changed American culture. New York: Routledge.


From Nelson, Adie. 2000. “The pink dragon is female: Halloween costumes and gender markers” Psychology of Women Quarterly 24.

Introduction to Reading 21

Adie Nelson’s article offers a marvelously detailed analysis of one way in which the modern mar-
ketplace reinforces gender stereotypes—the gender coding of children’s Halloween costumes.
Nelson describes the research process she employed to label costumes as masculine, feminine,
or neutral. She provides extensive information about how manufacturers and advertisers use gen-
der markers to steer buyers, in this case parents, toward “gender-appropriate” costume choices
for their children. Overall, Nelson’s research indicates that gender-neutral costumes, whether
they are ready-to-wear or sewing patterns, are a tiny minority of all the costumes on the market.

1. Many perceive Halloween costumes as encouraging children to engage in fantasy play.
How does Nelson’s research call this notion into question?

2. Describe some of the key strategies employed by manufacturers to “gender” children’s

3. How do Halloween costumes help to reproduce an active-masculine/passive-feminine



Adie Nelson
* * *

he celebration of Halloween has become,
in contemporary times a socially orches-
trated secular event that brings buyers and

sellers into the marketplace for the sale and pur-
chase of treats, ornaments, decorations, and fan-
ciful costumes. Within this setting, the wearing of
fancy dress costumes has such a prominent role

that it is common, especially within large cities,
for major department stores and large, specialty
toy stores to begin displaying their selection of
Halloween costumes by mid-August if not earlier.
It is also evident that the range of masks and cos-
tumes available has broadened greatly beyond
those identified by McNeill (1970), and that both

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children and adults may now select from a wide
assortment of readymade costumes depicting,
among other things, animals, objects, super-
heroes, villains, and celebrities. In addition, major
suppliers of commercially available sewing
patterns, such as Simplicity and McCall’s, now
routinely include an assortment of Halloween
costumes in their fall catalogues. Within such
catalogues, a variety of costumes designed for
infants, toddlers, children, adults, and, not infre-
quently, pampered dogs are featured.

On the surface, the selection and purchase of
Halloween costumes for use by children may
simply appear to facilitate their participation in
the world of fantasy play. At least in theory, ask-
ing children what they wish to wear or what they
would like to be for Halloween may be seen to
encourage them to use their imagination and to
engage in the role-taking stage that Mead (1934)
identified as play. Yet, it is clear that the commer-
cial marketplace plays a major role in giving
expression to children’s imagination in their
Halloween costuming. Moreover, although it
might be facilely assumed that the occasion of
Halloween provides a cultural “time out” in
which women and men as well as girls and boys
have tacit permission to transcend the gendered
rules that mark the donning of apparel in every-
day life, the androgyny of Halloween costumes
may be more apparent than real. If, as our folk
wisdom proclaims, “clothes make the man” (or
woman), it would be presumptuous to suppose
that commercially available children’s Halloween
costumes and sewing patterns do not reflect both
the gendered nature of dress (Eicher & Roach-
Higgens, 1992) and the symbolic world of
heroes, villains, and fools (Klapp, 1962, 1964).
Indeed, the donning of Halloween costumes may
demonstrate a “gender display” (Goffman, 1966,
p. 250) that is dependent on decisions made by
brokering agents to the extent that it is the after-
math of a series of decisions made by commercial
firms that market ready-made costumes and
sewing patterns that, in turn, are purchased, rented,
or sewn by parents or others. . . .

Building on Barnes and Eicher’s (1992, p. 1)
observation that “dress is one of the most

significant markers of gender identity,” an exam-
ination of children’s Halloween costumes pro-
vides a unique opportunity to explore the extent
to which gender markers are also evident within
the fantasy costumes available for Halloween. To
the best of my knowledge, no previous research
has attempted to analyze these costumes nor to
examine the ways in which the imaginary vistas
explored in children’s fantasy dress reproduce
and reiterate more conventional messages about

In undertaking this research, my expectations
were based on certain assumptions about the per-
spectives of merchandisers of Halloween costumes
for children. It was expected that commercially
available costumes and costume patterns would
reiterate and reinforce traditional gender stereo-
types. Attempting to adopt the marketing perspec-
tive of merchandisers, it was anticipated that
the target audience would be parents concerned
with creating memorable childhood experiences
for their children, envisioning them dressed up as
archetypal fantasy characters. In the case of sewing
patterns, it was expected that the target audience
would be primarily mothers who possessed what
manufacturers might imagine to be the sewing
skills of the traditional homemaker. However,
these assumptions about merchandisers are not the
subject of the present inquiry. Rather, the present
study offers an examination of the potential contri-
bution of marketing to the maintenance of gender
stereotypes. In this article, the focus is on the cos-
tumes available in the marketplace; elsewhere
I examine the interactions between children and
their parents in the selection, modification, and
wearing of Halloween costumes (Nelson, 1999).


