Empowering Halloween Costumes for Little Feminists


Let’s just make that clear from the get. Ever since I can remember, Halloween has been a SERIOUS holiday in my family. We go ALL out with costumes. We throw the baddest Halloween parties. One year, my aunt teased her hair to stand completely on end and went as the Bride of Frankenstein. My aunts and uncles put on an entire show with the mad scientist, electricity jolting through the stage, and then Frankenstein rising from the dead.

Like them, I take the art of Halloween very seriously. My first year of college I went as Snow White. I’m talking painstakingly-detailed-thrifted-80s-prom-dress-Disneyland-style Snow White.  When I arrived at a fraternity party on campus, a girl gave me the side eye and said, “Nice costume…” I turned around and she was dressed like a sexy taco. Ok, lady.

Since I am currently on maternity leave, I’m doing something this month I’ve ALWAYS wanted to do: a costume every day in October  

But here’s this twist: they all star my daughter AND they are all strong female role models throughout history!

The idea comes from several places. Halloween costumes have long been stereotyped for girls and women: we can be nurses, but not doctors. We can be princesses, but not warriors. We can be brides, but not scientists. Once you start shopping for women’s costumes, the choices become even more grotesque (and not in the spooky Halloween sense). It’s all sexy this, sexy that. Past the age of 18 you can’t even be a nurse anymore, but a sexy nurse. I’ve also recently noticed people distancing themselves from or outright denouncing feminism. The F-word has become contentious…does it hold any value anymore? I asked and answered that question in this essay then launched the hashtag #DontBeAfraidOfFeminism in conjunction with this 31-day challenge as a reminder that calling yourself a feminist is nothing to be afraid of this Halloween and always!

As for the challenge, I set down a few hard and fast rules:

  1. I can only use items I already have in my home. Halloween is often derided as just another consumer capitalistic holiday. But, in my family, Halloween was always a chance to get creative. We never outright bought our costumes. Instead, we thrifted, sewed, and recycled items we already owned. Because of this, many of the costumes in this challenge will NOT be historically or culturally accurate. This is in no way an insult to those women, but rather a celebration of them within the constraints of what I have on hand.
  2. I must choose a diverse group of women throughout history and from many cultures and backgrounds. Another frequent complaint about Halloween is that it mocks peoples that do not fit the Anglo-Saxon view of ‘normal’, thereby turning culture into caricature. While that is a completely valid argument, and there are plenty of instances every year where this happens, my goal with this project is to put REAL women from history into the minds of the young and old alike. Halloween can be a great way to learn about and celebrate them. Instead of the faceless “Indian chief” or the nameless “geisha”, I aim to inspire little girls to learn about real women and to — quite literally — put themselves in her shoes.  Additionally, I’ll try not to be “cliché” and obvious with my choices, but some women have left such a badass legacy they simply MUST be represented!
  3.  I can start my research with stereotypical Halloween costume ideas. I thought of all Halloween tropes and discovered there were many historical women who fit the profile I’d never learned about in school. Pirates? We got that! Astronauts? You bet!
  4. This project is meant to be a FUN experience between my daughter and I. In no way will I push her to take photos if she’s not in the mood. If she doesn’t have a smile on her face, we stop and do something else.

So, let’s get to the costumes!

October 1
Norah is dressed as Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, or as I like to call her “Ruth BABY Ginsberg” ⚖️ Justice Ginsburg is one of four female justices of the Supreme Court and was only the second woman appointed to the court after Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Justice Ginsberg was a wife and mother (worth noting because she was demoted from her job at the Social Security Administration after becoming pregnant with her first child) before beginning law school at Harvard where she was only one of nine women in a class of over 500. She then transferred to Columbia Law School where she graduated at the top of her class 🤓 Justice Ginsburg is a human rights champion who devotes her life to expanding the definition of “We the People.” 🇺🇸 Justice Ginsberg is especially well-known for her blunt and intellectual dissents, earning her the nickname ‘Notorious RBG’.

