Sexy Halloween Costumes for Girls Don’t Cause Rape

By encouraging women to wear ‘sexy’ costumes, Hugo Schwyzer writes, we’re selling both men and women short.

It’s a Halloween perennial, as predictable as the warnings about razor blades in candy apples, or endless reruns of Nightmare on Elm Street: outrage over sexy costumes for girls and women.

The latest tiresome iteration comes from Charlotte Allen, writing in the Los Angeles Times on Saturday. Allen, an editor at the Manhattan Institute, wonders why so many advocates for women and girls lament the sexualization of Halloween—and in almost the same breath, support the SlutWalk movement. Allen sees “irony” and “contradiction” here, missing the essential coherence of these two positions.

If you read the many excellent critiques of sexy costumes for girls and women (here’s one that Allen cites, and here’s another excellent one from Adios, Barbie), what you’ll notice is that those of us who advocate for girls aren’t primarily concerned that girls are showing too much skin. Rather, the problem lies in the compulsory sexualization that is so much a part of today’s Halloween celebrations for teens. A lot of us are more upset by the absence of options than by the absence of fabric; we know that pressuring girls to act sexy is not the same thing as encouraging them to develop a healthy, vibrant sexuality that they themselves own. I don’t have a problem with “sexy bar wench” costumes; I have a problem when those sorts of costumes are the only ones young women are expected or encouraged to wear.

SlutWalk, on the other hand, was about challenging all of us to recognize that sexual assault has nothing to do with what women wear. Whether in a miniskirt or a burqa, women have the right to expect men—not just in general, but every man—to exercise self-control. Women have the right to be publicly sexual (or, perhaps, to play awkwardly at being sexy, as some will do on Halloween) with the expectation that the justice system will not hold them complicit in their own victimization if they are assaulted.

But where Allen really falls down is in her staggeringly low opinion of men.  She peddles the myth of male weakness shamelessly. It starts simply enough:

The reality is that men’s sexual responses are highly susceptible to visual stimuli, and women, who are also sexual beings, like to generate those stimuli by displaying as much of their attractive selves as social mores or their own personal moral codes permit.

That’s fine as far as it goes, though she gets it only half right: women are visual creatures too, though Allen’s Victorian prudery won’t cop to that now well-established truth. (Does Charlotte actually know any teen girls?  Has she ever asked them if they check out hot guys—or other young women?)

But there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be wanted. There’s nothing wrong with inviting others to want you. Men are neither as simple nor as helpless in the face of desire as Allen (and the other purveyors of the male myth) would have us believe. We can be turned on and still not rape. We are—even when we’re filled to the brim with teenage testosterone—always capable of distinguishing between desire and action, between wanting and doing. That’s not just true for the few and the particularly virtuous. It’s true of all save the genuinely sociopathic.

It’s not too much to ask men and boys to “look, but don’t touch.” A young woman who wants to be noticed, even desired, without being assaulted isn’t making an unreasonable request. She’s not defying the facts of biology. She’s asking to be watched, appreciated, and left unharmed. Saying that she’s asking to be raped is like saying that a talented actor who portrays an unsympathetic villain particularly well on screen is asking to be attacked by an outraged member of the movie-going public. There’s a difference between a performance and an invitation, and it’s not that hard—really, it’s not—to distinguish the two.

Allen drops a bigger whopper in her next paragraph:

The other reality that feminists tend to deny is that rape and sexual desire are linked. Rape, in that view, is a purely political act of male dominance. This ignores the fact that the vast majority of rape victims are under age 30 — that is, when women are at their peak of desirability.

Um, Charlotte?  First of all, younger women get raped because they are more vulnerable. Girls under 18 are at even greater risk of rape than women 25-29.  Perhaps Allen believes that girls peak in desirability at 16?  Because that’s when they peak in vulnerability to sexual assault. Indeed, 9 year-olds are more likely to be sexually violated than 29 year-olds. Rapists don’t rape based on uncontrollable lust—they rape based on a potent cocktail of rage, opportunity, social reinforced entitlement, and lust. They rape the ones who are easiest to rape, not the ones who turn them on most.

None of this means that a parent should feel compelled to allow a 13 year-old to dress up as a prostitute for Halloween. Parents and other concerned adults ought to remind girls that there’s a difference between playing at being sexy and the authentic expression of sexuality. Adults need to push hard for a greater number of options for girls, so that fewer of them feel pressured to perform “sexiness” every October 31. At the same time, responsible adults need to remind girls and boys that it’s OK to want to be wanted, and it’s OK to want. But it’s never OK to use your own desire as an excuse for hurting another person.

I’m troubled that younger women don’t have a greater selection of Halloween costumes. But I’m far more troubled by the lie that boys and men cannot exercise control when they see a “sexy nurse” on the street or at a party. The absence of choices sells our daughters short; the myth of male weakness does the same to our sons.

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About Hugo Schwyzer

Hugo Schwyzer has taught history and gender studies at Pasadena City College since 1993, where he developed the college's first courses on Men and Masculinity and Beauty and Body Image. He serves as co-director of the Perfectly Unperfected Project, a campaign to transform young people's attitudes around body image and fashion. Hugo lives with his wife, daughter, and six chinchillas in Los Angeles. Hugo blogs at his website

Comments

  1. Well, I’ve always thought that the problem is actually broader than that; and another story right here on your own website pretty much makes my case:

    http://goodmenproject.com/sex-relationships/why-do-we-demonize-men-who-are-honest-about-their-sexual-needs/

    • so your sexual needs are to rape? then why are you allowed to roam free? are you a sociopath, or a chimp?

