Talking primarily about the early 21st century United States here, we are an astonishingly open culture: our fears, our flashpoints, and the shadows that haunt us are easy to find on our web pages, in our music, and in the news. We are a culture where a white high school football team can make “monkey noises” when they beat an Afro-American team, where young men can not only be exonerated for gangbanging a drunken young woman but can be framed as the “victims” if punishment is even contemplated, where making fun of disability, age, and every other kind of marginalization is part of the expected territory.
So you might think that we wouldn’t need to express our darker selves in our Hallowe’en costumes, that we get enough of that in daily life. But you would be wrong. On Hallowe’en, apparently we express ourselves in all kinds of disturbing ways (as well as all kinds of completely fun and delightful ways).
Jill Tamaki at The Hairpin has some delightful visual comments on “sexy Hallowe’en.” (More panels of this cartoon at the link)
Maya at Feministing (who led me to the Tamaki cartoons) offers a characteristically nuanced and thoughtful response to the sexy Hallowe’en phenomenon:
… confession time: One of the reasons I hate the fact that a sexy costume has become all but required is that I kinda like dressing sexy for the occasion. Yes, I’m one of those girls. If Halloween is fun because it’s a night we’re allowed to pretend to be something we aren’t, I want to pile on the heavy makeup and break out the skimpy outfits. (There are only so many opportunities to wear that tasseled white mini-skirt, after all.) Yes, the sexualization of Halloween is sad and absurd, but so is the slut-shaming that makes many women feel like it’s the only time they have permission to wear a “slutty” outfit without getting judged for it. (And, of course, they probably will get judged anyway.)
So let’s brainstorm some costumes that, whether revealing or not, are actually sexy. In other words, clever ones that don’t just involve cutting holes in a regular costume. I’ll start: I’m going to be a Sexy IUD. I’ll be dressed as a sleek, shiny copper “T” and go around hitting on guys with pickup lines like, “I’m over 99% effective at preventing pregnancy–and at getting you off!” and “I’d sure like for you to tickle my threads!”
More links to fun sexy costumes (not all of them as silly as the IUD) at the link.
The aspect I was not aware of, until Lisa Wade at Sociological Images brought it to my attention is men dressing up as fat women (!). What’s with this nonsense?
Feministing, Sociological Images, have also been talking about racist Hallowe’en costumes, like the one above. There’s no nuanced response to racist costuming: don’t do it, tell your friends and family not to do it, and if you go to a Hallowe’en party where anyone is doing it, call it out if you can.
Not all of Wade’s examples are racist (and many many racist costumes are not also fat-shaming), but all of them are this overblown and all of them are–by definition–viciously sexist and transphobic. These are costumes for sale in many stores, and presumably there will be people out there next week wearing them “for fun.” As Wade says, “Halloween is a disturbing fun house mirror, showing us what we really think about each other.”