October 2
Norah is dressed up as the cabaret dancer, Civil Rights activist and French Resistance agent Josephine Baker! She was an American by birth, but French at heart 🇺🇸❤️🇫🇷 Baker sailed to Paris in 1925 where she quickly became a darling of the cabaret scene starring at the Folies Bergère and dancing in her famous banana skirt 🍌 Hemingway called her “the most sensational woman anyone ever saw” ✨ During World War II Baker was recruited by French intelligence officers and charmed Nazi officers at parties while gathering intel for the resistance 👊🏼 As an entertainer she had an excuse for traveling around Europe and would transmit messages about Nazi airfields and troop locations to allies written in invisible ink in her sheet music 🎵 During the Civil Rights era in the US she refused to entertain segregated audiences and was the only female speaker at the 1963 March on Washington where she stood alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr wearing her Free French uniform and Légion d’Honneur medal for her work during World War II 🎖 FullSizeRender 25

October 3
Norah is dressed as a Suffragette — activist women who fought (and won!) for the right to vote at the turn of the century ✔️ Originally, the term ‘Suffragette’ was used as a derogatory, but the women of the movement turned it on its head by embracing the term and calling themselves ‘SuffraGETtes’ with a hard G to emphasize their willingness to “get” the vote 🗳 British Suffragettes often used militant tactics for the cause, including hunger strikes and arson (proof positive that girls are NOT all ‘sugar and spice and everything nice’) 💅🏼 They frequently targeted ‘Men’s Only’ spaces like race tracks and cricket pitches 🏏🏇🏼 In February 1914 a library in Birmingham was set on fire and gutted. Nearby a parcel was found containing a book by Emmeline Pankhurst, leader of the British suffragette movement, with a note saying, ‘To start your new library.’ 📚 💁🏻 British women finally earned the right to vote in 1928 🇬🇧 American women earned the right in 1920 (although black women in Southern states were effectively barred until the passing of the Voting Rights Act in 1965) 🇺🇸 French women earned the right in 1944 🇫🇷 And the latest country to allow women the right to vote was Saudi Arabia in 2015! 🇸🇦

October 4
Today Norah is dressed as Japanese mountaineer Junko Tabei — the first woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest, and the first woman to ascend all Seven Summits by climbing the highest peak on every continent 🏔 As a child, she was considered frail and weak but soon discovered her love for mountain climbing on a class trip to Mount Nasu 💪🏼 She formed the Ladies Climbing Club: Japan in 1969 as a response to the treatment she received at male-dominated climbing clubs. Some men refused to climb with her, while others accused her of only being interested in the sport as a way to find a husband 🙄 When Tabei decided to tackle Everest she was frequently told by potential sponsors that women “should be raising children instead.” 😤 In 1975, she travelled to Kathmandu with her expedition group. While camping at 6,300 meters an avalanche struck and Tabei was buried under the snow unconscious until her sherpa dug her out ❄️ Twelve days later, on 16 May 1975, Tabei became the first woman to reach the summit of Everest 🙌🏼

October 5
Today Norah is dressed as human rights and education activist Malala Yousafzai. At the age of 17, Malala became the youngest person ever to receive the Nobel Prize for her work 🏅 She was born in the Swat Valley of Pakistan, where the local Taliban had banned girls from attending school. When the schools were shut down, Malala was educated by her father, himself a poet and educational activist 👊🏼 Her advocacy soon grew into an international movement, making her a target for the Taliban. On October 9 2012, while Malala was on her way home after taking an exam, a Taliban gunman mounted the bus she was riding in and shot her in the head. She recovered and quickly became a symbol of the resilience of young Pakistani women against the subjugation of the Taliban system 🎓💪🏼 On her 16th birthday, she spoke at the UN to call for worldwide access to education. She said: “The terrorists thought they would change my aims and stop my ambitions, but nothing changed in my life except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born”
Malala is currently studying for her Bachelors of Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Oxford. 📖