      • @KS
        “Well, I’ve always thought that the problem is actually broader than that; and another story right here on your own website pretty much makes my case”

        I see this as: “I think the ‘problem’ is ‘broader.’ ” Key point is ‘problem’.

        Hmm…Lets see… ‘too broad” means the topic needs to be narrowed(contains too many “*problems*”) for the topic to be better.
        So ‘not broad enough’ would mean that the topic needs to contain more things that are also problems. Or to say it a different way, too many things that are also problems have been excluded.

        He then placed a link to a post highlighting a large number of things that people may or may not also connect with this topic as ‘problems.’ IE:”Men aren’t dumb beasts—no more than women are wilting flowers—and stereotypes are easily defeated by a complete picture of the world.”

        Let see. “Why Do We Demonize Men Who Are Honest About Their Sexual Needs?” is the title give to this post. Given the content we could have also written this title as “By Not Allowing Men To Be Honest About Their Sexual Needs We’re Selling Both Men And Women Short.”

        This Halloween posts sub-title is “By encouraging women to wear ‘sexy’ costumes, Hugo Schwyzer writes, we’re selling both men and women short”

        Now its far easier to see the connection and areas in which the two posts support each other in various ways.

        But your response KS is,
        “so your sexual needs are to rape? then why are you allowed to roam free? are you a sociopath, or a chimp?”

        Not only a personal attack on Baylink, but a great deal unjustified I’d say. Perhaps it is just a misunderstanding, but I don’t enjoy seeing post containing short direct attacks like this.

    • If men really have such a hard problem controlling their baser urges whenever they get a little glimpse of T and A, perhaps we should push for chemical castration of all males as soon as they hit puberty.

      That is what you are saying here, isn’t it? That men are just loathsome animals who can’t help themselves and can’t stop themselves from deliberately and maliciously violating a woman if they happen to find her the slightest bit attractive, whether she be dressed like a ‘slut’ or an 80 year old woman in a sweatsuit.

      Those poor menz. We should lock them up. For their own good.

      /sarcasm

  2. Standing ovation. Thank you Hugo.

    However, is it safe to say that because this horrible POV pervades much of our culture, that men who rape women might think sexy clothing to be an invitation to assault, is it then something to warn girls about, to say “this is a risky outfit…because of the dangerous people in the world who will make a decision or assumption about what you are wearing.”

    I guess my question and concern, as a child advocate and feminist, is while we work to eradicate this kind of thinking (less clothing=invite to rape), which we both can agree is a long road, how do we keep our girls the safest?

    • I would like you to find the scientific study that shows the correlation between sexual assault and clothing.

      When a girl of 6 can be raped in her PJs and a woman of 85 can be raped in her dressing gown, the only thing “safe to say” about that the relationship between sexy clothing and sexual assault is that it’s a lie. You want to keep your girls safe, raise feminist boys. And please stop lying to your girls that *they* have to do something..

      • Wild Rebel says:

        “You want to keep your girls safe, raise feminist boys.”

        So if your boy is not raised as a feminist, your girls are not safe then?

        • Apparently.

          So if your boy is not raised as a feminist, your girls are not safe then?

          Raising a feminist boys grow up to view themselves and other males as predators, inferior, and loathesome. Unless, of course, they are homosexuals. Then, they’re wonderful.

          • Wild Rebel says:

            Well, I didn’t interpret what she said quite like that, but she did seem to be implying only boys raised as feminists won’t attack women, which anybody with half a brain should know is total nonsense. I’m hoping for some clarification to make sure.

            • wellokaythen says:

              Not to mention the fact that a little bit of feminism can be dangerous, too. Pretending to be a feminist by saying all the right things can be a great cover for a predatory male.

            • Wild Rebel says:

              Didn’t get any clarification, so I’m going to have to go with my first impression it seems.

            • The definition of feminism is basically that you believe in equal rights for men and women. You can also see it as acknowleding that it’s unfair that roughly half the world’s population get’s a worse deal because they don’t have a dick. Being a feminist does not mean you are a totally crazed man-hater.

              Therefore, I find this statement extremely ridiculous:
              “Raising a feminist boys grow up to view themselves and other males as predators, inferior, and loathesome. Unless, of course, they are homosexuals. Then, they’re wonderful.”

            • Considering how some of those dangerous ideas actually are defended by at least some feminists I don’t think it’s that ridiculous at all.

            • May I ask where you’ve read that feminists support these ideas? Or perhaps you know feminists who support these ideas?

            • I’ve personally crossed paths with feminists on your larger feminist spaces that defend such ideas. Namely that it is actually right to assume that all men are either rapists or rapists that haven’t struck yet.

              Now bear in mind that I am not trying to say that all feminists support such stuff but I am saying that its more than just random no name radfems (all too often I hear that excuse even as it happens in larger more mainstream spaces).

            • Hmmm. I am a feminist, and I’ve started following many blogs that deal with issues of misogyny and sexism, but I have yet to come across “radfems.” I’m sure they’re there. There are extremists in every group.

              It just bothers me that people use those whose misrepresent real feminism to demonize feminism as a whole.

            • It just bothers me that people use those whose misrepresent real feminism to demonize feminism as a whole.
              I can understand you feeling that way but honestly I get bothered those that do the misrepresenting are given a free pass.

              The reason I responded to your comment here was because it sounded a bit like, “But I don’t know any feminists that act like that” line I’ve heard too many times. Because apparently feminists are a monolith when it’s a positive monolith.

              There is a lot of bitterness and nastiness on all sides of the ball.

            • It is rare that an ideology is not misinterpreted/ misrepresented/ warped by at least some people who claim the name (e.g. “feminist”). There are plenty of people who call themselves feminists while misrepresenting feminist values (the primary one being that men and women should be treated equally and with respect as they are all human beings) and causing real harm at the same time, and there are plenty of times that those people do get called out on it: for example, look up some of the reactions to Naomi Wolf’s “Vagina: the New Biography”, or many of the things Sarah Palin has said.

