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Kelley’s Korner Special: Skin & Guts: Objectification, Rape Culture, and Slut-Shaming on Halloween.

Kelley’s Korner Special: Skin & Guts: Objectification, Rape Culture, and Slut-Shaming on Halloween.

Kelley’s Korner Special: Skin & Guts: Objectification, Rape Culture, and Slut-Shaming on Halloween.

by Kelley Ware  

Halloween is upon us and it is just about time for everyone to get dressed up and become something they are not for a night. For children, it is more the candy and less the costume that is important. For adults, costumes are the integral part of Halloween. Outside of classic horror movies, costumes are what Halloween is truly about. However; there is a dark side to this tradition. This dark side is not about the blood, fear, and horror that come with Halloween. It is about the “sexy” costumes and the associated problems that may come with these costumes.

For women, the process of buying or creating costumes is a little more complicated and comes with less options than their male counterparts’ experience. For a man, it is simply a matter of finding something or creating something that they would like to wear. The world is open to them and they are full of options. Unless they decide on obnoxiously phallic-themed costumes, there will be absolutely no problems for them on Halloween. For women, however, the issue is a little more complicated. The creation option is still very much open to them, but there is a definite change in the store-bought options. For the women picking up a pre-packaged costume, options are either incredibly revealing or comically oversized–-likely as a backlash against the former. There is little middle ground, and the sheer volume of the former grossly over-weighs that of the latter. Chances are, if a woman picks a store-bought costume, she will show up to any party or event in one of these “sexy” costumes.

The movie Mean Girls has the line: “Halloween is the one day a year when a girl can dress up like a total slut and no other girls can say anything about it.” Sexy and slutty Halloween costumes have been accepted as fact. It is just what happens. Everyone does it, so there should be no problem. There is even a historical precedent for this. Halloween is seen as a time to break loose of societal bonds for a night. As Jenny Brock on the website Policy Mic writes “The historical precedent would be the sexy costumes at masquerade balls, which were wildly popular from the 18th and 19th century on… Respectable women would wear pantaloons or short skirts and milkmaid outfits when they went to costume parties. At the masquerade parties in London, you had costumes with a degree of body exposure. You also had artists’ balls — in Paris especially — where you had revealing costumes and some nudity, so this trend is nothing new.” Despite it being historical tradition, many still see this as problematic for several reasons.

There are many that argue that society has a tendency to objectify women. This can be seen in film, music, television, and advertisement. Halloween is no different. Looking at the differences between male and female costumes makes this point glaringly obvious. The Tumblr blog, with a mouthful of a name, F*** No Sexist Halloween Costumes reveals this double-standard quite well. On this blog male and female versions of the same costume are placed side by side. Picture after picture a man is shown fully dressed in some type of costume and the woman is shown in a sexified version. The most alarming one was a Scooby Doo that has the man in a hooded onesie while the woman wears a short, cut-out dress with paws on it; a mummy costume is shown that had the man in a horror-themed costume, complete with a scary mask, next to a woman with a bandaged strapless outfit (which could barely be classified as a dress) with bandage stockings to match; there is a tiger-theme which lets the man get away with a Tony the Tiger costume while the woman has little more than furry booty shorts with a tail attached, a furry bra, and cat ears.

Another aspect of this double standard is when men decide they do want to show some skin themselves. For a man, if they decide to do something overly revealing it is usually considered humorous; like it is nothing more than a joke. When the film Borat came out, there were guys who dressed up in the infamous green mankini. In this case, even though it is clearly a revealing costume, no one takes it as overtly sexual. There is also the case of skin-tight spandex costumes. They leave nothing to the imagination, yet when it is on a man it is deemed acceptable. For a man, it is little more than a funny joke while a woman in a skin-tight suit would be seen as overtly sexual. I am not going to argue that men do not get objectified by society at all; that is clearly not true. However, they are not objectified to the degree that women are, especially in the case of Halloween costumes. The only type of costume that men may want to avoid is the previously mentioned “phallic themed” costumes. These are the costumes such as a Breathalyzer Test costume with a “Blow Here” sign conveniently at crotch level. Costumes such as these are seen as obnoxious and even offensive by some people, but there is still debate concerning them. Some would argue that it is a type of costume that really should be avoided while others would argue it is nothing more than harmless fun. It is important to note as well that, while a debate exists around whether or not it is appropriate for men to wear these types of costumes, little discussion goes on about how these costumes devalue women, implying they are little more than blow job machines.

