Category: Margaret Murray

Changing Costumes

This is not another post about how Halloween retailers sexualize young girls by labeling costumes with names like “sailor sweetie” or “cop cutie.” This is not another post about the padded muscle costumes that encourage hyper-masculinity in boys (although, to be honest, I really haven’t seen any posts addressing it the same way the sexualization of girls is addressed). This is not another post about how all “girl” costumes feature skirts, glitter, and princesses or how all “boy” costumes have bloody weapons or are superhero-themed. This is an exploration of how occupation or career-themed costumes are labeled as “girls” or “boys.”

First of all, I have nothing against girls who want to be princesses, sparkly witches, or cowgirls or boys who want to be superheroes, pirates, or ninjas. I’m all about Elsa, Ariel, and Spiderman—you do you, Batman. Halloween is all about dressing up and pretending to be someone or something else, and that’s the beauty of it.

I chose to feature major Halloween retailers—Walmart, Target, Party City, Halloween Express, Spirit Halloween, and Costume SuperCenter—and only selected the pictures listed under the occupation or career category. All the websites sorted their costumes by “boy” or “girl,” so when you see a boy wearing a costume on the “girls” side, just know that the picture is there because the retailer categorized the costume as a costume that could be worn by either gender. For transparency’s sake, know that I left out certain costumes. While most of them are definitely real careers, I had to narrow it down in some way. Here is what I left out: athletes, circus clowns, gangsters, “career criminals,” pop stars, referees, and Hollywood stars. However, I kept dancers and fortune tellers because, frankly, the girl’s side was lacking representation.

Click on the collections below to see for yourselves…

Interpret the collection of pictures however you would like, but here are my observations:

  • There are way more occupation or career costumes for boys than girls.
    A lot of the “boy” costumes also could be worn by girls. Some may be more male-dominated, but it’s not like the occupations of firefighters, astronauts, or postal carriers are exclusively held by men.
  • When the retailer did categorize the costume as “either,” the image is always a boy. The default child is “boy.”
  • Target actually had a “gender neutral” costume option, but the only occupations featured under this category were depicted by boys.
  • The retailers all seemed to have the same costumes, but how they categorized them varied slightly.
  • There are very few non-white children featured in the occupation or career theme category of all of the retailers. In fact, Target had all white children featured in their occupation or career costumes except for the two models dressed as Doc McStuffins.
  • I was somewhat hopeful when I saw that Costume SuperCenter carried a brand with a girl and a boy wearing the same costume in the same picture, but then the company categorized the doctor, vet, and chef as either “girl” or “boy” and the construction worker, police officer, and fire fighter only under the “boy” category. This is despite the fact that the image had both a boy and a girl. Take a look below.


So what does all this mean and who is to blame? When children play pretend and imagine themselves in certain careers, don’t we want as many options for our girls as we do our boys? Children should be encouraged to explore all types of careers, and Halloween is the perfect time for boys and girls to take on these different roles. When the occupation or career costumes marked “girl” only feature the options seen in the collection of photos above, when a costume could be for a boy or a girl yet the default image features a boy, what message are we sending to our children? Are we steering girls away from these occupations by not including their images with the costume? Maybe.

As a child, it’s difficult to imagine you can be someone or do something if you can’t see a person that looks like you in that position. Yes, there are lots of other factors that influence which career girls end up pursuing, and, yes, the availability of Halloween costumes probably is a tiny piece of that puzzle. But what’s the harm in at least giving girls the option to explore different roles through costumes in the same way we allow boys to explore?

I’m not advocating that parents should force their children to be something that they don’t want to be. If a girl wants to be a sparkly princess, let her. If a boy wants to be a secret agent, let him. But the option to be a firefighter or construction worker should be given to girls as it is for boys. It shouldn’t be edgy or gender-bending that a girl would want to dress up in the same occupation or career costumes as a boy.