            • That is true. There are those that warp ideologies.

              But it’s not always that neat. It’s nice that things do get called on like the examples you mention but what about cases where the warping is actually allowed to pass?

              Now I’d be willing to say that it’s not right to expect someone to find and call out every single warping under the threat of being an apologist of some sort. I just wish they would give that same consideration to others.

      • You DO realise women can rape too, right? =/
        Men can be raped by women as well as men – women have sexual needs just like men do, but rape isn’t about that. Rape is about control over the victim, not so much about sexual desires.

  3. these are the types of outfits Porn affilliates will be scouting for. These girls will be approached by fancy men with HD Cameras and huge wads of cash to perform on camera in a secluded area and sold to the highest bidder. I worked for a Porn affiliate once where my job was to download these video for editors. It’s sad that Parents won’t talk to there kids about sex and being sexy as well as where to be on Halloween night. What can ya do the laws have been put into place that each parent is responsible for their own child. Tells us a little about the Parents (no matter how Posh they are).

    • Neil, I have several young female relatives and I don’t believe for a minute that any one of them is stupid of naive enough to think that being asked to “perform” in a secluded place by a man with a video camera is going to lead to anything but “pr0n on teh intertubes”.

      What bothers me is the notion that society somehow needs to protect adult women from their own choices. If a woman decides to “perform” for money (as you put it) and they are an adult, why should we presume that they can’t control their own sexuality, especially when the general presumption seems to be that ANYTHING men do that is sexual is completely and wholly, 100%, the result of their will?

      What it boils down to is this:

      1) Either you draw a line and say “beyond this line you are an adult and responsible for what you do with your body and, I’m sorry, this means if you are not careful you can get hurt”;

      2) Or you say “The State knows what’s best for you and that your body is and will always be subject to State tutelage. The ‘appropriateness’ of your behavior will be determined in committee but hey, at least if you feel that you’ve been aggrieved, you can take a number, stand in line and one of our duly appointed grievance counselors will hear you out”.

      Yeah, there are scumbags out there who take advantage of people and the world is full of folks who are waiting for their million dollar royalty checks from the Nigerian Oil Minister. Your role, as a parent, is to educate your kids so that they become neither victims or victimizers in this most imperfect of worlds.

      And if, after all of that, your kids still want to dress up sexxxy and take a couple hundred bucks to shake their ass at the camera (and I should point out that boys get asked to do this as well), if they are adults THAT IS THEIR BUSINESS AND THEIR LOOKOUT.

      • As far as adults go, I couldn’t agree with Thaddeus more, but was Neil talking about minors? If so its a whole other ballgame that has little to do with male sexuality and everything to do with paedophilia.

        Either way, not much related to the issue at hand.

        • Given that the vast majority of pedophiles aren’t anonymous guys lurking with videocameras in the alleyways but members of the minor’s family or authority figures that have access to minors’ intimate lives, I think we can cross off the “dirty old men are making Halloween a menace to girls” theory.

  4. tu quoque says:

    Give us all a break. No one is forcing these girls to wear “sexy” outfits. They could easily find non-sexy alternatives if they wanted. Would you actually allow women and girls the possibility of personhood, instead of compulsively regarding them as victims?

    “Sexy” Halloween costumes are seen by 99% of the sane population as silly and only mildly risque. That translates to fun for most women who wear them. No one actually finds them all that sexy.

    • Correct.

    • It certainly makes me understand better why North Americans blow their circuits at Carnaval here in Brazil. The clothes most of those girls are wearing are similar to things I see everyday in the classroom (maybe not so much exposed midriff, but still..). DEFINITELY on the street.

      If that’s “sexy”, you folks have a loooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooong way to go to wear you truly need to worry about being “irresistable”.

    • “They could easily find non-sexy alternatives if they wanted.”

      This comment alone shows how little you know about the issue. If you walk into a Halloween store, 90% of female costume options are “sexy-fied” versions of something else, while 0% of that is reflected in male costume options. I’m talking about a metropolitan area, too.

      Obviously you can always “make your own” (which takes time, effort, and often more $$$) but that’s not “easily finding” one. The truth is that there are NOT a plethora of non-sexy-fied options, and that the ones where “sexiness” is the key ingredient vastly outweigh the others. One of Hugo’s main points is that there is a lack of tonal variety in Halloween costumes for teen girls and women, and he’s completely right about that.

      • Hear, hear.

        • If Women and Girls as a group opted for non-sexy costumes …..That’s what would be offered for sale. Place the blame where it belongs.

      • Nicole, you seem to lack a basic grasp of how capitalism works.

        The “sexy-fied” outfits would not be available if they were not in demand. Companies cannot force consumers to buy items they do not want, especially when it comes to discretionary spending.

        If there was actual demand for the kind of costumes you are describing, they would be everywhere. That’s how capitalism works. There is LOADS of research backing this up. The most famous paper, by Ippolito and Mathios, found that within 3 years of research linking high-fiber diets with reduced cancer risks (link was made in 1984), the fiber content of breakfast cerials increased by 7%, and brands advertised specifically as “high in fiber” were consumed by 2 million more households than before the link was known.

        Similarly, if “non-sexy” halloween costumes are actually in demand, then that means consumers would seek them out and purchase them. Seeing this demand, companies would be happy to provide those costumes.

        Like it or not, companies cannot sell you something you do not want to buy. If this were true, then the Microsoft Zune would have been every bit as popular as the iPod. What is available in the marketplace relfects our desires, and there is no evidence that halloween costumes are an exception to this.

