Excerpt: Packaging Boyhood/Girlhood by Lyn Mikel Brown, Sharon Lamb, and Mark Tappan. Babble.com.

In their new book, Packaging Boyhood: Saving Our Sons from Superheroes, Slackers, and Other Media Stereotypes, authors Lyn Mikel Brown, Sharon Lamb, and Mark Tappan address the various ways culture and the media bombard boys with idealized images they’re never likely to live up to.

In this exclusive excerpt from the book, they analyze the limited – and highly gender-divided – range of choices in Halloween costumes and advise that you talk to your sons about being able to be themselves, even while wearing the standard ultra-violent and superhuman outfits.

Click here for Lamb and Brown’s chapter on Halloween costumes for girls from their previous title Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters from Marketer’s Schemes.

Special Forces Jungle Fighter Child

Surf the web, flip through the many catalogs, or walk through department stores beginning in early September to look for a Halloween costume and Boyhood (that’s with a capital B) will assault you at every turn. Take him to any big box store like Walmart or Target and your little boy can pour over a dizzying array of costumes. When boiled down, his choices include scary characters, fighters, and heroes – either in super form, like Spiderman or Batman, or the real life version, like police officers, military personnel, or sports stars. For the youngest boys there’s the occasional Pooh Bear or SpongeBob, even a cute puppy or lion, but they are buried in an avalanche of ninjas, special Delta force soldiers, and Transformers.

Halloween for boys is mostly about embodying a sense of power and full-throttle action. Boys dress up as men and the version of manhood presented to them is one in which superheroes and warriors are ready to save the world. Their costumes come with every weapon he needs to control, dominate, and save, and just to prove he’s physically up for the challenge, they come complete with fake muscles. “Bulging padded ‘muscles’ are stitched into torso, arms and legs,” announces a catalog description. “Transform your little hulk into the most powerful human-like creature.”

Most powerful. Every costume says extreme action! Being a soldier is tame, almost boring, compared to being a Special Force Fighter Child, complete with ragged, ripped camo pants and “3-D foamed muscle top jumpsuit” that fakes 6-pack abs – “A great costume if you want to be Rambo.” Of course few boys today know who Rambo is, aside from those who have seen Stallone’s recent R-rated sequel with the tagline: “Heroes never die; they just reload.” Even if he’s not allowed to see the movie, the little boy posing in the costume, his camo headband off-kilter, his hands on his hips, his best five-year-old “don’t mess with me” expression, conveys the idea pretty well.

It’s no surprise that Halloween invites boys to dress up as the superheroes they watch in movies or sports stars they admire on TV, but it’s striking how many costumes are just variations of tough guys carrying all manner of weapons. Fighting crime like Superman and imagining you can dunk a basketball like Michael Jordan or win the Indianapolis 500 like NASCAR’s Jimmie Johnson is great fantasy, but just as pink and princess have overrun all manner of girls’ costumes, boys’ costumes have to come with some kind of ninja attitude and fighter paraphernalia.

And more is always, always better. More stuff, bigger muscles, tougher-sounding descriptions. Who wants to be just any ninja when you can be Shadow Ninja Bounty Hunter? This extra-tough guy costume includes a jumpsuit with muscle torso, attached belt, sword, shin guards, apron, hood, and badge. The red and black mask covers all but his eyes: “You’d better hope this ninja isn’t on your trail if you’re a fugitive on the run because he always gets his man.”

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