No Cross-Gender Costumes?

October 29, 2011

Dirty Hands, Political Theory


Taking a walk around most cities in the United States, it is easy for anyone to see what time of year it is. The leaves crunching underneath your feet, the brisk fall wind, the bright orange pumpkins – it must be Halloween. Nearly everyone has fond memories of Halloween when they were younger. Going to pick out costumes, the parties at school, and stuffing your face full of candy are some of the greatest memories that any child could have. Let’s be honest, kids love receiving free things – and if it happens to be candy, that’s just a bonus. I recall when I was a child, I would beg my parents to take me to any event or function that would allow me to receive even more candy than I already had. However, some kids living in Utah are finding out that this might not be possible for them.

Fox13, based in Salt Lake City, Utah, has reported possible discrimination in their area. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, more commonly known as the “Mormon Church,” banned children from wearing masks and cross-gender costumes at a “trunk-or-treat” event at a religious center during the week. For example, a girl could not dress up as Harry Potter or as a super hero because those characters are male, and she is female.

Costumes such as this might not have been allowed at the "trunk-or-treat."

This has angered multiple parents in and around the area. Raquel Smith, a mother living in the area, said “It has everything to do with not loving your fellow man because they choose to dress a specific way…I think definitely a child as young as a toddler can understand when a parent says ‘no honey, you can’t be Spiderman or Harry Potter because you’re a girl and that’s a boy.’ I think that immediately tells your child their decisions are wrong.” She also stated that this “sends the wrong message to children.” Another person, who requested that his name not be used, said “I don’t think anyone should be excluded. I think if you’re a Christian-loving person. I think everyone should love everybody. To exclude somebody is not fair.”

Officials of the Church have tried to respond to the criticism as best as they can. The local Latter-day Saints bishop, Dennis Toone, said in a statement, “I thought it was church policy. I’ll defend the church and anyone who doesn’t like it doesn’t have to come.” A spokesperson for the Church, Scott Trotter, stated that the Church normally does not allow masks at these types of events, however, the cross-gender ban “is not policy and event rules like that are up to the discretion of the bishop or church members.” He went on to state that he wasn’t quite sure why this sort of language was used in promoting a children’s event, but he assumed it was to “promote appropriate dress.”

This is certainly an interesting topic, as it brings the freedom of expression into play. For most of these children, this might be the first time that they have ever learned of freedom of expression. Hosts of famous philosophers, such as John Stuart Mill, would be outraged at such a blatant denial of freedom of expression as this. While some people might believe that the Church is just trying to keep things appropriate, Mill would be incensed that the Church is preventing these children from expressing themselves the way they want. Halloween is the one time of year that kids get to dress up however they like and not fear judgment, however, should they be fearing it?

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9 Comments on “No Cross-Gender Costumes?”

  1. mjgeis Says:

    I feel like the core of this issue is a “difficult” one, in that it is not something that most people are willing to say. But I think it is something to be said, and this situation is a good opportunity to just get it out there.

    It’s no secret that religious fanatics hate both homosexuality and homosexuals (see Westboro Baptist Church’s website name), and the banning of cross-gender Halloween costumes is just another way that they can try to keep homosexuality away from the corruptible minds of their children. This situation reminds me of a few years ago when a school cancelled its prom after a lesbian couple asked to attend.(http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/03/10/national/main6287246.shtml) One of the issues in this case was one of the girls’ right to wear a tuxedo (which, according to “district policy”, she did not have). Cross-dressing is apparently a very frowned-upon practice (sorry Prof. Sinead O’Connor), and there will be no shortage of people to speak out against it as long as we have over-zealous religious people. (For religious information on the prom issue, I offer this explanation: the school is in Mississippi. And sorry for all the parenthesis, this must look really sloppy.)

