There’s been a lot of circulation over the past couple weeks on Facebook and otherwise on the topic of sexy and culturally offensive Halloween costumes. In addition to the debate between inappropriate costumes vs. slut shaming, I recently read a really interesting article about how the sexy Halloween costume is a type of naughty completely disengaged from the original conception of naughty Halloween.
We often look at the ‘naughty’ Halloween costume as either a) a way to express our sexuality during a night of ‘letting loose’, or b) as an inappropriate and sometimes appropriating way of degrading both men and women and enforcing gender norms. We’ve all seen the articles and campaigns which criticize dressing up as a culture other than your own– clearly an offensive example of appropriation. What’s worse, these costumes usually focus on the hyper-sexualization of women of color, contributing to gender norms AND negative stereotypes about specific cultures. Not to mention, the cost of these ‘sexy’ costumes is usually prohibitive to those outside of a middle-class income, ranging anywhere between $40-$100 per costume (for an ironically small bit of fabric). This translates, more often than not, into privileged white women purchasing and wearing the cultures of other women, and sending a very specific message about the so-called ‘naughty’ natures of women and cultures they’ve appropriated, all while maintaining their middle-class whiteness underneath the bits of fabric. Not cool. The real ‘naughty-ness’ about this lies in ignorance and the way such appropriation is divisive to the feminist movement.
Don’t get me wrong– I believe in sexual liberation just as much as the next post-structural feminist thinker, but let’s step back for a minute and question why we think wearing a sexy Halloween costume will lead to our liberation. Do we think that size-prohibitive, skin-exposing costumes celebrate all female body types? Do we think that celebrating the female body in an overt way will somehow train men to respect women’s bodies? Do we think attracting a gaze, touch, or encounter says something about our freedom of sexual expression? Maybe. Or, perhaps we’ve been conditioned to believe these things in a society that encourages our consumption of irrelevant goods while suppressing creative, thoughtful methods of real dissent.
Real dissent– what’s the REAL naughty nature of Halloween? In THIS ARTICLE, historian Jonathan Zimmerman describes how Halloween was originally a time for children to disobey their parents. I immediately thought of Margaret O’Brien’s character in ‘Meet Me in St. Louis’ and the massive bonfire children in her neighborhood set up in the street. The following clip shows her shenanigans:
Zimmerman and other historians will also describe how this type of dissent was particularly popular during the great depression when children and youth expressed their discontent, poverty, hunger, etc. by staking their claim to parts of their communities and throwing proverbial flour in the faces of the rich. Unfortunately, he also highlights how this dissent was typical of male children and youth and disturbingly violent toward women. But who’s to say that in our contemporary context, women couldn’t also engage in a different kind of ‘naughty’ for Halloween? For women, this type of Halloween would be far more productive in securing our rights and fighting for gender equality. At the heart of our oppression is a capitalist system which tells us that our role in society is to consume and reproduce the physical and mental manifestations of patriarchal consumer society. I’d rather wear a paper bag over my head and engage in non-violent direct action this Halloween than dress up as sexy sushi (WTF, by the way!?).
Zimmerman gives a glimpse of where the original naughty went wrong: after 1933’s Black Halloween which included community violence and anti-police style protests, schools, governments and community groups collaborated to suppress the dissenting behavior. Parents were encouraged to accompany their children door-to-door, candy companies capitalized on this new conception of Halloween, and ‘naughty-ness’ manifested in obscure and patriarchal ways. Pre-teens and even babies are now being sold ‘sexy’ Halloween costumes! What does this say about how childhood has been co-opted? What does this mean for the future of a women’s movement or a movement for any sort of gender equality for that matter?
Let’s stop consuming the goods, lies and behaviors that separate us. Let’s be honest about what forces work against us in creating sustainable empowerment and real gender equality. Let’s show young girls that the capitalist’s ‘sexy’ doesn’t= naughty, doesn’t = empowered, doesn’t= a challenge to patriarchy. Let’s show our generation and the next that Halloween can be empowering if we choose to participate. Let’s regenerate the real ‘naughty’.