If we didn’t already judge women for how they dressed every day of the year, maybe Halloween wouldn’t feel like such a pressure cooker for the intersection of shame and exhibitionism.
Oh the Halloween lists I could write!
17 Intersectional Non-Appropriating Feminist Costumes
10 Sex-Positive But Not Slutty* But Still Cute* But Not Trying-to-Hard* Costumes (*What do those terms even mean?)
11 Costumes for Couples Who Want to Proclaim Their Progressive Politics Via Glitter, Feathers, and Face paint.
But the Internet is already full of Halloween dos and don’ts, how-tos and how-not-tos, bests, worsts, and ugh-please-not-thats.
We’ve got “fat girl costumes” at Walmart, “sexy” Ebola nurses, and the ugliest of ugly Ray Rice with Janay “Doll”; It’s enough to make me want to vomit up all those pumpkin spice lattes I’ve been chugging. Halloween has become a showcase for our worst instincts.
It’s also the season for slut-shaming tirades about the hypersexualization of every uniformed occupation—nurses, firefighters, cops, nuns (??)—and the slutty, slutty women who sluttily wear them. We bemoan the state of the world that young women take the rare opportunity to wear whatever they want and use it to undress as much as is legally allowed. Why, world? Why? We shake our fists at the heavens, what’s wrong with them that they pick such tiny skirts and low-cut shirts!
But wait, yell the think-pieces from the other side, why do we care so much what other people are wearing? What’s it to you anyway? It’s not the Halloween industry that’s sexist, it’s our responses to the Halloween industry that our sexist. The real problem is our ongoing preoccupation with the bodies of women, our unwillingness to accept individual agency as a valid response to the question “Why are you wearing that?” Since when is “because I want to” not a good enough answer? Since forever, if you’re female.
Women are used to being policed for our outfits, watching our necklines, wondering if we are inviting criticism for wearing yoga clothes to yoga, a dress to a party, a bathing suit to the beach. I was in love with my new fall trench coat, as bright as a fire engine, until I realized that cat-callers on the street now use “Hey Red!” to get my attention. We are constantly teetering between pleasing ourselves and keeping the haters at bay, aware that a wrong move will be used to blame us for our own mistreatment.
I can’t bring myself to contribute to the Halloween lists because what do I know about how anyone else selected their outfit? If you don’t want to wear a revealing costume, then don’t. If you are tired of primping, polishing, and painting yourself every day just to go to work and look “professional” and you’d rather swaddle yourself in faux-fur and call yourself a teddy bear, do that.
If you want to let your freak flag fly because the rest of the year you feel tremendous pressure to occupy the very small plot of land that satisfies your mother, your boss, your partner, and the construction crew you walk by every day, more power to you. If you want to wear a revealing costume, wear a revealing costume.
Halloween is the chance you get to not have to defend your decisions; you can just point at a pumpkin and say, “It’s Halloween, I’ll wear what I want.” If only we had that kind of latitude the rest of the year, maybe Halloween wouldn’t feel like such a pressure cooker for the intersection of shame and exhibitionism.
Before I issue a carte blanche (which is not mine to issue, because it is your body and your wardrobe), let me throw one caveat into the mix. If you consider your super clever costume a “joke,” ask yourself who the punch line is. If you are treating the existence of a group–fat people, people of color, poor people, victims of abuse–as a gimmick for you to adopt for an evening of hilarity, stop it. Whose identity are you borrowing for the sake of parody?
But as long as your costume isn’t trampling on anyone else’s culture, reinforcing stereotypes, or making light of someone else’s pain (looking at you be-costumed Ray Race), wear whatever the hell you want. Show some skin, don’t show some skin. Stay home and watch Netflix, it’s really up to you. The haters will hate either way; it’s just what they do.
Role Reboot regular contributor Emily Heist Moss is a New Englander in love with Chicago, where she works in a tech start-up. She blogs every day about gender, media, politics and sex at Rosie Says, and has written for Jezebel, The Frisky, The Huffington Post and The Good Men Project. Find her on Facebook and Twitter.