The present research was based on a content
analysis of 469 unique children’s Halloween
ready-made costumes and sewing patterns exam-
ined from August 1996 to November 1997 at
craft stores, department stores, specialty toy
stores, costume rental stores, and fabric stores
containing catalogues of sewing patterns. Within

Buying and Selling Gender • 223

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retail stores, racks of children’s Halloween
costumes typically appeared in August and
remained in evidence, albeit in dwindling
numbers, until early November each year. In
department stores, a subsection of the area gen-
erally devoted to toys featured such garments;
in craft stores and/or toy stores, children’s
Halloween costumes were typically positioned
on long racks in the center of a section devoted
to the commercial paraphernalia now associated
with the celebration of Halloween (e.g., card-
board witches, “Spook trees,” plastic pumpkin
containers). Costumes were not segregated by
gender within the stores (i.e., there were no
separate aisles or sections for boys’ and girls’
costumes); however, children’s costumes were
typically positioned separately from those
designed for adults. . . .

All costumes were initially coded as (a) mas-
culine, (b) feminine, or (c) neutral depending on
whether boys, girls, or both were featured as the
models on the packaging that accompanied a
ready-to-wear costume or were used to illustrate
the completed costume on the cover of a sewing
pattern. . . . The pictures accompanying cos-
tumes may act as safekeeping devices, which
discourage parents from buying “wrong”-sexed
costumes. The process of labeling costumes as
masculine, feminine, or neutral was facilitated
by the fact that these public pictures (Goffman,
1979) commonly employed recognizable gen-
derisms. For example, a full-body costume of a
box of crayons could be identified as feminine
by the long curled hair of the model and the
black patent leather pumps with ribbons she
wore. In like fashion, a photograph depicting the
finished version of a sewing pattern for a teapot
featured the puckish styling of the model in a
variant of what Goffman (1979, p. 45) termed
“the bashful knee bend” and augmented this sub-
tle cue by having the model wear white panty-
hose and Mary-Jane shoes with rosettes at the
base of the toes. Although the sex of the model
could have been rendered invisible, such femi-
nine gender markers as pointy-toed footwear,
party shoes of white and black patent leather,
frilly socks. makeup and nail polish, jewelry, and

elaborately curled (and typically long and
blonde) hair adorned with bows/barrettes/
hairbands facilitated this initial stage of costume
placement. By and large, female models used to
illustrate Halloween costumes conformed to the
ideal image of the “Little Miss” beauty pageant
winner; they were almost overwhelmingly
White, slim, delicate-boned blondes who did not
wear glasses. Although male child models were
also overwhelmingly White, they were more het-
erogeneous in height and weight and were more
likely to wear glasses or to smile out from the
photograph in a bucktooth grin. At the same
time, however, masculine gender markers were
apparent. Male models were almost uniformly
shod in either well-worn running shoes or
sturdy-looking brogues, while their hair showed
little variation from the traditional little boy cut
of short back and sides.

The use of gender-specific common and
proper nouns to designate costumes (e.g.,
Medieval Maiden, Majorette, Prairie Girl) or
gender-associated adjectives that formed part of
the costume title (e.g., Tiny Tikes Beauty, Pretty
Witch, Beautiful Babe, Pretty Pumpkin Pie) also
served to identify feminine costumes. Similarly,
the use of the terms “boy,” “man,” or “male” in
the advertised name of the costume (e.g., Pirate
Boy, Native American Boy, Dragon Boy) or the
noted inclusion of advertising copy that
announced “Cool dudes costumes are for boys in
sizes” was used to identify masculine costumes.
Costumes designated as neutral were those in
which both boys and girls were featured in the
illustration or photograph that accompanied the
costume or sewing pattern or in which it was
impossible to detect the sex of the wearer. By
and large, illustrations for gender-neutral ads
featured boys and girls identically clad and
depicted as a twinned couple or, alternatively,
showed a single child wearing a full-length ani-
mal costume complete with head and “paws,”
which, in the style of spats, effectively covered
the shoes of the model. In addition, gender-
neutral costumes were identified by an absence
of gender-specific nouns and stereotypically
gendered colors.


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Following this initial division into three cate-
gories, the contents of each were further coded
into a modified version of Klapp’s (1964) schema
of heroes, villains, and fools. In his work, Klapp
suggested that this schema represents three
dimensions of human behavior. That is, heroes
are praised and set up as role models, whereas
villains and fools are negative models, with the
former representing evil to be feared and/or
hated and the latter representing figures of absur-
dity inviting ridicule. However, alth