October 6
Today Norah is dressed as Sensei Keiko Fukuda, the highest-ranked female judoka in history 🥋 Born on April 12, 1913, in Tokyo, Fukuda at first studied traditional Japanese arts like calligraphy, flower arrangement, and tea ceremony as was typical for a woman in Japan 🇯🇵 🌸🍵 However, she always felt a connection to judo from her grandfather, Fukuda Hachinosuke, who was a samurai and master of Tenjin Shinyō-ryū jujutsu. One day, after attending a judo training session, she decided to pursue judo herself despite opposition from her uncle. At only 4′ 11″ and weighing less than 100 lb. Fukuda was the first woman in the world to be awarded the elusive 10th dan ranking in judo — the highest possible rank 💯 In 1972, she campaigned against a rule prohibiting women from being promoted higher than 5th dan and published an instructional book for women about the kata (patterns) of Kodokan judo to promote participation of women in the sport. She also established the annual Joshi Judo Camp to give female judo practitioners the opportunity to train together ♀️Before passing away at 99 years old, she was still teaching judo three times a week at her dojo 💪 Fukuda’s personal motto was: “Tsuyoku, Yasashiku, Utsukushiku” (Be strong, be gentle, be beautiful, in mind, body, and spirit)

October 7
Today Norah is dressed as Mexican painter, Frida Kahlo, who is celebrated for her depictions of identity, postcolonialism, gender, class, and race in Mexican society 🇲🇽 Kahlo’s art was heavily influenced by personal tragedies. She contracted polio at 6 years old, and was seriously injured in a bus accident at 18. While recovering, she passed the time by painting self-portraits on a specially-made easel that allowed her to paint in bed 🎨 Kahlo was also influenced by the Mexican Revolution and is known for her eccentric personal style: embracing her unibrow and celebrating indigenous Mexican peasant ancestry. She liked to wear long and colourful skirts, shawls, elaborate headdresses, and masses of jewellery. Her style was particularly inspired by the dress of women from Isthmus of Tehuantepec, a Mexican matriarchal society where the women are traders and do little household labor 🤝 Kahlo’s self-portraits deviated from traditional depictions of female beauty in art and instead were raw and honest experiences of womanhood. Her subjects included topics that were, and still are, taboo such as abortion, miscarriage, birth and breastfeeding. Kahlo was married to muralist Diego Rivera, but her own artwork was often overshadowed by his celebrity as a mere ‘hobby’. In 1932, Rivera was commissioned to paint a mural at the Detroit Institute of Art, and she gave an interview to the Detroit News about her own works. When the article came out, it was condescendingly titled “Wife of the Master Mural Painter Gleefully Dabbles in Works of Art” 🙄 It wasn’t until later in her life, and posthumously that her paintings were revered and she became the first Latin American artist to sell a painting for over 1 million dollars 💵

October 8
Today Norah is dressed as Zenobia, a third-century queen of the Palmyrene Empire 👸🏻 Palmyra (now modern-day Syria) was part of the Roman Empire, and an important stopover on the Silk Road 👘 which saw merchants passing to and from the capital 🏛 Zenobia was born into a noble family and showed ambition from an early age. She was placed in charge of the family flocks and shepherds when she was still a young girl which accustomed her to ruling over men 🐑 She married the king of Palmyra, who was eventually assassinated making her Queen Regent 👑 While Rome was facing chaos at home, Zenobia took advantage and began slowly annexing parts of the empire for herself. By 271 CE she ruled over an empire which stretched from modern-day Iraq across Turkey and down through Egypt — a full 1/3 of the Roman Empire! 🗺 Eventually, Roman Emperor Aurelien got his act together and marched the entire Roman army to her door, taking her hostage ⚔️ But, instead of beheading her in front of the Temple of Jupiter like other enemies, he awarded her a villa in Tivoli where she spent the rest of her days living a life of luxury 💅🏼💎

October 9
Today Norah is dressed as Annie Oakley — the world-famous sharpshooter in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show 🎯 Oakley is a contentious pick for a feminist icon, as she refused to align herself with the women’s suffrage movement, and considered herself a true “Victorian Lady”. She would only ever ride side-saddle and always wore skirts instead of bloomers 👗 But Oakley also campaigned for equal pay for women; negotiating a higher pay than any other performer in the show, except “Buffalo Bill” Cody himself 🤠 💵 Along with being a sharpshooter, she also took up bicycling, which in Victorian America was considered strictly MEN ONLY 🚲 So while she wasn’t an outspoken advocate for women’s rights, she paved the way for women to exist in male-dominated spaces by proving that we can be just as good (if not better!) 💪 Annie performed with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show for 17 years, travelling to New York, Paris and London 🗽 🇫🇷 💂 She performed for Queen Victoria of the UK and supposedly shot the ashes off a cigarette held by the newly crowned German Kaiser Wilhelm II at his request 🚬 She lived by the motto: Aim at a high mark and you’ll hit it. No, not the first time, nor the second time. Maybe not the third. But keep on aiming and keep on shooting for only practice will make you perfect.

