“Take a drink every time you see a girl dressed as Harley Quinn this weekend! Take two if you see a girl dressed as Harley Quinn who shouldn’t be!” This is what my friend Sydney heard at Kent State as she walked into her chemistry lecture. Ah, Halloween. The magical night where anyone can be whatever they want—unless you’re a woman, that is. Women are faced with two options on Halloween—to be sexy, or to be decidedly unsexy. And if you go into any pop-up Halloween store, it is clear that the dominant option is “sexy.” Sexy nurse, sexy zombie, sexy french fries—you name it and there is a sexy costume of it. If a woman dares to deviate from the sexy category, she is relegated to the unsexy category.
The sexy/unsexy dichotomy directly reflects the s***/b**** dichotomy that prevails everywhere in Western society. Sarah Palin reflects the first category—nobody could take her seriously, and she was not particularly confrontational, so she belongs to the first category, the s*** category. America fetishized her and overplayed her dumbness so that she would further fit into our comfortable boxes. Hillary is a stone-cold b****, a nasty woman, as Trump so eloquently put it. Because Hillary is assertive and opinionated, we put her in the unsexy category. There is little room in America to be an intelligent, confident woman and still retain one’s sexuality. Most women in politics fall into the unsexy category. Most female movie stars fall into the sexy category. This is no accident. American society requires our female celebrities to be glamorous and hypersexualized, while our female politicians and CEOs must refuse their sexuality to be taken seriously. A man in a suit and tie, on the other hand, can easily fit in on a red carpet or at a board meeting. Hyper- and under-sexualization is essentially a women’s issue.
Nowhere is this more prominent than Halloween. If a woman refuses to be a sexy french fry, she essentially gives up her sexuality. On the other hand, if she actively enjoys being a sexy french fry, she is too promiscuous. If she does not fit the age or body standards that are socially acceptable, she should cover up. If she does fit society’s age and body standards of sexuality, she is attention-seeking, practically asking to be assaulted. There is not much room for women to win on Halloween.
However, there are steps that both women and non-women can take to correct these ridiculous standards.
If you are a woman, wear whatever you want. Go naked. Cover yourself in a sheet. Halloween was originally a pagan holiday, but it has evolved into a night of gorging oneself with candy and dressing up as whatever you want. Let Halloween be the night you deserve. If you have always wanted to be a mermaid, dress as a mermaid. If you are not a cis woman and are afraid to wear a costume that you love, go for it! Do it anyway. Eat too much candy, even if that is unladylike. Go trick-or-treating. Stay home all night. Party until the sun comes up. Go out with your friends. In a world that restricts women to binaries and dichotomies, I am here to tell you that you can do whatever you want. Protect your fellow women. We must have each other’s backs. Do not talk badly about someone who is wearing a costume that you would not personally wear. If it makes them happy and it is not hurting anyone, it is none of your business.
Now, in order for women to safely take the aforementioned steps, it is essential that non-women do their part. For people who do not identify as women, you must support women. (Yes, also support for everyone else, but that is totally not the point. This is a situation where women are being oppressed. The focus is on correcting and removing this oppression. If that seems unfair to you, enroll in Intro to Gender Studies and talk to me in 10 weeks). Do not coddle women. Support them. Tell them they look great in their costume—because we do.
Keep your judgments to yourself. Chances are, these judgments have been internalized from a lifetime of media brainwashing. Yes, fat women can wear revealing clothes. No, women in revealing outfits are not dressed up for your pleasure. Costume is not consent. If you see a women wearing a giant light-up arrow that points to her crotch, you must still ask for consent. You must still respect whatever answer you receive. If a woman is naked, you cannot touch her without asking. Yes, even if you are drunk. Yes, really! If you see someone not following these rules, feel free to educate them.
This Halloween, enjoy yourself. Wear whatever you want. Support women.