    There is another, and less publicized reason that the Mormons might oppose cross-dressing. I read an article about an atheist’s experience at a Cru meeting, and his observations on the gender stereotyping that occurred there. (Article found at http://www.freeatvt.org/?p=90) He described a ritual in which the leaders picked the two “manliest” guys and had them destroy their “towers of passivity” and rebuild them in the name of Christianity. The way in which the box task was accomplished was, according to the author, very aggressive and violent. The author came to several appalling conclusions: Cru wants to teach that “it’s bad to be a weak man, that being sufficiently male means being the largest, most aggressive, most assertive individual in the room. Furthermore, that women cannot perform this function and that men who fail to live up to this archetype are simply effeminate men who need to be socially rejected” (text from article linked above).

    I am not saying that one person’s perception of this event provides an accurate and true description of the activities and atmosphere that took place there. But, I don’t think it can be denied that the policies of Southern schools, the Mormon church, and Cru serve (at least in part) to support a patriarchal society in which homosexuals are shunned and persecuted.

    Bonus point opportunity: if someone can find evidence of a completely secular organization (as in that is at least part of its purpose) discriminating against someone due to gender, sexual orientation, or choice of expression, thou shalt earn brownie points.

  2. joeyalessi Says:

    This act by the Church in Salt Lake City brings into question the basic principle of freedom of expression. Not allowing kids to dress up as their favorite character is completely wrong. As a child, we used Halloween as at time where we can be whoever we want. Children should not fear judgment. There is nothing wrong with a ten year old girl dressing up as spider-man.

    It is known that Mormon Churches and societies are very strict. It doesn’t surprise me that they didn’t let the children cross-dress. Most religious churches are against homosexuality. I have seen this by the very traditional members of my Catholic Church back home. This is not the first time Mormons have made the news due to a weird decision and it certainly will not be the last. One example is during the 2010 college basketball season, the BYU team was ranked in the top five in the country but the school found out one of its star players had sex with his girlfriend. He was suspended for the rest of the season causing the team to lose early in the NCAA tournament. Yes, it is policy for all students at BYU to abstain from sexual intercourse, but this decision seems pretty dumb.

    In today’s society, the issue of gay rights is splitting people apart. It seems like every day we see a demonstration for gay rights or against gay rights. In my opinion, all these debates must stop. Having a law about people not being able to get married to someone of the same gender will not stop homosexuals from being with each other. The choice by the Mormon Church to not allow children to cross-dress just adds more fire to the debate. Homosexuals are shunned from communities like this. If a homosexual is born into this community, they must hide their true feelings making them resent parents, friends and their entire community. It doesn’t mean a girl is a lesbian if she decides to dress as a male character. Hopefully next year, the church allows at least some costumes to be worn by children of both genders allowing them to express their feelings without being judged by members of the community.

    Bonus point: Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia is an all men club. The Masters, one of the four majors on the PGA Tour, is held at Augusta National. Augusta National Golf Club is considered one of the best golf courses in the country. Controversy comes up every year however because the club does not allow females to become members of the club. Females are on the wait-list, but they will never become a member. There have been many controversies between Augusta National and the National Council of Women’s Organizations. As a male, I do not see much of a problem with Augusta National’s rule, but if I were a female I would probably have a problem with it.

  3. godzillagti Says:

    Freedom of expression is one of the rights that we as Americans have and should not have taken away especially for something as frivolous as this. Halloween is when people get to dress up like whatever they want to be and show it off to their friends. This “Mormon Church” is putting a limit on the freedom of expression for these kids which as previously stated, Mills would not approve of. However, this event is nothing mandatory. People aren’t being forced to go to this party and therefore I believe that this isn’t that big of a deal. I have heard of countless events, especially around halloween, where there are limitations in order to get into the event. For instance, there are many radio station parties going on for Halloween right now where you can only get in if you have a costume on or if you’re wearing all white. Is this somehow limiting people’s freedom expression? I don’t think so. Its the partygoer’s choice on whether they go to the party or not. I feel the same should apply for the “Mormon Church” event. People aren’t forced to go to the party and if they want to then they should follow the rules in order to attend. I agree that it is quite offensive for not allowing these children to dress up as the opposite sex, but I do believe that the rule was implemented with good intentions and not to hinder their freedom of expression.