This is not the fault of the companies who manufacture the costumes, though they could feature both a boy and a girl in their costumes to make it easier for retailers to market their products more broadly with more diverse models.

This is not the fault of major retailers who sell the costumes, though they could do a better job of categorizing and labeling their merchandise. Instead of saying a costume is either for a “boy” or “girl,” labeling it as a “child’s” costume would give children and parents the power to decide for themselves.

This is our fault. We, as a society, are to blame for the lack of occupation or career- themed costumes for girls. Manufacturers do not make products that cannot be sold by major retailers, and major retailers do not carry products they cannot sell. Consumers drive demand for products. We have to collectively take action. Our girls deserve better.


Activism via E-mail

Editor’s note: This is an email exchange between two white Women’s Center employees, our Programming Coordinator Margaret Murray and Director Lisa Rismiller who were talking about Baltimore, injustice, and the role of white people. It started with a comment on Facebook and led to questions, which led to a series of e-mails between the two. One of those questions was “should we?” Should we post a series of e-mails on our blog? Our director initially thought “no” but pulled out our mission statement and saw “agents of positive change, social and gender justice, inclusive, diversity, community-building…” and decided “yes.”

On Wed, Apr 29, 2015 at 9:41 AM, Margaret Murray <> wrote:
Here is a comment (which includes my own voice and edits) that I thought summed everything up pretty well for white people:
We [white folks] have to look into our hearts and consciences and determine what exactly are our perceptions of people or color, and specifically, black people. We really need to analyze and critique our own behavior as white people, including those who consider themselves to be “white allies” in all of this.

Let’s be honest with ourselves and answer these questions: Do we see black people as equal in every way to ourselves? Do we treat them the same way we treat our (presumably white) family and friends? Do we love our black neighbors as we love ourselves? Or, do we see, label, or perceive black people as gangsters, murderers, thugs, drug addicts, or criminals? Do we avoid them when we walk down the street? Do we fear them?

The way society views the different groups within it determines the way these groups and individuals within it act and how they view themselves. If we view black people as thugs and criminals, we will not work to make the places they live better, with jobs, education, and other resources that will help them lift themselves out of poverty. Instead, many believe that they “deserve this” and “brought it on themselves.” If this is truly the case, it didn’t happen without indifference and complicity from the rest of society.

When “riots” broke out in Ferguson and now in Baltimore, I was disturbed by the number of white people, including those who considered themselves “white allies,” who condemned the actions of those whose lives and opportunities have been suppressed for centuries. The sense of powerlessness and suppressed anger can be volatile and explosive when finally released. At the end of the day, can you really blame some of their reactions? Really put yourself in their shoes and imagine how you would react.

People of color are fed up. I’ve heard people say, “We’re not going to take it anymore.” Frankly, they should have never had to “take it.” They are supposed to be treated as equals in society. But because of decades of misunderstanding and teaching of hate and fear of black people, the white majority has developed perceptions of them that are not only false, but have become a self-fulfilling prophecy for people who have black skin.

On Wed, Apr 29, 2015 at 10:24 AM, Lisa Rismiller <> wrote:
Insightful….and heartfelt, for sure. I’m especially struck by “The way a society views the different groups within it determines the way the group and individuals in it act, and how they view themselves…” and how white people in this immigrant nation seem to have totally forgotten that most of our ancestors were at one time “different” from the majority and seen as “thugs,” “drunks” (Irish), or members of religious cults (Catholics). Because of our white skin, over several generations, we’ve been able to largely erase, or at least hide, those distinguishing characteristics and so have been able to be absorbed into the U.S. mainstream. Not so for our black and brown fellow citizens……they have never been able to effectively erase their otherness, so they remain seen (and treated) as different and less…..Like every US social movement before it, until those in power (vs. the majority, which is rapidly changing) become part of the protests pushing for solutions on behalf of their fellow citizens, we’ll get nowhere as a nation.

