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Halloween: Sexy Woman VS Sexual Object

by October 25, 2012
filed under Activism

It’s that time of year again. It’s time to stock up on candy, carve pumpkins and decide who or what you are going to be on October 31st. If you’re a young woman participating in Halloween, you have plenty of costumes to choose from. You can be any profession, object or character you want. Just make sure you put the word sexy in front of it. For young women today, picking out a Halloween costume consists of choosing what sexual fantasy you’d like to be this year. And there is SO much variety now! You can be Sexy Big Bird, Racy Red Riding Hood, or the Marie Antoinette inspired Vixen of Versailles (the historical inaccuracy kills me). Or you could always opt for the more traditional Naughty Schoolgirl or Sexy Nurse costumes. The costumes range from ridiculous (Sexy Watermelon anyone?) to downright racist (please, please don’t buy the First Nations inspired “Reservation Royalty” costume). And while it’s fun to roll your eyes at just how ridiculous it is that women are willing to pay $61.95 plus shipping for essentially a small piece of pink fabric resembling a watermelon, I find this trend extremely disconcerting.

I’m not trying to preach modesty, or shame women for showing too much skin. I’m just really uncomfortable with the fact that, for women, Halloween has become Sexual Objectification Day. It doesn’t get more objectifying. You are literally a sexual object. If you don’t want a sexy Halloween costume, your choices for store bought costumes are very limited. It can be frustrating to find a costume that isn’t sexy, and there’s also a lot of pressure to dress provocative when that’s what all the other gurls are doing. As a feminist I’m generally in favour of women being free to make choices, and that includes the freedom to dress how they want. But isn’t it concerning that on a day when people can be anything they choose, the number one thing women want to be is sexy?

I’m also not convinced that being sexy and being a sexual object are necessarily the same thing. Cleopatra is famous for ruling Egypt and having affairs with two of the most powerful men in the Roman Empire. Isn’t that sexy all by itself without turning a Cleopatra costume into Egyptian inspired lingerie? Some women will argue that showing off their body and dressing provocatively is empowering and that they’re just more in touch with their sexuality. But if taking off your clothes is so empowering, then why aren’t men doing it? And if this is what being in touch with your sexuality looks like, it’s a pretty narrow definition of sexuality – it’s an exhibitionist sexuality revolving around looking desirable to men. Halloween is very different for men and women. When men dress up like firemen or policemen, they actually resemble firemen and policemen, not the male stripper versions of firemen and policemen. The tumblr does a great job of pointing out the glaring differences in men and women’s Halloween costumes.

Part of the reason the discrepancies between men’s and women’s costumes alarm me so much is because it starts so young. The sexualization of adolescent girls is incredibly evident at Halloween, with sexy costumes appearing in junior high, and with the popularity of the naughty schoolgirl costume. The Halloween costume site Yandy.com has 92 sexy schoolgirl costumes. As someone who wore a school uniform in junior high and experienced a lot of street harassment while wearing that uniform, I find this particularly disturbing. Maybe if we stopped selling the naughty schoolgirl fantasy, my friends and I wouldn’t have been swapping street harassment stories at age 13.

When it comes to Halloween, I don’t have all the answers and I’m still figuring out how to be both anti-slut-shaming and anti-sexual objectification. All I can say for sure is that I wish there were more options for women when it comes to costumes. I wish junior high gurls weren’t dressing up as sexy nurses and learning to see themselves as sexual objects at such a young age. I wish women would think critically about their costumes – because it’s not just about costumes, it’s about our culture’s tendency to teach women that their number one priority should be their sexual desirability. So if you want to be a zombie, be a zombie – just don’t be a “sexy zombie.” And if you want to be Marie Antoinette, try to pick a hemline that actually makes sense for 18th century France.


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