Many level-headed feminists lose it at the sight of the five-inch heels, plunging cleavage, and belt-like skirts that often accompany Halloween’s sexy costumes. To these people, women dressed as school girls or French maids seem lost in the dark ages, enslaved by patriarchy, willingly playing the role of a sexual object. But putting down women for dressing in sexy costumes at Halloween is hypocritical and retrograde. It’s slut-shaming, pure and simple, meaning that it involves putting women down for revealing and taking advantage of their sexuality. A woman in a catsuit is still an independent agent – it’s her prerogative, so everyone needs to back the eff off.
In a recent episode of his podcast, “The Savage Lovecast,” Dan Savage, the columnist best known for his syndicated sex column “Savage Love,” entreated feminists, lefties, radicals, liberals (my people, he added) to get the stick out of their ass concerning sexuality in Halloween culture. The thrust of his argument was this: whether flashing a crowd at Mardi Gras or dancing on a float made out of condoms at a gay pride parade, people of all orientations crave moments of public sexual display. Halloween, with its wild parties and elaborate, often sexual costumes, is no different. And why should it be?
Savage, ever sex-positive, made me ashamed of myself. Like many women in my lefty milieu, I looked down on women who I felt dressed in a “slutty” way at Halloween. Like many others, I took a secret pride in de-sexualized, “funny” costume choices. And yet, on paper, I believed women should be free to wear whatever they wanted, to pursue whatever sexual identity or encounter they desired. I walked in a “slut-walk” – last year’s feminist protest rebelling against a policeman who entreated women to dress less slutty in order to avoid being attacked. Apparently, I didn’t really understand the message. A woman’s body is her own, to reveal and use as she sees fit. Period.
The dissonance in my own view of Halloween has roots in a deeper dissonance between sex-positivity, feminism, and, when it really comes down to it, heterosexual sexual identities (if you need proof of this, just look at the debate surrounding feminism and porn). Sexual desire and political righteousness make uneasy bedfellows.
Girls who choose to dress up as Little Red Riding Hood or as a sexy genie are doing something they have every right to do, which is experiment with their own sexual identity and dabble in the world of fantasy. That a woman would want to be a Red Riding Hood to some guy’s big bad wolf appalls some people – but it shouldn’t. These women are entitled to their play.
To assume that sexy bumblebees are somehow passive prey to those whose desires they might stir is to assume they are powerless. To assume that by choosing a sexy costume girls and women are the playthings of deeply ingrained patriarchy and societal pressures to reveal themselves is to deny them their sexual agency. One can’t label them instant-victims because they’re wearing tube dresses. Maybe I want to wear tube dresses, and be looked at, and feel attractive. Maybe I am just having fun. And, harder for many to swallow, maybe I just want to get laid.
We can look to old school puritanism as well as misguided feminism to explain why this prospect might be met with revulsion and derision by other women. This is slut-shaming. We bristle at some buffoons’ remarks about how short skirts make women more likely to be attacked. To then turn around and bristle at those same short skirts is nothing short of hypocrisy.
By day, Kate McGillivray is the mild-mannered Multimedia editor at The Daily. By night, she’s known to rock a tube dress. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions are all her own.