        • Couldn’t have said it better myself. I’d also add that people are perfectly free to *make* their own costume O.O Yes, arts and crafts people, get out the scissors and the PVA glue. I know plenty of women who have dressed up as everything from GIR (invader zim) to a Connect 4 board.

          There *are* options out there, but the majority of women choose to take advantage of their looks and available costumes reflect this.

      • If you can only find sexualized costumes, you are only looking for sexualized costumes.

        There’s this thing called the Internet. . .

        Google “Halloween costumes” and you will find many hundreds of options. Literally.

      • tu quoque says:

        This truly is a non-issue. Women must simply not have real problems caused by their gender.

        Why else would people give two shits about halloween costumes other than to invent something to complain about?

        • I completely agree!
          personally I hate those ‘sexy’ costumes, and yeah, then you go shopping for a costume you do see a load of them, but I definitely don’t ever remember anyone making me wear one. I think they are tragically unimaginative – and there are plenty of options if you put your credit card back in your wallet for 5 minutes and have a think. God forbid you use your brain instead of your buying power.
          Instead of bemoaning the lack of choice in shops try encouraging all your kids/teens/whoever, to go and make their costume.. and it’s never that difficult, and they might actually get to use their heads, and imagination.
          You’re right, it’s a non issue!

      • So throwing on a sheet and going as a ghost is expensive?….wow

    • Spend some time at Party City or a Halloween shop in a local strip mall… Very few non-sexy costumes. I even took a photo of the selection of women’s costumes and texted it to all my girlfriends with the title, “Happy Sluttoween” (VERY un-PC, I realize). There was one costume I would have worn and it only came in plus sizes.

      There are a few gender neutral costumes, like ketchup or mustard, but they weren’t that great. I guess if you go to a Hollywood costume shop you can get a real sort of witch or queen costume with a long dress, but at these main-stay costume shops you’d be shocked by a startling lack of options.

      • So why not just wear a men’s costume? Cross-dressing is really only seen as negative male to female……So buy whatever fits ?

  5. Once again, North American debates about sex and male sexuality devolve into diodeterminism. Hugo’s completely right in situating Allen as some sort of neo-Victorian prude, for she maintains a great Victorian tradition: trying to explain human behavior by recourse to oddball theories about how out body is the ultimate root of all of our social behavior.

  6. Hugo,

    It’s Halloween. We’re all free to dress up as whatever we want. Yes, a lot of women CHOOSE to wear slutty outfits. So be it. That’s their CHOICE. It is VOLUNTARY. I know the added capitalization is annoying, but it seems to be necessary as this is a recurring theme.

    We can buy costumes or make them. Halloween is a night to be someone else. I used to dress up as a professional baseball player. As I got older I went as a killer clown. These women want to dress sexy, perhaps because it’s one of only a handful of opportunities they have to do so. To get out of their comfort zone on a night where they feel less inhibitions or judgment for doing so. I don’t know the reason, I’m not a woman and I’m not in their heads.

    All I know is you’re overthinking (and apparently trying to ruin) one of my favorite holidays. And yes, that includes looking at (but certainly not raping) scantily clad women dressed in sexy outfits.

    • You hit the nail on the head with why some women want to dress sexy these days – that “it’s one of only a handful of opportunities to do so, to get out of their comfort zone on a night where they feel less inhibitions or judgement for doing so.” Being a young married professional woman, “sexy” doesn’t enter my day-to-day wardrobe very often. Even then, I usually only dress sexy for my husband, not for the general public to appreciate. So for me, it’s REALLY fun to step out of my typical role and the clothes that come with it, and take on a sexy she-devil persona – which is totally achievable without showing a ton of skin! All of the young women who dressed up for my party also proved that you can be sexy without being inappropriate. I don’t think any of us expected to have to out-sexy each other, either.

      What’s more, I went to the Halloween costume store looking for accessories, fully expecting to have to suppress some feminist rage about the costumes for young women. I was surprised when I passed through the teen girls section to see only a few costume options that even got close to crossing the line. The majority of them were pretty tame. The adult section was, well, adult, but there were plenty of hippies, witches and fairies that left plenty to the imagination alongside the typical hot nurses, hot cops, and one rather confusing hot naval officer (“Harbor Babe”)?

      Usually I’m the one defending Hugo but I’ll agree that it’s an oversimplification to say girls and women don’t have enough options or are under too much pressure to dress “slutty” for Halloween. If anything, I feel like I’m under too much pressure to NOT dress sexy for the rest of the year, let me have Halloween to dress as trampy as I want! Hell, I’ve seen pictures of women dressed as giant, very detailed, foam rubber vaginas!

      And you can bet that any man who approached me with harassment or rape on his mind would get a swift kick to the crotch from my five-inch platform stilettos before he could make a move. I’m only half-joking: Men have a responsibility to control themselves, but women have a responsibility to know how to defend themselves in a situation, any situation, where they feel threatened, no matter what they’re wearing. That doesn’t mean they go out expecting to be harassed/assaulted/raped, or asking for it, but that should they find themselves in a dangerous position, they are prepared to defend themselves in any way they can. 5-inch stilettos just help. :)

      • 5-inch stilettos just help you hobble instead of run. Glad you like them, but let’s not forget they work better for sex rather than defense.

      • “women have a responsibility to know how to defend themselves in a situation, any situation, where they feel threatened, no matter what they’re wearing.”
        So if a man with a gun assaults me, that’s my responsibility because I should have had a kevlar dress on? Or, if a man is too big for me to overpower, as most men are, even though I lift weights four times a week, that’s my fault too?
        You say women should “be prepared to defend themselves”. It reads to me, that you’re implying some vistims ‘let’ themselves be raped. Like they’re saying “Oh dear, this man seems to be assaulting me. Never mind, I’ll just leave him to it.” That’s how it reads to me. And it’s offensive.
        Stop saying victims are, even partially, responsible for being raped! Just stop it! Please!

