As All Hallow’s Eve rapidly draws near, it’s time to have a good hard think about our costume choices, because there’s scary and then there’s scary. And by scary, we of course mean sexist or racist.
With each passing year Halloween moves further away from it’s creepy roots, towards becoming a super commercialised American holiday, and an excuse for racist, and all-round offensive outfits. And costume stores are doing nothing to stop this, so it’s up to us to decode what’s the right shade of spooky.
First, lets talk about the enormous difference between male and female costumes. Basically the difference is that female costumes require about a fifth of the material that male ones do and the word ‘sexy’ is added to the name. E.g. Male Police Officer Costume = Sexy Female Cop Costume.
In fact, nearly every career-themed costume for men accurately mimics the actual occupation, whereas the female equivalent presents a highly sexualised ‘spoof’ version, suggesting that they are incapable of, or just shouldn’t, attempt that job. Not to mention that it’s super offensive to the MANY women who actually have these occupations. Having said that, the ‘cop costume’ is one of the few career costumes that is actually offered to both genders at most stores.
Other female ‘career’ costume options include: “Sexy Maid”, “Sexy Nurse”, “Sexy Nun”, “Sexy Gypsy”, “Sexy Cheerleader”, “Sexy Cowgirl”, and the list goes on.
Party City, an Australian costume site, offers a large range of “sexy” costumes for women, including 7 different types of ‘dirty/sultry/bad/babe/sexy/captivating/Rita Dem Rights’ cop. It also includes a ‘Body Shapers’ section to “enhance your bustline, reduce & define your waistline, and comfortably shape and accentuate your back side”. Thanks Party City! You have made an invaluable contribution to the business of telling women how their bodies should look! (BTW: There is no male “sexy” section. Sorry fellas.) This store is not alone, as most costume sites are actively participating in the objectification of women.
These ‘girlified’ costumes are forced upon us from a young age. Australian mum, Lin Kramer critiqued Party City for their poor options for young girls, having 16 occupation-themed costumes for boys and only 3 for girls. Of those 3 career costumes for girls, all highly sexualised. She wrote an open letter to the store in which she stated “Your company could EASILY include many, if not all, of the costumes you have in the boys’ section as option in the girls’ as well”.
Halloween has become a tool for reinforcing gender norms, telling boys and girls how to dress or behave, while emphasising the importance of appearance onto young girls.
As well as offering highly sexualised costumes to young people, many stores exploit the innocence of youth by creating adult costumes based on child-themed characters. This includes costumes like ‘sexy baby’, ‘sexy girl scout’, ‘sexy school girl’, ‘sexy Disney character’, and more. Halloween is supposed to be aimed at kids (hence the trick-or-treating?) but for businesses, it’s about exploiting them.
While we’re on the topic of inappropriate Halloween costumes: lets talk about racism.
Halloween is NOT an excuse to mock or imitate another culture. A classic example of this is the overdone Native American Costume (Sexy Native American, if you’re a woman of course).
Adopting a culture for one day ignorantly mocks and belittles the prejudice people of that culture put up with every day. So to avoid endorsing unfair stereotypes steer clear of costumes like: Geisha, Mexican man, Black Face, Day of the Dead, Native American – basically avoid dressing up as a culture that is not your own.
Halloween should be a fun, light-hearted event. But there is nothing fun about reinforcing racial or gender stereotypes. The pressure imposed on young girls to focus mainly on their appearance continues right into adulthood. Women are highly sexualised in mainstream media every day, but Halloween seems to magnify this enormously.
There is such immense pressure to dress provocatively on this day, more than any other. And the backlash to this is also that it evokes a lot of slut-shaming, so it is impossible to win in this situation. How you dress is 100% up to you (as long as it’s not racially offensive!). We should not be shaming or pressuring women to dress in a certain way, on any day of the year. If you want to dress as a sexy cop – go for it. But if you want to dress as a realistic police officer – that’s cool too! The important thing is that you should have the option.
If you’re stuck for costume ideas this Halloween why not empower yourself by dressing up as your favourite badass feminist!
Maddy regularly writes for Rosie, and is passionate about music, history, art and gender equality.