Chill out, it’s just a costume

Mocking oversexed Halloween outfits has become a feminist tradition. Maybe it's time we let it go

Topics: Sex, Halloween, Feminism, The American Prospect, Halloween Costumes,

Chill out, it's just a costume
This article originally appeared on The American Prospect.

The American Prospect Every year, Halloween comes with its own predictable traditions: trick-or-treating, pumpkin recipes, costumes based on bad puns, and increasingly, the tradition of women wearing ever-skimpier Halloween costumes and feminists online decrying the trend through blogs and social networks. To quote the movie Mean Girls: “In Girl World, Halloween is the one night a year when a girl can dress like a total slut and no other girls can say anything about it.”

Mocking oversexed Halloween costumes is catnip to feminists. For one thing, it’s one of those arenas where the double standard is undeniable. Men’s costumes, at least those sold in Halloween stores, tend to be basic scary costume fare. Women’s costumes are so oversexed it gets silly. Sexy baconSexy Finding Nemo? A sexy melon that is so sexy you can’t even tell what it’s supposed to be?

Halloween has become just as much a holiday for adults to dress up and party hard as it is about children and candy. Which naturally means pushing sexual boundaries, something feminists shouldn’t object to in principle. But overt objectification of women without a parallel version of boundary-pushing costumes on the male side makes it less sexual revolution than sexual reversion. Thus, feminist blogs like Jezebel and Feministing throw up annual posts denouncing the sexy costume trend.

This season, Dan Savage criticized feminist bloggers on his podcast, Savage Lovecast, saying that some of the arguments he’s heard are sex negative, shaming women for exploring their sexuality. He celebrated Halloween for being a heterosexual version of a pride celebration—an opportunity to celebrate sexuality and have some fun—and said that sexy costumes are a natural an unobjectionable part of this. He acknowledged the double standard, agreeing that it’s unfair that women are the ones who strip down while men don’t, but pointed out that the culture at large expects women to be put on display, an expectation which carries over into Halloween traditions. All this negativity around sexy female Halloween costumes just comes across as prudish, he argues.

Feminists aren’t being sex negative, though. We just get really uncomfortable with how Halloween exaggerates the already-existing heterosexual dynamic where men are subjects and women are objects. We also worry that women feel that if they don’t walk around half-naked on Halloween, they’ll be treated like joy-killers or prudes, which is unfair. We worry that men are being rewarded for exhibiting creativity in their costume choices, but women only get rewarded for showing off skin. It’s more complicated than Savage portrayed it.

You Might Also Like

Then, shortly after Savage’s podcast, Jezebel approvingly posted a music video from the group EmotiStyle, a goofy two woman rap group, called “Things You Can Be On Halloween Besides Naked.” While the song title suggests a song encouraging creativity and validating women who don’t want to simply wear a Sexy [fill-in-the-blank] costume, the lyrics themselves are aimed squarely at women who do wear something sexy on Halloween. The rappers go so far as to claim that showing cleavage means that a woman can’t be “classy.” The video wouldn’t be out of place on a conservative website. It turns out, Dan Savage is right! Feminist critiques of sexual objectification on Halloween are devolving into sex negative carping about other women getting more male attention by wearing shorter skirts. Blogging about sexy Halloween costumes has become a parody of itself.

The cure for the sexy-Halloween costume problem is not to convince women to cover up. Many women have learned to strike a balance between expressing their sexuality and avoiding sexual objectification the other 364 days a year, so why wouldn’t they be able to work that magic on Halloween? At a party I went to Saturday, I saw plenty of women rocking sexy costumes that didn’t give off this vibe at all: A woman dressed hilariously as Cher from her video for “If I Could Turn Back Time,” which seemed more brave than desperate. A group of friends wore elaborate Alice in Wonderland-inspired costumes that were confidently sexy. My own costume—one of the Doctor’s companions from Doctor Who—involved a miniskirt and fishnets. Real women out there are finding ways to create costumes with real sex appeal without sacrificing their dignity to do so.

Feminists aren’t wrong to want to go out on Halloween without getting periodically depressed by seeing women whose need for sexual validation overwhelms common sense and defies the chilling fall air. But maybe we’re going about it all wrong. Instead of simply attacking the concept of a sexy Halloween costume in the future, maybe it’s time to offer some positive examples of costumes that allow you to be both sexy and express your individuality and creativity.

And while we’re at it, maybe we can also do a little more encouraging of men to take it off for Halloween. After all, don’t they also want our attention?

Amanda Marcotte is a Brooklyn-based freelance writer and journalist. She's published two books and blogs regularly at Pandagon, RH Reality Check and Slate's Double X.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 13
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    Young Daya has yet to become entirely jaded, but she has the character's trademark skeptical pout down pat. And with a piece-of-work mother like Aleida -- who oscillates between jealousy and scorn for her creatively gifted daughter, chucking out the artwork she brings home from summer camp -- who can blame her?

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    With her marriage to prison penpal Vince Muccio, Lorna finally got to wear the white veil she has fantasized about since childhood (even if it was made of toilet paper).

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    Cindy's embrace of Judaism makes sense when we see her childhood, lived under the fist of a terrifying father who preached a fire-and-brimstone version of Christianity. As she put it: "I was raised in a church where I was told to believe and pray. And if I was bad, I’d go to hell."

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    Joey Caputo has always tried to be a good guy, whether it's offering to fight a disabled wrestler at a high school wrestling event or giving up his musical ambitions to raise another man's child. But trying to be a nice guy never exactly worked out for him -- which might explain why he decides to take the selfish route in the Season 3 finale.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    In one of the season's more moving flashbacks, we see a young Boo -- who rejected the traditional trappings of femininity from a young age -- clashing with her mother over what to wear. Later, she makes the decision not to visit her mother on her deathbed if it means pretending to be something she's not. As she puts it, "I refuse to be invisible, Daddy. Not for you, not for Mom, not for anybody.”

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    We still don't know what landed Brooke Soso in the slammer, but a late-season flashback suggests that some seriously overbearing parenting may have been the impetus for her downward spiral.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    We already know a little about Poussey's relationship with her military father, but this season we saw a softer side of the spunky fan-favorite, who still pines for the loving mom that she lost too young.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    Pennsatucky had something of a redemption arc this season, and glimpses of her childhood only serve to increase viewer sympathy for the character, whose mother forced her to chug Mountain Dew outside the Social Security Administration office and stripped her of her sexual agency before she was even old enough to comprehend it.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    This season, we got an intense look at the teenage life of one of Litchfield's most isolated and underexplored inmates. Rebuffed and scorned by her suitor at an arranged marriage, the young Chinese immigrant stored up a grudge, and ultimately exacted a merciless revenge.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    It's difficult to sympathize with the racist, misogynist CO Sam Healy, but the snippets we get of his childhood -- raised by a mentally ill mother, vomited on by a homeless man he mistakes for Jesus when he runs to the church for help -- certainly help us understand him better.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    This season, we learned a lot about one of Litchfield's biggest enigmas, as we saw the roots of Norma's silence (a childhood stutter) and the reason for her incarceration (killing the oppressive cult leader she followed for decades).

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    While Nicki's mother certainly isn't entirely to blame for her daughter's struggles with addiction, an early childhood flashback -- of an adorable young Nicki being rebuffed on Mother's Day -- certainly helps us understand the roots of Nicki's scarred psyche.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>