  7. “I’m troubled that younger women don’t have a greater selection of Halloween costumes.”
     
    According to what costume expert?  Young women can wear whatever they want.  Nobody holds a gun to their head forcing them to wear something not of their choosing.  They have  as many options as they wish.  I am troubled that some people think that the only costumes available for women are sexy ones.
     
    I have enough respect for young women’s intelligence to believe that they can make their own informed choices, and can even make their own costumes if they so wish. 
     
    “I’m far more troubled by the lie that boys and men cannot exercise control when they see a “sexy nurse” on the street or at a party.”
     
    Who thinks this way?  No rational person.  There is no such myth to be argued against. 

    • “According to what costume expert?”

      Have you seen Mean Girls?!

      • Actually, I have. The moral is: allowing yourself to be a puppet of other kids (especially means one) is dumb and self-defeating.

    • I refuse to buy into the jaded primes that purchasing a modest youthful hollowness costume is impossible. I’ve already looked at the supermarket sales circular full of adorable outfits all genders 3&up
      If your child dresses up like a “….” then maybe she wants to dress up like “….”.
      I’m concerned at the frequency of which we choose to absolve young women from the responsibility of Policing their own actions.

      • Adorable outfits for 3 year olds can easily turn into slutty outfits for 16 year olds. When it comes to grown adult women, they are responsible for how they want to dress. When it comes to young women that are just starting to figure out their sexuality and this new body they are still developing, it’s a different matter. They are being sold an image about themselves that offers a promise. The promise that they can be “liked” if they look pretty enough. I remember being that age. I wore things not because I wanted to be some slutty pornish cliche but because I wanted to be liked and wanted male appreciation. At that age, if a short skirt did the trick, I wore the shore skirt. When your that age you don’t logically figure male appreciation is going to come from your math skills. I’m frankly concerned at the frequencey with which a number of people act like 12-17 year old girls are equiped to make choices as if they were 21 year old women. Women are totally responsibile for policing their own actions. Just as men are. But young women growing into their sexuality and discovering this whole new world with sex and boys? That’s a different story. This Halloween sexy costume crazy is insane. I saw 12 year old girls in mini skirts, fish nets and platform heels.

        • I more incline to believe that young girls dress a certain war for the same reasons that a young boy might ware a tank top in 40 degree weather. Are men the only valid reason that yong people show off their comercial appeal? No!
          Will Men and Only Men Get B

          • (Correction)..Will men Get blamed.. yes!

            • And what reason does a young boy where a tank top in 40 degree weather?

              I certainly don’t think that men were the only valid reason that young people dress to display themselves. I do think men overly sexualize women and girls to the point that sexuality because this sufficating thing and not something fun like it should be. I’m just pointing out that young girls in middle and high school are still doing a lot of growing up and they certainly don’t understand things on the same level as the people who are marketing these outfits to them. And the choice they make about how they dress or their sexuality can’t be compared to a fully grown adult woman.

  8. The trouble isn’t in the costumes for women, but the costumes for teen girls available. Have you ACTUALLY gone out and looked at the costumes for teen girls? They’re all sexualized. Making a costume can be just as expensive as buying one, and not all of us can sew.

    • “Have you ACTUALLY gone out and looked at the costumes for teen girls?”

      Yes.

      “They’re all sexualized.”

      ALL? What are you talking about? That’s not even close to factual.

      Do yourself a favor. Take 3 minutes and do a Google search. Hundreds of options. Literally. Maybe even thousands.

      • Now I’m not sure why you’ve gone out and looked at costumes for teen girls, but yes, most of them are sexualized, and that is factual. And maybe some don’t want to order a costume online, and a lot of people don’t sew.

    • Sarah,
      I see where you’re coming from… but have a think, and then make a costume, example below – all much easier to find then an unsexy costume for a teen girl; maybe for next year!
      The Corps Bride:
      1 pack of face paints
      1 one white dress,
      1 veil
      add dirt/ and rip to taste…
      nothing sexy going on – 1 cool costume.
      done…

  9. I really like this article a lot. I have not yet read the links to the articles that are referenced. I do not however agree on “the lack of choices” that girls have for costumes and the “pressure” that girls face to dress sexy. I understand the power of social pressure, but have grown extremely exhausted of these reasons given for why girls/women do the things they do. There are just as many choices for costumes out there for females as there are for men, in fact, I have seen so many women have fun dressing up as male characters and off the wall original characters its ridiculous. I just feel if the reason(s) is always going to be the “lack of choices” and “pressure” then that will merely push for the greatest myth of all…the inferiority of the female sex!

  10. Also, if the idea of a “Slutwalk” is to say that a woman shouldn’t be censored in fashion because there are rapists out there, that sounds like a good idea. But, what about public decency? Understand I am not talking about rape or a woman’s right to dress “sexy” or “slutty” but every individual’s responsibility to public decency. I think people have a tendency to take it too far to the point where an individual, while they are standing up for their rights and ability to dress how they see fit, start heading down a road of stupidity. I mean where is the sense in dressing in an inappropriate manner just to speak out against this idea of someone being responsible for their victimization? I just feel people are going too extreme from what I have seen from a news report on a “slutwalk.” I think people should be more careful with going to the extremes before the whole point is lost.