8 Tidbits of Career Wisdom

With our annual Campus to Career conference tomorrow, I find myself thinking about the journey to my professional self. Why? Because Campus to Career is all about helping undergraduate and graduate women develop the skills they need to be successful in their first “big-girl jobs.”

I’m just finishing up the first year of my “big-girl job,” so the theme of this conference really speaks to me. Don’t get me wrong, I have worked since I was 15 (which is the legal age to work in Ohio, don’t worry). This is just my first professional job where my education and experience matter. I’m still learning, but I wanted to share 8 tidbits of wisdom I’ve learned so far…

  1. Thank your mentors and supporters.
    No one can achieve success on their own. You had guidance and support along the way from people who helped shape you into the person you are. Let those people in your life know how much you appreciate them.
  2. Make your space your own.
    You will spend the majority of your waking hours at work, so why not enjoy your space? Maybe you’ll have an entire office, a cubicle or a desk to call your own. Maybe your space is just a computer screen. Whatever it is–make it yours.
  3. Don’t take work home.
    Easier said than done, I know. Sometimes bringing work home is inevitable if you have hard deadlines or major projects to finish. I’m not talking about procrastination in your job, but, at the end of the day, whatever work that you haven’t finished can wait until tomorrow.
  4. Get to know your colleagues.
    As I’ve said before, you’ll spend the majority of your waking hours at work, with your colleagues. You don’t need to be BFFs with everyone, but you should at least be friendly and on a first-name basis. Beyond first names and smiles, get to know your colleagues so you can do your best work with them. It’s much easier to do your job when you know what makes your co-workers tick and how they perform best.
  5. Don’t be afraid to ask questions…lots of them.
    You are new. It’s okay that you don’t know everything. It should be a learning process. Asking questions shows that you are committed to doing your best work and are simply seeking clarification and feedback along the way.
  6. Listen.
    When you’re still learning the ins and outs to a job, the best thing you can do is listen. To your supervisor. To your coworkers. Chances are, all of that listening will yield “best practices” in the work that you do–or at least you will know what not to do.
  7. Own it.
    Guess what? Not everyone will be jumping up and down because you got the job. Some people may question if you really have “what it takes” to get the job done. Don’t worry, you do. You got the job because you were the best candidate; don’t let anyone make you think or feel otherwise. Just know that your work will speak for itself. My girl Taylor Swift says it best: “The haters’ gonna hate hate hate hate hate…”
  8. Fake it ’til you make it.
    (I’m referring to confidence here.) When you don’t have a lot of experience doing something, it’s easy to second-guess your abilities and yourself, even though you may be as capable and prepared as any seasoned pro. The minute you begin doing that, those around you will follow suit. If you aren’t 100 percent confident in yourself yet (and it’s okay if you aren’t), fake the confidence until you are. I promise you’ll find your confidence eventually.

LGBT A to Z: A Crash Course

Welcome to a very brief, limited, crash course list of common LGBT terms and identities. Before going through this list, it may be helpful to check out our previous post on gender. Gender can be super complicated, but to understand the following terms and identities, you need to have a basic understanding of it.

This list is not exhaustive, but is is a basic list of common terms and identities.


Asexual: A person who is not sexually attracted to anyone or does not have a sexual orientation.

Ally: Any person who supports and stands up for the rights of LGBT people.

Bisexual: A person who is attracted to both people of their own gender and another gender. Also called “bi”.

Cisgender: Refers to people whose sex assignment at birth corresponds to their gender identity and expression.

FTM: Abbreviation for female-to-male transgender or transsexual person.

Gay: A person who is attracted primarily to members of the same sex. Although it can be used for any sex (e.g. gay man, gay woman, gay person), “lesbian” is sometimes the preferred term for women who are attracted to women.

Heterosexual: A person who is only attracted to members of the opposite sex. Also known as “straight.”

Homosexual: A clinical term for people who are attracted to members of the same sex. Some people find this term offensive.

Intersex: Someone whose sex a doctor has a difficult time categorizing as either male or female. A person whose combination of chromosomes, hormones, internal sex organs, and/or genitals differs from one of the two expected patterns.

