'Isms' Will Get You If You Don't Watch Out

ALICE STEINBACH

October 24, 1991|By ALICE STEINBACH

One of the little-known side effects of the so-called "politically correct" movement is a substantial reduction in the number of costumes currently deemed appropriate for Halloween.

It seems that as our awareness grows concerning the dangers inherent in stereotyping individuals and groups on the basis of such "isms" as sexism, racism and ageism, so, too, does the idea that many of the old, classic Halloween costumes are now politically incorrect.

So, you're probably wondering, what does all this mean to me, Halloween-wise?

Well, for one thing, it means you should definitely dump the idea of donning an American Indian headdress and carrying a tomahawk. And it means you can forget about that Arabian sheik costume. And don't even think of costuming yourself as a shabbily dressed hobo. Or a tambourine-carrying gypsy.

Worst of all -- and I really hate to be the one to bring you this news -- there is now a controversy swirling around another classic Halloween costume: the witch.

According to a late-breaking piece of news included in the Anti-Bias Curriculum, a publication put out by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, witches have been given a very bad rap over the years. They have been portrayed, according to this teachers manual, as "old, ugly, wicked, and dressed in black -- reflecting stereotypes of gender, race and age."

Reading this, I shuddered, recalling how I was a Halloween witch twice: once in first grade and once in fourth grade. I was also -- between first and seventh grades -- a gypsy, a pirate, Spiderwoman and the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe. All considered by today's standards to be less than politically correct choices.

But who knew back in those days that the time would come when I would be ashamed of my grade-school lapses in judgment?

Which brings me to this point: Given the current state of changing cultural attitudes, it's quite possible that even the most well-intentioned among us could unwittingly err on the side of political incorrectness -- Halloween-wise.

So for those wishing to observe a more P.C. Halloween, a primer of "isms" to be avoided might include the following:

Racism, sexism, ethnocentrism, heterosexism, ageism, New Ageism, environmentalism, species-ism, appearance-ism, militarism, size-ism, status-ism, biodegradeable-ism and, possibly, deconstructionism.

Of course, it's easy to spot the political incorrectness of many costumes such as the Old Woman in a Shoe (sexism, ageism and, possibly, biodegradeable-ism); a United States senator (sexism, racism, appearance-ism, deconstructionism, militarism, status-ism); Snoopy, the dog (species-ism); Superman and Spiderwoman (sexism); Rumpelstiltskin (size-ism, appearance-ism); Vikings -- the Scandinavian sea rovers, not the football team (ethnocentrism, militarism, sexism); the Little Mermaid (sexism, species-ism, appearance-ism).

Other costume choices, however, do not leap out instantly as politically incorrect but do present certain problems. For instance: Zorro, the Masked Man. Is this a case of maskism? How do people who must wear masks -- surgeons, painters, asbestos removers, bank robbers, etc. -- feel about Zorro as a costume?

And what about the Count Dracula get-up? Is there such a thing as nobility-ism? How do barons and baronesses, counts and countesses, dukes and duchesses feel about this one?

And what about choosing to dress as a carpenter ant on Halloween night? You know, cleverly decking yourself out in an ant costume accessorized by one of those cute little aprons that holds a hammer, nails and tape measure. Is that cross-species-ism?

You can see the problem.

So what's left?

Friends of mine -- parents who are quite depressed about their ability to help their kids make the right (read: politically correct) costume choice -- suggest, with a sigh, that the only safe solution may be to dress as a pumpkin.

Possibly. But then again they may be opening themselves to charges of vegetarianism.

However, there is, as I see it, one "ism" left that may be suitable and safe when choosing a P.C. Halloween costume: existentialism.

Think about it. If the essence of existentialism is (roughly) that each person exists as an individual in a purposeless universe and must find his way by exercising his or her free will, then it seems clear to me that choosing to be an existentialist this Halloween might be the most inoffensive costume possible.

By the way, should you choose to go to a Halloween party as an existentialist, and should you win first prize, please write and let me know what you wore.

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