  4. sarahspath23 Says:

    Rules against Halloween costumes is interesting to me because I recently heard about my old junior high school banning face paint and my old high school banning costumes altogether due to inappropriate dress in the past. However, I have never heard of banning cross-gender costumes of any sort.

    This issue is tricky because it is a church that has banned the cross-gender costumes. Although Mill might think that the church has the right to express their opinion against cross-gender costumes, he would not think that the church has the right to not allow it. By not allowing cross-gender costumes, the church has effectively decided that it won’t allow the expression of an opposite opinion. Mill would most definitely disapprove of this because he saw the necessity of expressing every opinion.

    However, with separation of church and state being a vital belief in the U.S., it would seem to me that the church can have a rule not allowing cross-gender costumes. It would not be lawful for any form of government to step in because the church can believe what it wants and create the rules for itself within certain boundaries. If parents are upset with this rule, I don’t think that they should bring it up with the government. I am not saying whether the parents should be upset or not, just that this issue is something that should be brought up with the church. Maybe it will make parents rethink being part of that church.

    Another issue I see here is traditional gender roles, which also does have to do with freedom of expression. The church was not allowing cross-gender costumes, possibly to avoid inappropriate costumes, but I think also because of their views on traditional gender roles. By not allowing cross-gender costumes, the church might be expressing their beliefs about how girls should dress as girls and boys should dress as boys. This could indicate that the church believes there are two genders with distinct ways of dressing and acting. Although Mill would again be for the church expressing their opinion, he would also be for children expressing what they like to wear, how they like to act, and what they like to do.

    I saw a special on tv a couple weeks ago about children who were born one gender but identified with another gender. For example, there was a boy who liked to wear dresses, heels, and make-up and play with dolls. This special opened my eyes up to other ideas of gender that aren’t constricted by the traditional views of boy and girl. By not allowing cross-gender costumes, the church is sticking to its traditional views of gender. The church may feel that by allowing cross-gender dress for Halloween, they are condoning it in general for daily life.

    Parents may be upset because they do not agree with the traditional gender views of the church, but most likely parents are upset because the church has taken these views to an extreme by not allowing kids to dress up as a different gender for Halloween. Halloween, by design, is a holiday for dressing up as something or someone else. Like the post said, Halloween is generally viewed as a fun dress-up game for kids in addition to getting candy. To kids and parents, this no cross-gender rule is contradicting Halloween. Parents don’t believe that dressing as a different gender harms anyone or gives the wrong idea to their children. I believe that Mill would agree with this and would applaud kids expressing themselves through the use of costumes, whether dressing as another gender or not.

    Although Mill would welcome the expression of opinion by both the church and the kids, I do not think this issue is something that should be brought to any higher authority. The church can make the rules for its own event, but it is the parent’s right not to agree.

  5. roshray Says:

    I think it is fairly clear that a free-expression enthusiast such as Locke would be outraged at the thought of children not being allowed to dress as the opposite sex for Halloween. It comes down to, as many people have mentioned before, the strict interpretation of gender roles as well as a desire to stick to the status quo. What the Mormon church is basically trying to say in this case is that it is not okay for a girl to do anything that is associated with boys, and vice versa. This is especially foolish, because most of these characters are not even traditionally defining beacons of what it means to be male or female. I would not have been surprised by this action if the church didn’t want girls to dress up like G.I Joe and boys to dress up like Barbie, but Harry Potter? Seriously?? It seems that instead of moving towards more tolerant or socially relative, the Mormon church is becoming less willing to deal with things that seem to challenge the status quo (in this case, gender roles). It would be interesting to see how the Mormon church would respond if girls instead dressed up like risqué celebrities – would it be better to be Lindsey Lohan or Harry Potter in their eyes?

  6. ajnovo Says:

    I feel like Halloween is one of the few times of the year when people can dress however they want – especially little kids. I bet most of the girls want to be Harry Potter or Spiderman just because they’re cool characters not because they particularly care if the character is male or female. The joy of Halloween is that people can dress up and pretend to be someone they aren’t normally and receive candy for their actions. Limiting what someone wears just because the character is male or female isn’t fair, nor should it be tolerated.