October 10
Today Norah is dressed as Rose Will Monroe, better known as “Rosie the Riveter” 💪🏼 During World War II, when young men were shipped off to war, women around the country stepped in and worked the factories and shipyards producing supplies for the war effort 🇺🇸 Monroe was discovered while working at the Willow Run Aircraft Factory in Ypsilanti, Michigan and asked to appear in a promotional film for war bonds 💵 The famous “Rosie” of the “We Can Do It!” poster was already a national phenomena, so a real Rosie the Riveter proved too good for the film’s producers to resist 📽 During the war, she had big dreams of learning to fly and transport aircraft parts, but was passed over because she was a single mom. Nevertheless, she persisted and earned her wings when she was in her 50’s ✈️ There were many other “Rosies” during the war like wealthy Long Island heiress Rosalind Palmer who went directly from days at highschool to a night shift building fighter planes and Italian immigrant Rose Bonavita who set a factory record of 900 drilled holes and 3,300 completed rivets in a Grumman torpedo bomber during a single six-hour shift 👩🏻‍🔧🔧 Rosie the Riveter represents the thousands of women of yesterday, today, and tomorrow who roll up their sleeves and get to work — a symbol of female economic power.

October 11
Today Norah is dressed as American marathoner Kathrine Switzer 🏃🏼‍♀️ In 1967 she registered for the Boston Marathon under the gender-neutral name “K. V. Switzer”. The marathon was forbidden for women, and her coach insisted it was too difficult for a “fragile woman” and that her uterus would fall out 🙄 During the run, race official Jock Semple tried to stop her from running and attempted to rip her bib (number 261) off 😤 She twirled on that hater and finished the race in 4 hours and 20 minutes 💪🏼 Afterwards, Boston Athletic Association director Will Cloney was asked his opinion of Switzer competing in the race and he said “Women can’t run in the Marathon because the rules forbid it. Unless we have rules, society will be in chaos. I don’t make the rules, but I try to carry them out. We have no space in the Marathon for any unauthorized person, even a man. If that girl were my daughter, I would spank her.” (SAY WHAT NOW⁉️) Women were not officially allowed to run the race until 1972. In 1975, she ran the marathon again and placed 2nd at 2:51:37 🥈 In 2017, on the 50th anniversary of her historic marathon, she raced again under her original bib number 261. The marathon retired the bib number in her honor.

October 12
Today Norah is dressed as French novelist and memoirist, George Sand 📖 Born Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin in Paris, she adopted the pen name “George Sand” as a way to get her writing approved by male publishers who didn’t think the literary world was a place for women 🖊 Sand was known for her audacious tales of love and social class which drew on her own life experiences. She married an illegitimate baron, whom she eventually left and embarked on a bohemian lifestyle 👋🏼Sand wrote strong female characters in her novels who were educated and unafraid to speak their minds 🗣️ In her personal life, she was a trailblazing feminist often stirring controversy in Parisian social circles by wearing men’s clothing, smoking in public and having many affairs – notably with composer Frédéric Chopin 🎩🚬❤️ The Russian novelist Ivan Turgenev once said, “what a brave man she was, and what a good woman”.

