The pictures above are real. They are from this year’s selection of Halloween costumes from Party City. The only possible label for the girl version of the police officer costume is “sexy cop” and it is targeted for both toddlers and juniors.
If, for whatever reason, you fail to see the sexualized nature of this costume, take a closer look. Have you ever seen a female police officer in a skirt? What about those high-heel boots on the toddler? The costume for older girls features pumps, because female police officers wear heels, obviously.
Compare this to the boy’s cop costume, which attempts to recreate the correct police officer uniform in every aspect. The girl version is overtly feminized with the frilly skirt, the studded belt, leggings, and a tight-fitting low-cut top.
If you are still incredulous that this is a “sexy cop” costume, consider this: In each of the ways that the girl cop costume departs from the typical police officer uniform (in other words, in each way that it differs from the boy costime), it aligns with the common “sexy cop” stripper motif. Even the pose of the little girl is suggestive, when taken in context of the costume.
The little boy cop is shown with a walkie-talkie, which police officers often use in the course of duty. The girl costume does not include a walkie-talkie. She does have handcuffs, though. Because of course she does.
This had to have been a huge mistake. My brain refuses to accept the possibility that someone intentionally sought to sexualize girls at three or four years of age. I refuse to live in a world where that would not only happen, but also not be stopped by the many other people that had to do with this costume, photo shoot, catalog, and advertising. It was all a huge mistake. It had to be.
But the thing about mistakes is that they get so much worse when you refuse to admit them and apologize. That is exactly what Party City has done.
A customer named Lin Kramer posted a long and thoughtful message to Party City’s Facebook page, which included a picture of the highly sexualized “sexy cop” costume. Party City originally replied with a canned “thanks for feedback” message, but later, when others began to write, Kramer’s message was deleted and she was blocked from posting on their page. She then posted it to her own page.
Quite predictably, this led to a social media firestorm and a quick look at their Facebook page reveals lots of angry comments on all of the recent posts. Party City has replaced the generic “thanks for feedback” response to one that includes an apology for deleting Kramer’s post. They even imply that an employee was fired for it. However, there is still not even a hint at realization of the problems with the “sexy cop” costume. Perhaps worse, the same canned response is being copy-pasted in response to every customer complaint, giving the distinct impression that the angry feedback is not really being read, let alone heeded.
It’s hard to imagine how they could possibly be handling this any worse. One of many things that Party City does not grasp is that failure to genuinely listen to legitimately upset customers only fans the flames and invites closer scrutiny of the company as a whole.
For example, irked by the sexy cop costume, Kramer did an analysis of the entire catalog of costumes for kids at Party City. The results are not good. 30% of the costumes marketed to boys were based on occupations, while only 7% of the “girl costumes” had anything to do with careers or jobs (This includes the “sexy cop,” because, well, stripper is a legitimate occupation after all.) This is especially baffling when one considers that all of the boy-targeted occupational costumes are perfectly suitable for young girls. (Are there jobs that aren’t?)
Pretty much all of the girl-targeted costumes are overly feminized and sexually suggestive, from the “precious pirate” to the “vampire queen.” And let’s not forget the cowgirl, laced up in frilly pink from top to mini-skirt.
There was one girl costume that can be construed as occupational that was not also targeted to young boys: cheerleader.
Don’t get me started on the “Native American” costume. This one is marketed to both girls and boys because we all know that cultural appropriation and broad racial stereotypes is gender neutral.
There is little reason to think that this year’s selection is any better or worse than that of years’ past, but Party City can expect boycotts and lots of angry messages about their costumes this year. As offensive and stupid as it is, the “sexy cop” costume was not even their biggest mistake. That honor belongs to the clumsy and tone-deaf response when confronted.
Five days and hundreds of messages after Lin Kramer’s letter, the “sexy cop” costume is on the landing page of the “toddler costumes” on the Party City website.
As I’ve written previously, there is simply no excuse when large companies fail to understand how their products and marketing underscore gender stereotypes. Images like these shape how young girls come to understand their potential. It also shapes how young boys come to view girls and women.
Party City’s selection of Halloween costumes sends a message loud and clear to young boys and girls: girls’ value comes from their sexuality.