    I like the point made in the comment above about dressing up as female celebrities instead of male super heroes. Do we really want our children to only dress as the same gender as themselves? I would much rather prefer my child to say “I want to dress like Spiderman because he saves people” than “I want to dress like Britney Spears because she has lots of money.” I would want children to dress as people they respect instead of being forced into gender roles or picking a random celebrity to emulate. Just let kids be whoever they want to be for one day of the year because that’s what Halloween is really about.

  7. mikerwagner Says:

    I agree with the point you’ve made in last paragraph, use of Halloween costumes and dressing up is absolutely an issue pertaining to freedom of expression and this particular Mormon church should not be able to dictate how children dress up. That being said, it was a church event. In a sense, it was voluntary (I assume) attendance, therefore nobody was forced to do anything.

    I problem I have now is, if this Mormon church was going to put on a Halloween event, they should be fully aware of the holiday traditions and the suggested meaning behind the holiday. If the church had a problem with how kids dress up they should not put on a holiday party in the first place. By announcing a Halloween party it raises expectations for the congregation that certain traditions will be celebrated. The tradition of dressing up comes from the Christian influence in the 12th century of disguising yourself from approaching souls on all souls day. The point is to hide your identity. Does it matter if you are dressed as a male or female? Nobody is (in thoery) supposed to know who you are. Little kids just look forward to dressing up based on their favorite characters, movies, tv shows, or books. Halloween is absolutely a form of freedom of speech as all participants are invited to dress up as whatever they want.

    For the church to hold an event where all Halloween traditions are expected to be upheld, it is an infraction upon freedom of speech to deny children the right to dress up as their favorite characters.

  8. shmily4k Says:

    In my opinion, the church should not rob the freedom of expression from the public. To me, the church’s action in not allowing people to wear cross-gender costumes is just ridiculous. It is the children’s freedom in deciding what they want to wear during a special festival like Halloween. Halloween is a festival for children to play trick-or-treat, dressing up in any creative costume that they like, and attending costume parties. Of course, some people might argue that the church is not robbing the freedom of expression from the public, because people can still choose to go to the church event or not. In fact, these are two separate things. It is absolutely right that we still have the freedom to choose to go to the event or not regardless of the restrictions in costumes. However, given the right to decide whether to attend an event does not imply that you are given the right to choose what you want to wear. Restriction in either case could be interpreted as robbing the freedom of expression from the public. As an advocate of freedom of expression, Mill would disagree with the church in the way that it restricts people from wearing cross-gender costumes. He believes that we all have a natural right to express our opinions freely because it is simply good for us. Besides, I agree with the point mentioned above that Halloween is a festival for kids to be whoever they want to be. No one should restrict kids’ freedom and creativity in choosing their costumes.

  9. kelseymlee Says:

    This is an interesting post, and although I think it is sad that mature adults feel the need to limit a child’s freedom of expression, I think it is important to remember that the institution enforcing these codes is a church, which makes a big difference when considering how I feel about this issue.

    I agree that Mill would probably not agree with the church’s actions of limiting freedom of expression, but I think the ideas of John Locke’s, A Letter Concerning Toleration, may be more relevant in this situation. Locke refers to the church and religion as “a voluntary society of men.” With this being said, any parents who are upset with the church’s values and opinions on certain issues does not have to agree with the church. In fact, these parents are free to leave the church whenever they wish. If they are upset with the actions of the church they belong to, maybe that is a strong signal that it is time for them to move on and join another church that is more supportive of their values and ideas. As mentioned in the post, Dennis Toone, a Latter-Day saint Bishop, even said, “anyone who doesn’t like it doesn’t have to come.”

    The thing that upsets me most about this situation is that it effects young children, and young children most of the time can’t pick and choose what church they belong to. This sort of decision is up to the discretion of the parents. Hopefully the parents of the children effected by this ruling are able to teach their kids not to fear the judgement of others, even if that judgement is coming from their own church. As for the question of whether or not this is an issue of discrimination, I suppose it could be seen as that, but I think that if this ruling were issued in a public school instead of in a church, which is a “voluntary society”, that it would be much more controversial.

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