Halloween is a hard time for a sex positive feminist. On one hand, I freely admit that I like sexy Halloween costumes. I’m a sexual creature and they are hot. On the other hand, I recognize that they are, by their nature, objectifying and since there’s a whole lot of pressure to participate and not nearly as many other options, it’s not quite as cut and dried as “well, women should wear what makes them feel good.” I agree with that sentiment, but Halloween and costume choosing doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and there are a number of factors to keep in mind.
Dan Savage discussed this on his podcast last week in the context of how Halloween is, or at least should/can be, the answer to every person who says, “Why isn’t there a straight pride parade?” Savage points out that the same sense of abandon and celebration of sexuality and life that pride parades serve can be served just as well in the existence of the sexy costume and the sexualization of Halloween for consenting straight adults. That women are the ones with skimpy versions of everything is a reflection of the cultural attitude that female flesh is attractive and male flesh is not necessarily, and while that is a terrible attitude, it is currently the reality of the world. We can work to undermine that perception, but complaining about costumes extracts an element from the celebrations, rather than attempting to add the element of the hotness of less dressed men and subtracting the perception that even exposed female bodies are public property.
While this is a good way of expounding on an ideal, it still left me conflicted about the current situation. Thankfully, Miriam has an excellent post that really puts this issue into perspective.
We still make a number of destructive assumptions–we, as a culture. One of those is that women exist primarily to be “on display,” and that anything else they do is secondary to that. Another is that female bodies are attractive and pleasant to look at (assuming they fit into the narrow criteria we prescribe), whereas male bodies are not. Why do we never see men “dressing slutty”? Why aren’t men expected to wear garments that restrict their movement, make it difficult for them to breathe, and require constant readjustments to make sure that nothing “indecent” is revealed? Because female bodies exist to be looked at, and male bodies exist to do things.
This is just one point among a whole lot of them that would leave me just quoting the whole damn article (go read it all, especially the enumerated bits at the beginning), but the basic premise is that there are a lot of cultural assumptions that go with Halloween costumes, mostly on the nature of male and female bodies and what they’re for.
We can be upset that a culture that skews the choices of women by teaching them from the time they’re little that they are there to be seen and appreciated, that their beauty and bodies are what gives them worth, makes these sorts of costume choices about pleasing others and not pleasing themselves. The problem isn’t that women are being ogled, it’s that many feel they have to and are shamed when they don’t.
What we need to be working toward is a society in which these sorts of assumptions don’t factor into our costuming decisions. It’s not a matter of blaming companies or the women wearing them, but rather attempting to build a culture in which blame is not really a factor.