This Friday we welcome back Elle after a two-week hiatus with a #FeministFriday post about the limited range of Halloween costumes available to women and girls. Read on!
Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. My natural inclinations towards theatrics, macabre humor, and coma-inducing sugar intake become not only socially acceptable, but encouraged. (Or, as Chanel from Scream Queens puts it, “It’s the one day on the gregorian calendar where you’re allowed to go around terrifying children and not be branded a psychopath.”) However, if you’re a woman, one part of Halloween skips from socially acceptable, over encouraged, down to basically mandatory: dressing sexily. (Think Mean Girls) In my younger, less sex-positive feminist days, I decried this as the “slut cat” phenomenon after hearing one too many of the following exchanges:
“What are you being for Halloween?”
“I’m gonna be a cat. But like, a slutty cat.”
(Note: Present Elle is sorry for Past Elle’s negative connotations regarding the word “slut.” Fight the slut-shaming patriarchy.)
While the phenomenon of the “sexy version of X” costume was bad enough when I was in undergrad, now it’s gotten kind of…. insane. It is now 500% easier to find a lady’s costume for a “sexy version of X” instead of just “normal version of X.”
Yandy.com seems to exist primarily to make me question my place in the universe. There are no “normal” costumes on Yandy.com. No. There are only “sexy” costumes. Of literally anything you can think of, and many things that should be copyrighted. This ranges from your normal “sexy witch” and “sexy schoolgirl” type costumes to sexy versions of things that should never have been made sexy. There is a Sexy Darth Vader (sorry, a sexy “ruthless galactic warrior”) There is a sexy Donald Trump (sorry, sexy “Donna T. Rumpshaker.” I just had to type that sentence. I hope you are all are made pleased by my sacrifice.) There is a sexy pizza rat costume. A sexy pizza rat costume that costs 90 dollars. They made a costume out of a ten second clip of a rat carrying a piece of pizza down the subway steps, and then made a costume based on it that costs 90 dollars and is sexy. Yandy.com has 46 pages of these costumes.
Now, as is the case with things like comic characters, video game characters, and other representations of women, I don’t mind the existence of sexy costumes. (I do mind the existence of the sexy Donald Trump costume. You should mind the existence of the sexy Donald Trump costume. Someone has to suffer for creating that costume.) Women should have the option to dress however sexily they want for Halloween, and it is a valid choice. However, like other representations of women, I ask for there to be a range. Sexy costumes should be one of many types of costume that women are able to purchase. I ask for a spectrum.
But more and more, it seems as if the sexy costumes are the only option, or at least the only acceptable option. The “new costumes” section for women on the site of major Halloween retailer Party City is heavy on the “sexy version of X.” About 1 in 10 costumes falls past the knee and isn’t skintight. They have a sexy Rosie the Riveter costume. (Sorry, “Riveting Darling”) … Wherever my feminism resides in my heart and mind, those parts of me are screaming right now. Meanwhile, the new section for the men’s costumes is heavy on head-to-toe coverage. About 1 in 10 of the men’s costumes could be considered “sexy,” and even the sexy guy cop gets to wear twice as much clothing as the sexy girl cop costume.
As a result of these types of costume choices, we get a pretty clear dichotomy when it comes to Halloween: men are supposed to dress up as character and have fun, and women are supposed to be sex objects. By virtue of a lack of choices, women are discouraged from dressing as anything other than sex objects. You have to work fairly hard as a woman to find a costume that is not sexy.
The worst part is that this is affecting not only adult women, but also young girls. Lin Kramer was looking for a costume for her three-year-old daughter on Party City’s website and was… underwhelmed. Looking at the career-themed costumes for boys and girls, Kramer found that there were sixteen boy costumes for various careers (soldier, firefighter, police officer) and only three for girls. And that’s if we’re being generous about our definition of “career.” Career options for girls included cheerleader, cowgirl, and police officer. And while the boy police officer costume looked like something… well that a police officer would wear, the cop costume for girls included a short skirt, low-cut shirt, and leggings, and was given descriptive phrases like “cute cop” and “sassy and sweet.” Kramer posted a very well-spoken protest to the Party City website, asking them to reconsider the costume choices for girls, and particularly to reconsider the early sexualization of girls’ costumes. (It’s worth noting that again, this is in the toddler costume section.)
Her post originally was responded to politely by Party City… before the company deleted it off of their website, as if this isn’t the internet and they were capable of actually destroying the sentiment along with the post. Despite the media attention Kramer’s protest garnered, nothing really seems to have changed. The toddler costume area still only features three career-related costumes for girls, and the vast majority of the costumes are dresses that stop above the knee, making the page look like a Toddlers and Tiaras shopping bonanza. Party City’s final statement was basically a “we can’t help if people like it” half-assed mea culpa, in which they claimed that nothing on their site was meant to be offensive, that the cop costume was one of their top sellers, and that they expected parents to be “involved” in their children’s costume selection. They also offered to speak to Kramer directly, which seems to be a somewhat desperate attempt to make her stop talking to the media.
What Party City doesn’t get (and what Yandy founder Chad Horstman doesn’t get when he declares that anyone who protests the sexualization of inanimate objects is someone who “doesn’t get” that it is supposed to be funny and doesn’t “go out”) is again, the idea of range. If the cute cop costume is one of your top sellers for toddlers, fine! Rake in that Toddlers and Tiaras cash. But also offer a cop costume that doesn’t sexualize a three-year-old, and offer girls costumes that make them think they can be something other than an (underpaid) cheerleader, a cutesy version of a career that kinda doesn’t exist anymore, or a kissogram girl. A parent can be as “involved” as possible in their children’s costume choices, but if you’re not giving them many options then that’s kind of like asking someone to be “involved” in choosing what to eat for dinner when you’ve already ordered sub sandwiches.
If you want to make a sexy pizza rat costume… less fine, but I can go with it. But also make some costumes where a woman doesn’t feel the need to shave 75% of her body just to wear it. (I’m from Wyoming, you’ve gotta give us ladies some more coverage than that, or among other things we will literally freeze on the way to the costume party.)
The point of Halloween is that you are supposed to be able to dress up as anything you want to be. Don’t ruin it by forcing women and girls into a very narrow, very sexualized, version of the term “anything.”
Elle Irise is a regular contributor to This Week In Tomorrow. When she’s not trying to find a non-sexualized gender-swapped
Darth Vader “ruthless galactic warrior” costume to wear this Halloween, she studies gender in popular culture.
[Editor’s note: The photo of the above cosplayers was done by greyloch who freely shares his photos on Flickr under CC licenses. If you recognize Cap and Tony, let me know their names and I’ll add them to the caption.]