On Halloween, while men can do whatever they wish, women are evidently meant to be sexy. Even pre-packaged costumes that do not have the word “sexy” or “slutty” in the title still often have comparable hemlines to their sexy cousins. Worse still is what types of costumes are being marketed as sexy costumes. It is one thing to dress up as a sexy police officer or sexy sailor: they are at least adults (and people). People can be very sexy so these costumes being sexy make at least some sense. There has been a growing desire to be dressed up as something that is not inherently sexy and arguably should not be seen as sexy. These costumes include the child-like–in the case of cartoon characters or fairy-tales–and the offensive, such as sexy Muslim or sexy Nun. This is sexualizing and disrespecting something that should not be sexualized. The very epitome of this is the trend of dressing up as inanimate objects. There have been Sexy Chinese Takeout costumes, Sexy Hamburger costumes, and Sexy Hot Sauce costumes. This trend is a problem because, unlike the other trends mentioned here, it literally makes women out to be objects. The only thing more objectifying than actually making women out to be an object is forcing sexiness at the same time.  

Many feminists stand against this. Jenny Brock also writes, “It’s horrific that when women dress sexy, some men see that as invitation to treat those women without a shred of respect, as if sexy automatically equals sexual availability. Sometimes it’s just about strutting your stuff. Not about closing the deal.” There is also an interesting catch 22 in this case. Halloween is the one night where women are expected by society to dress in slutty costumes, yet society cannot accept this. Society correlates “slutty” clothing with slutty behaviour, but it also encourages the former on Halloween while considering the latter shameful. In many ways, this creates a no-win situation for women on Halloween. Anyone who does not truly want to dress sexily feels pressured to do so, while those who want to feel sexy are demeaned and criticized.

This catch 22 and the correlation between dress and behaviour create another societal problem: slut shaming. This is the degradation and mocking of women because she is expressing her sexuality. This implies that female sexuality is something to be ashamed of, something distasteful. It also ties in with rape culture: that the girl gets what is coming to her because of how she is dressed. The strangest thing about this on Halloween is how some feminists react. Kyra Richards, writing for Buzzfeed, put it best; “I find it perplexing that critics of women who wear sexy Halloween costumes claim to support women’s rights and female empowerment on the other 364 days of the year – yet they chastise the women who have the gall to “go there” on Halloween.” Some people have it in their minds that if a woman dresses in a sexy manner, then she is clearly nothing more than a sexual being who “wants it.” Even in the case of a woman who is only dressed up like this for one night, some people decide that she has an “inner slut” that is just waiting to get out.

On the other side of the rape culture mentality rests the reverse argument. Women should not dress up in sexy costumes because men cannot control themselves. Chloe Angyal argues on Thought Catalog that these viewpoints are blatantly regressive and puritanical. For these people, the feminine creature is something pure, dainty, and precious, something that must be protected from the eyes and hands of men who cannot stop themselves from touching, groping, and raping, thus ruining the purity of society’s women. These same people argue that they are defending society’s pure and innocent young ladies from feeling pressured to dress up as “filthy whores.” This act of costuming as something “sexy” is an act of degradation and should not even be considered, let alone committed. These would be the same people that would argue that you cannot rape a whore. This is rape culture in its extreme, of course, with its victim-blaming and the “she was asking for it” mentality. It is no surprise that when these sorts of people hear of a sexual assault, the first thing they would ask is “what was she wearing?”

None of these viewpoints are truly right; rape culture, slut shaming, and objectification are all wrong in their own way. The first two place blame on the woman and the last places the blame on society. Each blames someone else. Yet all of them place blame somewhere, as though there is somebody to blame for peoples’ choice of Halloween attire. Costuming is a choice. Why should we blame anyone for a choice they make that concerns nothing other than their own bodies? Just because someone decides to dress sexy on Halloween does not automatically make him or her a slut. It does not mean they are asking for anything. Unless they specifically say otherwise, they do not want to have sex with the first person they see. The reverse is also true. Just because someone decides to dress up in a costume that covers their whole body, even in one of those comically oversized costumes, it does not mean they are prudish. They are not boring or old-fashioned, they just simply want to wear the costume they want to wear in order to have a fun evening.

Halloween is one of the few days where it is socially acceptable to be someone else for a night. It allows you to step out of the self and pretend. It can be an escape–one that tends to be completely harmless. This has even happened historically. Masquerade Balls had women pushing the boundaries of conventional society for one night, because they knew it would be allowed. The next morning, they could return back to normal and everything would be fine. It is the same now. We need to acknowledge that if someone is making a choice–a choice which affects no one other than themselves–we have no right to judge or decide what is better. It is what they want to do and we should tell them no different. So, on top of the usual message of being safe on Halloween, I bring you one that will make Halloween parties more enjoyable for everyone involved: wear whatever the heck you want to wear and do not judge anyone because they choose to wear something different than you.