Halloween is more than sexy

Carlton Skinner, Staff Writer
November 7, 2014

Halloween has come and gone, but before the ghosts and goblins are too far from your mind, let’s discuss something particularly ghoulish: America’s fascination with “sexy” costumes.

Sexy Halloween costumes by themselves are not inherently problematic. There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to get dressed up, show off and have some adult fun.

“Halloween offers women (the) potential to take proud, public ownership of the sexualization narrative, ‘I know I’m going to be sexualized, and so I’m going to play along,’” said Jill Peterfeso, assistant professor of religious studies, in an email interview.

However, in many cases, sexy Halloween costumes are the only choice available for women in stores. They become problematic when women are essentially forced into them by a consumer market with little else to offer.

“Women should be able to dress however they like for Halloween (without) fear of reprisal,” said Peterfeso. “At the same time, it’s concerning to me that there seems to be pressure for women to display as much flesh as possible in donning their Halloween costumes.”

The effects of this trend not only hurt adult women but also could have lasting, generational implications among younger girls. As these young girls grow older, the costumes being marketed towards them become more and more scandalous.

In establishing this expectation from an early age, society engenders young women to accept and embrace the objectification of their bodies without consent.

Sexy costumes are almost exclusively marketed towards women. For a man, a store-bought firefighter’s costume looks close to what one would expect an actual firefighter might wear. For a woman, the same costume might include a miniskirt and tube top.

This conveys the message that in order for a woman to dress as a firefighter she must also put her body on display, while a man is suited for the job just by virtue of being male.

“There should not be an expectation for women to dress scandalously on Halloween,” said senior Juliet Smith. “The holiday is about expressing yourself, and if you want to be a monster, why not?”

Of course, one might suggest avoiding the costume store altogether by making a costume from scratch, but that takes time. Women should not have to haul out a sewing machine in order to get a costume they feel comfortable wearing on Halloween night.

Flooding the market with scraps of cloth masquerading as costumes limits a woman’s choice to decide; her ability to give consent to the world is also taken away.

The expectation of women to dress in skimpy costumes doesn’t just cover store-bought costumes either. Even women who prefer to make their costumes often feel the pressure to dress in a way that exhibits their bodies prominently.

“I’ve definitely overheard friends saying things like, ‘I don’t know what to make for Halloween,’ or ‘My costume has to be sexy or cute,’” said senior Subha Semetaite. “(They) feel like they have to live up to some set of expectations.”

I saw plenty of really awesome costumes at parties this year that were not sexy or skimpy in any way. Halloween doesn’t have to be about (sexualizing female bodies).”

Sexualizing a woman’s costumed body without her consent reduces her to a sex object with little agency or, on Halloween, a kind of treat to be consumed, particularly by the male gaze. That is a problem.

Women are not your Halloween treats.


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