Halloween is a holiday with pitfalls for feminists: We want to simultaneously encourage the rejection of outfits that reduce women to nothing more than sex objects, while also respecting the women who may choose to err on the more risque side when they trick-or-treat. That line can be difficult to walk, and even harder to explain to people who aren’t well-versed in slut shaming and women’s empowerment. So here’s a simple guide to how to have a feminist Halloween without missing out on the fun:
Why Women Shouldn’t Be Reduced To Sexy Objects
At this point, it’s common knowledge that Halloween is the holiday that inspires increasingly ridiculous promiscuous costumes. Every year, there are countless articles devoted to rounding up the top offenders — like sexy Mr. Potato Head, a sexy remote control, sexy Big Bird, a sexy nun, and a sexy hamburger. It’s often difficult to find any store-bought Halloween costumes intended for women that aren’t tight, skimpy, and designed to play up her “sex appeal.”
This trend is trickling down to children’s costumes, too — inciting criticism for contributing to the over-sexualization of young girls. Walmart sparked controversy this year for stocking a “naughty leopard” costume for toddlers.
It’s not hard to see why feminists would protest this type of objectification. Women are more than their bodies and their sex appeal, and the “feminine” version of a costume shouldn’t automatically have to emphasize cleavage. Feminists have worked hard to make the point that women are just people — and if they want to dress up as a hamburger, they can wear the same kind of hamburger costume as a man would, without feeling the need to show a lot of leg.
Why You Shouldn’t ‘Slut Shame’ Women In Halloween Costumes
While it’s important to recognize that women don’t need to be sexy to have a good Halloween, it’s also worth acknowledging that some women simply like looking a little steamy, and that’s fine too. Demonstrating sexuality can actually be really empowering for women when they feel they can do it safely and without pressure or judgement. There are three things that society needs to understand, though, in order for women to get to this point:
1. “Sexy” doesn’t have a singular definition. Is cleavage sexy? Sure, for you. But not for everyone. Different people think different things are sexy and that’s okay. Your judgement of what’s attractive isn’t always someone else’s.
2. A woman who puts on a provocative outfit is not asking for moral judgement. There’s nothing morally wrong with looking good or dressing in revealing clothes. A woman who does so isn’t s slut, she isn’t necessarily sleeping around and, if she is, that’s fine too. You can’t determine who a person is from what they wear.
3. Being sexy does not equal an invitation for sexual advances. A woman wearing a sexy outfit is not ‘asking for it.’ Period.
Just like there are round-ups of “sexy” costumes every year, each Halloween also brings the inevitable rush of articles lamenting our society’s lack of a moral compass and imploring slutty women to cover themselves up. That’s not exactly the right approach to the holiday, either.
How To Have A Better And More Progressive Halloween
This doesn’t mean you need to be a feminist killjoy who can’t enjoy Halloween. It’s very possible — easy, even — to navigate these issues and to have a more progressive holiday. First of all, if you’ve decided you don’t want to dress up as a sexy object, you have a responsibility to remember that you don’t have the license to look down on other women who make different choices. You’re not morally superior to the “sexy” hamburger, and you don’t really have the right to police her expressions of sexuality.
If you are looking for non-sexy Halloween costumes, the project ‘Take Back Halloween’ has some great suggestions. And here’s a fun song that gives some good suggestions for creative costumes that don’t involve showing a lot of skin:
(Warning: lyrics are a little NSFW)
If you want to look sexy, well, the world is your oyster.
Ther are other ways, too, to ensure you’re not using Halloween as an excuse to perpetuate stereotypes or undermine progressive ideals. Every year, some partygoers inevitably don costumes that rely on racial stereotypes, and controversy always emerges after some people decide it’s a great idea to dress up in blackface. There’s no reason the holiday needs to rely on offensive depictions of people from other races, cultures, or sexual identities — take a few minutes to read through the “We’re a Culture, Not a Costume” campaign from students at Ohio University and make sure you avoid it. And don’t perpetuate class stereotypes, either.