An exploration of women’s Halloween costume

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Graphic by Alan Li

“In the real world, Halloween is when kids dress up in costumes and beg for candy. In girl world, Halloween is the one day a year when a girl can dress up like a total slut and no other girls can say anything else about it.”

So said Lindsey Lohan’s character Cady in the movie Mean Girls. And, let’s face it, was she wrong? Is Halloween the time women begin to exercise a sudden passion for modesty.

No, quite contrary, Halloween — or the parties that occur around the holiday — is the one day of the year that women dress however they want. Beit a sexy fireman, sexy solider, sexy pirate, sexy school girl.

Maybe “however” they want is too broad a term, and perhaps a more accurate phrase would be: a holiday where women are allowed to dress as scantily clad as our culture requires them to.

Off the bat, it needs to be said that everyone has the right to wear whatever they want. Expressing your sexuality or identity is something no one is allowed to dictate for you.

That being said, there’s an obvious problem with women’s Halloween costumes.

“We need to talk about the weather,” Helen Ramirez, women and gender studies instructor at Wilfrid Laurier University, exclaimed. “It’s dumb, so dumb to wear some of those costumes in weather like this.”

Now, for the sake of an argument, let’s pretend for a moment that sex is a liberation for all genders. Halloween costumes then enforce a strict gender binary that enforces a hierarchy.

“Those costumes” being the ones with the short skirts or shorts, and the tight sleeveless tops. You can go online and look at major Halloween outlets sporting something of this fashion in magnitude under the women’s and girl’s subsections.

“It points to how much more important it is in terms of performances of one’s identity as a woman in a still white, hetero-normative, masculine [world], in spite of the weather,” Ramirez said.

The objectification of women isn’t exclusive to Halloween; but this is the only holiday that fosters an exponential raise. You don’t see sexy virgin-mother Mary garb on Easter, however you can find a sexy nun on Halloween.

The problem that follows women on Halloween goes like so: if you dress down and present yourself as a sexual being you’re, on one side, liberating yourself from the constraints of a culture that tells women they need to be virginal and modest until marriage and beyond.

However, at the same time, you’re also giving into the same culture that conditions women from childhood to believe that our bodies are the most important thing we can offer the world.

Obviously, we live in a hyper-sexual world. Look at Cosmopolitan, perfume ads, clothing ads, uncomfortably dragged out sex scenes in movies. But Halloween is that one time of year where we stop pretending sex isn’t the driving force behind most media.

Women view sex as liberation, and the problem that’s born from that is that others see the sexualization of women as a form of freedom and equality when it can be extremely damaging.

Now, for the sake of an argument, let’s pretend for a moment that sex is a liberation for all genders. Halloween costumes then enforce a strict gender binary that enforces a hierarchy.

Take the policeman costume. If you look at the men’s version, it’s akin to the actual uniform, but compare the real thing to the female costume and there’s no similarity. A short skirt and a low shirt is hardly the mandated dress wear for women in the police force, nor would we expect it to be. But, it’s Halloween, a time to be sexy and free, so why isn’t the man’s costume fun and flirty?

“Once again, we’re demonstrating that the only good police officers can be men, the only good firefighters can be men, the only good guards can be men. It just feeds into all of that,” Ramirez said.

“When we sexualize our bodies for Halloween, we’re just exemplifying that this can only be the domain of men. When women are in those roles they don’t meet the standard.”

It becomes a power performance. Men mirror the actual uniform because men can do the job, if a woman does it, it’s for show, and that’s the hierarchy we’ve been facing since literally always.

I don’t think you should feel guilty for what you wore during Halloween – unless you were being racist, then shame on you – but I think we should consider what our costumes are saying. It’s not just a sexy devil costume, or a sexy pirate or a sexy whatever you decided to be.

This wasn’t a choice you came about organically, this was cultural pressure, but you need to decide what that means to you.  

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