Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween temporarily turns me into an evil Slut-Shamer, so I'm staying inside to protect the world from my bitchy negative vibes.

It's been a looong time since my last post, but the winds of change and blogging productivity are finally blowing back in my direction. (In other words, my book manuscript is SUBMITTED! Huzzah!) I chose the night of Halloween for my first new post, because Halloween is a holiday rife with gender stuff and body stuff.  I can't avoid it, and needed to write.

I am not the first person to have noticed with concern that costume stores are stocked with a fairly limited assortment of highly gendered (and often highly sexualized) costume options for boys, girls, men and women (I highly recommend this article published by Miss Representation for an insightful critique of Halloween costume culture). Because of this, Halloween has long been my least favorite holidays. (Admittedly, lingering food issues and the abundance of bite-sized candy may also play into my anxieties!)

Daria is hilarious but also kind of judgy.
I feel like a rigid and totally-not-fun sourpuss when I see so much eager self-objectification among my fellow ladies.  I am Halloween's version of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. Really, every year I should just dress up as  Daria, so I can blame my cynical eye rolling and huff-puffing as an effort to "stay in character."  Knowing this, and not wanting to ruin anybody else's fun night with my judginess, I typically lay low on October 31st.  (Caveat: I do enjoy costume parties hosted by my closest friends, but the last time I went to one there were 2 women dressed up as Daria, four as the modestly-clothed Golden Girls, and there was a Gloria Steinem greeting people with vintage feminist awesomeness. In other words, my friends aren't really mainstream Halloweeners....)

I hate feeling judgmental towards my fellow women. It goes against my feminist commitments to empathy, celebration of all women, and general disdain for ladies keeping other ladies down. Here's the worst part: feeling (and, even worse, acting) bitchy about women who choose to dress provocatively on Halloween makes me a Slut-Shamer.  (FYI, according to, Slut-Shaming happens when a person "publicly or privately [insults] a woman because she expressed her sexuality in a way that does not conform with patriarchal expectations for women."Slut-shaming is REALLY BAD STUFF! It contributes to a sexual double-standard in which men are praised for their sexuality while women are shamed for it; it polices rather than celebrates women's bodies and sexualities; and it implicitly (and often explicitly) positions the slut-shamer as being somehow "better-than" the slut-shamed.

This is Slut-Shaming. By 12-year-olds. It's awful.  Really, read it. Don't do it.
My Halloween slut-shamery troubles me profoundly. On the one hand, I hate (hate! hate!) how our culture objectifies and hyper-sexualizes girls and women.  I think that sexual objectification is a direct cause of body shame and disordered eating, and it is painful for me to see what I assume to be women's self-objectification on Halloween.  Yet my assumption that women dressed provocatively must be self-objectifying - the idea that they have unknowingly or complacently fallen victim to our culture's sexism - is just that: an assumption. This assumption downplays women's agency. It forgets that women can - and should - find enjoyment and pleasure in their sexuality. It forgets that we are all in costume, every day, and that our various costumes represent only one aspect of our complex selves.  Most importantly, it ignores the possibility that Halloween might be the one day of the year when women imagine that they can dress with exaggerated provocativeness without being slut-shamed. 

For these things, I apologize, and welcome your own thoughts on the subject.  I am obviously still working through this, which is why I am spending this year's Halloween in a dark movie theater watching a documentary with my sister. 

Is Halloween empowering to you? 
Is it a creative outlet? 
Is it a cherished and nostalgic holiday? 
Does it make you cringe? 
Are there any other 1-day-a-year ashamed-to-be-slut-shamers out there? 

Finally, a more lighthearted question: What is your all-time favorite Halloween costume?
(Here's mine: I dressed up as a DINNER SALAD one year in elementary school. I designed and sewed my own costume and everything. It didn't exactly win any popularity contests, but I know my parents were proud!)