October 13
Today Norah is dressed as Valentina Tereshkova, a Russian cosmonaut, engineer, and politician 👩🏼‍🚀 In 1963, she became the first woman in space aboard the Vostok 6 shuttle 🚀 Before her recruitment as a cosmonaut, Tereshkova was a factory worker and amateur skydiver. As the space race heated up between the US and USSR, the Soviet space program chose Tereshkova for the mission from more than 400 other female applicants and five finalists 🙌🏼 She completed 48 orbits of the Earth and spent 3 days in space, logging more flight time in a single mission than all American astronauts who had flown before her COMBINED 😱 Tereshkova’s mission included photographing Earth’s horizon, which later helped scientists identify aerosol layers within the atmosphere 🌅 While she never landed on the Moon, she has a lasting legacy there: “Tereshkova crater” on the far side is named in her honor 🌚 At 80-years-old she’s still seeking thrills and has offered to go on a one-way trip to Mars if the opportunity ever comes up! 👽

October 14
Today Norah is celebrating her Algerian heritage and is dressed as Lalla Fadhma N’Soumer, an important resistance fighter during the French colonial invasion of Algeria 🇩🇿 She was born in 1830 in Soumer, a Kabyle region of Algeria, the same year French colonialists invaded the country 🥁 She was 16 by the time they occupied Kabylie and she quickly joined the resistance movement ✊🏽 After the leader of the resistance died in fighting, tribal leaders appointed Fadhma to command the army as she was renowned for her wisdom and even a mystic ability to predict the future ✨🔮 She led her armies of both male and female fighters to victory against French soldiers, led by Jaques Louis Randon who was captured but eventually escaped ⛓ Randon later returned with 35,000 soldiers and demanded that Algerian troops surrender Fadhma to him or he would destroy their villages. The villagers refused to give her up and suffered greatly under intense cannon fire 💣 Eventually, the sheer number of French troops proved too much for the resistance fighters and Fadhma was captured. She died in prison at the young age of 33 and became a martyr of the Algerian fight against French colonialism, which lasted until 1962 when the country finally gained independence 🇩🇿

October 15
Today Norah is dressed as Ching Shih, the most successful pirate captain in history you’ve never heard of ⚓ In the early 19th century, she commanded a fleet of over 300 ships manned by 40,000 pirates in the China Sea. (In comparison, the famed Blackbeard commanded four measly ships and only 300 pirates within the same century — LAME) 👎🏼Ching Shih was married to the notorious pirate Cheng I. But when he died, she quickly maneuvered herself into a leadership position and grew the fleet 10 fold. For years Ching’s “Red Flag Fleet” sailed up and down the Imperial Chinese coast ransacking towns and collecting port taxes 💰The powerful Qing Dynasty navy tried and tried but could not defeat her. During one particular battle, she captured sixty-three ships from the Chinese Navy and forced all surviving sailors to join her fleet or face death ☠️ Punishments under Ching were swift and gruesome, including beheadings and floggings ⚔️ Finally, in 1810, Ching accepted an offer of amnesty by the Chinese government to all pirates who agreed to surrender. She kept her loot, her freedom and opened a gambling house where she lived out the rest of her days in peace 😎
ching shih

October 16
Today, Norah is dressed as Bessie Coleman, the first woman of color to become an aviator in the United States ✈️ Bessie was one of 13 children born to a Cherokee father and African American mother. She developed an early interest in flying, but African Americans, Native Americans, and women were banned from flight-school opportunities in the United States — the triple-whammy of discrimination 😤 Not one to let go of her dreams, she saved up money and headed to France where there were no restrictions for her to learn. There, she learned to fly a Nieuport 82 biplane from a French Ace pilot at Le Bourget airport just outside Paris 🇫🇷 When she returned stateside in 1921, she was an instant media sensation 📽 She made her first appearance in an American airshow on September 3, 1922, at an event honoring veterans of the all-black 369th Infantry Regiment of World War I. She showed-off all the daredevil tricks she learned abroad—including figure eights,near-ground dips, and loopty-loops 🌀 Nicknamed “Queen Bess,” she was billed as the “World’s Greatest Woman Flier” 👸🏾 In 1926, she took off on a flight aboard a newly purchased plane, with her mechanic at the controls. Shortly after take-off the plane went into an unexpected dive, and then crashed. Coleman was killed. It was later found that wrench used to service the aircraft was accidentally left inside, jamming the controls ⚙️ While she never lived to fulfil her dream of establishing a school for young black aviators, her pioneering achievements served as an inspiration for a generation of African-American men and women. The Bessie Coleman Aero Club was founded in 1929 in her honor ❤️

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