    • I’m in London. Most people here would consider a bikini totally appropriate attire for the beach, or maybe the park on a hot day. Similarly, every time the temp goes over 23C I am subjected to a parade of topless men in the streets, in shops and in other public places.
      I don’t believe the slutwalkers wore less than a bikini. So are they really going “too far”? Is wearing a bra and skirt, surrounded by a clearly marked protest, really “stupidity”? The point of slutwalk is:
      These women are wearing ‘slutty’ clothes, and the men all around them are not being compelled to rape. Therefore stop spouting the ridiculous idea that men can’t help themselves, or that rapists will choose victims based on clothing.
      I think the protest makes that point really well.

  11. One thing that comes to mind is that more and more people don’t sew. And yes, that used to be a traditionally woman focused job, but it’s not like men couldn’t learn in the past.

    Parents sewed all kinds of costumes, yes? And now, you go and buy them at places like Target or Spirit Halloween. And what I see in those stores are “evil” costumes, like Scream*** masks, or Jason or Freddy Krueger, “adventure” costumes like Superman or Buzz Lightyear, and all of those costumes are in some way related to marketing for pop culture images. Or for girls you’ll get Disney Princess or yes the “sexy” older girl costumes which, frankly I find hilarious. Sexy Finding Nemo?

    Still, those are all connected to an industry, film and television.

    If you can go to a thrift store and use needle and thread you can create any kind of costume you wish! Frida Kahlo! Mussolini! Chihuly sea glass! I’d worry less about the sexy and more about the lack of time and creativity going into costuming. I mean, men could be sexy Finding Nemo too, I guess. Nothing wrong with sexy clownfish.

    ***My boys used to be very creative about what they wanted for Halloween. Now that they watch television, all they want are Jason and Scream costumes.

  12. I’m still trying to figure out why people seem to think that the girls in the photo above are “slutty”. Again, coming to Rio de Janeiro would probably make you all feel that you’ve dropped into one big brothel. Those clothes up there are everyday wear here.

    I’m just pointing this out because “slutty” is hugely contexual and yet so many commentators seem to think it’s some sort of absolute trait.

  13. You’ll have to forgive some of the Northern folks – a parka showing too much neck can be viewed as slutty….

    Where do young teenager people get the nerve to explore with their sexuality?

    Everyone else spends the next 50 years covering it all up. I wish they would just fall in line and stop being so young!

  14. I just love your writing.

  15. Anonymous Male says:

    I don’t see these costumes as a major symptom of a giant problem, but I can’t help but notice that there are some pretty clear gender differences. Not necessarily a horrible double standard, but some clear differences. Anecdotal impression in the U.S.: young men’s costumes today seem to involve wearing more than you usually do, while young women’s costumes generally involve wearing less than usual. This is kind of surprising in places where late October is cold and windy.

    Which makes me wonder if there isn’t some kind of seasonal phenomenon going on here – Halloween has turned into the last chance to have short skirts and bare midriffs before you absolutely have to bundle up for the long winter. Sort of like the Carnival before Lent. I suspect that this “skimpy Halloween outfit” issue is most evident in the temperate parts of the Northern Hemisphere. In the Southern Hemisphere, it’s spring in October, and too far north it’s already too cold for bare stomachs. I’m guessing that in Miami it may be hard to spot the subtle difference in Halloween coverage. This doesn’t explain everything, because men are in the same climate….

    I think Allen missed the larger point about SlutWalk, which was that women can be called slutty or can be targets of sexual assault no matter what they wear. A rapist may blame the victim for what she was wearing, but that doesn’t mean that she’s responsible for her attack, and it doesn’t mean that the assault had anything to do with her outfit in the first place. People can retroactively blame her for wearing baggy clothes, a parka, no make-up, and house slippers. (“I could just tell she wanted it, you know?”) What a crock of shite. A rapist is much more likely to be someone you already know and is more likely to notice whether you’re alone or not than notice what you’re wearing, or notice how drunk you are more than what you’re wearing.

  16. Good lord, if I still had a stomach like those girls I’d show it off, too.

  17. Allen suggests men are insatiable, but she totally misses something that most women would tell you about men: it’s constantly surprising what men find sexy. Most women at one point in their lives are amazed at something that a man finds attractive. “Seriously, sweatpants and a ponytail is all it takes?” You can’t put the responsibility on women because they “dress slutty,” when men could find just about anything “slutty.” Women have been assaulted who were wearing every kind of outfit imaginable. You can’t blame the victim, and you especially can’t blame the victim when there is really is no realistic alternative anyway.

  18. My 25 year-old sister and I took my two little boys trick-or-treating last night in a very crowded neighborhood. There were so many teenaged girls in sexy costumes that all we had to do, by the twelfth or fifteenth middle schooler in a miniskirt and fishnets, was give one another a knowing gaze.

    But then a troupe of athletic boys, ages probably 15 to 17, flew by on skateboards in underwear – little briefs, to be specific – and nothing else.

    “It’s so cold out!” my sister said.

    “That’s just stupid, they’re going to get the flu,” I said. I’m 8 years older than her, I guess I’m thinking like a mom.

    They passed us about ten times like this, finally wearing their Water Polo jackets from the local high school.

    “Ahh, water polo boys. Impervious to pain,” I said.

    And then it all came together for me. My friends and I, even in our “old” age, like to relax after doing laps at the local college and watch the Men’s Water Polo team practice and head for the locker rooms in their Speedos… We totally use them as eye-candy. Guys barely older than these guys. Suddenly I felt lecherous!

    I turned to my sister and said, “Why, when we see the teenage girls in their Slutty Dorothy from Oz costumes we’re horrified by the sex and exploitation of it, but when we see boys in much less, we are only thinking about the cold!? It’s so weird! Are these boys not being ogled by people out here? Why don’t we care?”

    Why DON’T we care?