Lesbian: A woman who is primarily attracted to other women.

MTF: Abbreviation for male-to-female transgender or transsexual person.

Queer: An umbrella term sometimes used by LGBTQA people to refer to the entire LGBT community. It is also an alternative that some people use to “queer” the idea of the labels and categories such as lesbian, gay, bisexual, etc. It is important to note that the word queer is an in-group term, and a word that can be considered offensive to some people, depending on their generation, geographic location, and relationship with the word.

Questioning: For some individuals, this is the process of exploring and discovering one’s own sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.

Pansexual: A person who experiences sexual, romantic, physical, and/or spiritual attraction for members of all gender identities/expressions, not just people who fit into the standard gender binary (i.e. men and women).

Sexual orientation: The type of sexual, romantic, and/or physical attraction someone feels toward others. Often labeled based on the gender identity/expression of the person and who they are attracted to.

Transgender: This term has many definitions. Sometimes used as an umbrella to describe anyone whose identity or behavior falls outside of stereotypical gender norms. More narrowly defined, it refers to an individual whose gender identity does not match their assigned birth gender. Being transgender does not imply any specific sexual orientation (attraction to people of a specific gender.) Therefore, transgender people may additionally identify with a variety of other sexual identities as well.

Transsexual: A person whose gender identity is different from their biological sex, who may undergo medical treatments to change their biological sex, often times to align it with their gender identity, or they may live their lives as another sex.

Gender is Complicated

Gender is complicated. I’ll do my best to explain.


For many people, the terms “gender” and “sex” are used interchangeably. We rarely think twice that the terms are used as one in the same. We are born as male or female (with the exception of those born intersex, which could be an entire blog post in itself), and are sent out in the world to live up to society’s expectations of what it means to be male and female. Yet biological sex and gender are different; gender is not inherently or exclusively connected to an individual’s physical anatomy.

Biological Sex vs. Gender

Biological sex includes your physical anatomy, sex chromosomes, sex hormones, and reproductive structures. At birth, it is used to assign sex – to identify individuals as male or female. Gender is much more complicated. It is the complex relationship between an individual’s sex, the internal sense of self as male, female, both or neither, and the outward presentations and behaviors related to that perception. Together, the intersection of these  dimensions produces an individual’s authentic sense of gender – both in how people experience their own gender and how others perceive it.

Terms & Definitions

Gender Expression: Refers to the ways in which we each manifest masculinity or femininity. It is usually an extension of our gender identity, our innate sense of being male, female, etc. Each of us expresses a particular gender every day by the way we style our hair, select our clothing, or even the way we stand. Our appearance, speech, behavior, movement, and other factors signal that we feel and wish to be understood as masculine or feminine, or as a man or a woman.

Gender Identity: The sense of being male, female, genderqueer, agender, etc. For some people, gender identity is in accord with physical anatomy. For transgender people, gender identity may differ from physical anatomy or expected social roles. It is important to note that gender identity, biological sex, and sexual orientation are separate and that you cannot assume how someone identifies in one category based on how they identify in another category.

Gender Normative: A person who by nature or by choice conforms to gender based expectations of society.

Gender Role: This is the set of roles, activities, expectations and behaviors assigned to females and males by society. Our culture recognizes two basic gender roles: Masculine (having the qualities attributed to males) and feminine (having the qualities attributed to females). People who step out of their socially assigned gender roles are sometimes referred to as transgender. Other cultures have three or more gender roles.

Genderqueer: A term which refers to individuals or groups who queer or problematize the hegemonic notions of sex, gender and desire in a given society. Genderqueer people possess identities which fall outside of the widely accepted sexual binary (i.e. “men” and “women”). Genderqueer may also refer to people who identify as both transgendered AND queer, i.e. individuals who challenge both gender and sexuality regimes and see gender identity and sexual orientation as overlapping and interconnected.