    • These sexy halloween costumes are so over played. Wearing something sexy like this use to be something fun you could do for your boyfriend or husband in the privacy of your bedroom. And it was like a treat. But now that every girl from 9-45 wants to dress up in a “sexy” whatever for the whole world to see, it’s just not as fun anymore. Frankly, I want to know what is going on with women that they need to use Halloween as an excuse to express their sexuality in a way that is more about validation for their bodies and looks then it is about pleasure. It’s this increasingly growing tidal wave that everything women do needs to be “sexy” first before anything else that is disturbing but is proving to be a very real cultural trend that is obviously affecting younger generations of girls.

      • OK, so…

        When dressing up sexy was just a thing some few people did, it was OK. Now that the masses are doing it, it’s become bad because it’s “affecting the little girls”?

        First of all, Erin, I didlike this rhetorical argument that what adults (or in this case late teens) are doing should be stopped or reigned in because it’s somehow “affecting” a notional, imaginary kid somewhere.

        Secondly, as I’ve pointed out twice already, your “sexy” halloween costumes are hardly sexy. Here in Brazil, we have a week long festival called “Carnaval” wherein everyone dresses up much more “sexy” than anything you’ve seen on the streets of suburbia. We’ve been doing this for about a century now.

        And you know what? No huge sociological problems can be traced to this.

        In fact, we now have one of the toughest anti-domestic violence laws in the western hemisphere while your anti-domestic violence laws are under attack.

        We support the rights of transgendered people. You can get a sex-change operation through the Brazilian public health service, in fact. You folks in the U.S. still define transgender as a mental disorder.

        We enshrined the rights of gays and lesbians to marry, last week. When do you think that’s going to happen in the U.S.?

        Oh, and we have a female president. A very un-sexy, ex-Marxist guerrilha female president. Think Hilary’s gonna get elected any time soon?

        By all measures, Brazilian public culture is INFINTELY more sexy and sex-promoting than American public culture. Yes, that has caused some problems. We’re the second largest consumers of plastic surgery, right after you guys, for one. But if “over-sexualization” supposedly created horrible social problems and decreased women’s political and economic power, then Brazil should be a textbook case of female oppression.

        Instead, in every metric I can think of, women are gaining more power and doing better.

        So how does this fit into the “sexy costumes lead to social problems” view you guys have?

        • Yes Thaddeus, two adults dressing up sexy in the privacy of their bedroom is completely different then women, most especially, underaged girls being mass marketed “sexy” outfits for Halloween for public viewership. 11 year olds dressing up in porno like costumes isn’t going to contribute to the health of society. Neither are “sexy” costumes about real sexual freedom and celebration of women.

          I’m glad that Brazil is such a wonderful place for you to live and that what people wear there is much more liberating, but that doesn’t do much to prove anything about American dynamics. It is you after all that made the point to mention the anthropologic differences between cultures yes?

          I personally do think America has some messed up views on sex and we dually practice prudishness with required overt sexuality. “Women look sexy but don’t have sex because then you are a slut!” It also doesn’t go unnoticed by me how much less breasts obsessed places in Europe are where they do appear to be more comfortable with their bodies but here in America large breasts are very much an obsession. But sexy costumes isn’t going to fix this.

          By the way, the ability for gays and lesbians to marry is a state to state issue here where some states have long ago enacted such laws to preserve gay and lesbian marital rights.

          Lastly, I don’t think sexy costumes lead to social problems. I think they add to the social problems we already have about female sexuality.

          • Erin, you realize that that first sentence you wrote is basically the Islamic view on sexual modesty? You can be as naughty as you like in private, but you shouldn’t reveal anything in public…?

            Just saying.

            Also, who gets to decide what a “porno-like costume” is? From a Brazilian perspective, a coating of glitter on the tits and what we euphemistically call a “sex plug” is folkloric, not pornographic, as long as it’s accompanied by a samba soundtrack. I haven’t seen a single American halloween costume yet that I’d call pornographic. As I mentioned above, the photo of the girls that leads this piece is not particularly “sexy” by anyone’s standards outside the U.S., U.K. and the Islamic world. I have girls who come to class dressed like that, minus the cat ears and bare midriffs.

            If seeing a girl in a shapeless, leopard-print, cotton shift (like the one on the right in the photo above) is considered unacceptably sexy in American culture, verging on porn, then let me gently suggest to you that your country’s cultural problem isn’t rauch: it’s sexual repression.

            By the way, the ability for gays and lesbians to marry is a state to state issue here where some states have long ago enacted such laws to preserve gay and lesbian marital rights.

            Long ago? Three, four years ago is “long”? And how many states, Erin? And are those rights available to the partners when they cross state borders? And correct me if I’m wrong here, but the only states which have enacted MARITAL rights are New York, California and Massachusetts – with the rights being disputed in those last two states.

            Here in Brazil, we have as many problems with female sexuality as you guys do. My point is, that in spite of our much more “let it all hang out” (literally) approach to the human female body, we don’t have MORE problems than you do.

            So, apparently, clothing you would consider frankly and obviously “pornographic” can be worn by a large proportion of the women in a culture and not result in women being disempowered and turned into little sex dollies.

            • Thaddeus, you’re not “just saying”. People don’t pull crap out of thin air by trying to relate it to a religion known for extremist views to “just say” something. There is absolutely nothing in my first sentence that refers to religion. Islamic, or otherwise. There is also nothing in my first sentence that is really all that outrageous to warrant a comparison to extremist view points found in some portions of Islamic religion. Further, considering your affinity to talk about anthropology and culture, you would think you would know there were many others religions in this world that promote modesty, not just one. You also realize that view points on modesty aren’t only born out of “religion” yes?

              Hey I get it Thaddeus, you aren’t one much for modesty and you don’t think sexualization in American culture as any baring on the people in it. In Brazil the girls run around naked just about humping men’s legs. That’s great. I’m happy for you. But why then do you insist on reading and commenting in articles that open discussions about things you don’t think are problems? Next time you attempt to link someone’s opinion to an extremist group in a low blow attempt to discredit their opinion, you better have more antidotal evidence then you do now.

              There seems to be a general consensus among those of us in America that the costumes marked are sexual and set a bad image for young girls. Grown women can decide for themselves what they want to wear but when you see a 12 year old running around in fishnets, it’s strange. Now I understand that your position is that you do not think sexy clothing bares any impact on women or men but clearly others disagree.

              As for the pictures attached to this blog, while two of the girls are in normal wear, pretty much covered, three of the girls obviously are dressed pretty sexily. Is the picture the greatest? Not really. For one, it bothers me a little bit that it appears to be a candid shot instead of a staged one and I wonder if the girls even know their picture is here. But to blow off the picture because two out of the 5 are dressed kind of normally is silly.

              Frankly, I don’t know anything about Brazil to come to any conclusion that you do or don’t have more problems there. And excuse me if I don’t just take your word for it considering how much I disagree with you sometimes. You’re word isn’t enough alone Thaddeus. You say you don’t have “more” problems” then us but what means do you use to even measure that? You’ve never really ever said.

              Yes, I consider the halloween costumes of late to be pornographic. When you got stripper heels, fishnets, tiny skirts and boob showing cleavage wrapped up in everything from school girl costumes to pirates, yeah it’s in the land of sexual make believe. And yes, I think it does disempower women. Not only turning them into little sex dollies but making them think they have to be little sex dollies if they want men to like them. When you are 12, you shouldn’t even have to be presented with the idea that you too can wear tiny mini skirts and go as a “sexy” girl scout. You should be in girl scouts and thinking about being something scarey instead. There is most certainly a loss of innocence for young people today. As I am sure was true when I was a child compared to my parents when they were children. But technology as seemed to speed up the process.

    • tu quoque says:

      “Are these boys not being ogled by people out here?”

      Teenaged boys are every bit as sexually attractive as teenaged girls; of course they were being ogled.

      “Why DON’T we care?”

      Because as a society, we feel far less responsible for the dignity and well-being of male children than we do female children. Because of this boyhood is far more treacherous and traumatic than girlhood. Since they are less protected by society, boys become more calloused in response to mistreatment, and then we harangue them for being taciturn and aloof.

      • Transhuman says:

        I do not understand why 21st century journos like Hugo think women need or want protection. If they wail that they are victimised then just point them to their choices. Being ADULT means taking responsibility for what you decide to do.

        Women are not, nor should they be, a protected gender other than through their own efforts.

        • Because victimhood gives you a permanent license to complain and blame all your problems on everyone but yourself.

          More than a few radical and gender feminists have embraced female-victimhood as the default status of all women, and harshly criticize any woman who dares to disagree. Ironic considering that feminism is supposed to be about respecting women’s CHOICES.

      • It may be anecdotal, TQ, but I feel incredibly responsible for protecting the innocence and dignity of my boys, as well as their sensitivity. Most of my mom-friends are like this. Granted, we live in a VERY liberal area, very highly educated, so I’m not getting an accurate cross-section of society.

        I just wish more people would have asked themselves WHY it was okay for the water polo boys to show off their perfect, nubile young bodies but not okay for the girls of the same age…

        Or maybe, rather, why it was okay for both?

        • tu quoque says:

          “It may be anecdotal, TQ, but I feel incredibly responsible for protecting the innocence and dignity of my boys, as well as their sensitivity.”

          This is contradicted by the fact that you just said that you felt horrified at the nudity of the teen girls, but didn’t in response to the much greater nudity of the teen boys. If you cared about both genders equally, you would have been horrified by both.

          “I just wish more people would have asked themselves WHY it was okay for the water polo boys to show off their perfect, nubile young bodies but not okay for the girls of the same age…”

          I already explained why people don’t ask “WHY.” The only way to change this is to openly point out people’s hypocrisies and double standards.

  19. this! just right, I need to agree with that

  20. I was so happy to read this article and then so disheartened to read so many of the comments.

    First of all, no one is saying teen girls or adult women are forced to wear “sexy” costumes or that there are no other options. It is, however, a known fact that the majority of *easy* to get options are the sexy ones. This means that subconsciously, girls are being taught that that’s normal. And yes, of course that’s because of supply and demand. So what? So there’s a demand for these type of costumes? We’re saying that the lack of options isn’t a great thing, even if there is a financial reason why it’s like that, but girls have a right to choose those costumes even if we might think they’re silly. Either too sexy or as one commentor seems to be implying, not sexy enough because we Americans are prudish.

    I don’t see why anyone should be arguing with the main point of this article, however. He’s saying that no matter how a woman is dressed, she isn’t saying that you have a right to touch her. Maybe she does want you to look and so what? She still hasn’t given her consent to touch.

    End of story.

    Also the “raise feminist boys” comment doesn’t mean all non-feminist boys are rapists, but it does mean that if you raised feminist boys they wouldn’t be, as feminism would teach them that they need consent. But it’s not saying that boys raised non-feminist would automatically be rapists.

    I know feminism is a hot button word, but it only continues to be that way if we make assumptions and don’t listen.

    And what he’s saying? It’s feminist and it’s giving men MORE credit than chauvinism. Yes, MORE. It’s saying that men have the ability to control themselves.

    • wellokaythen says:

      I have a slight disagreement here. Raising a feminist son would not automatically mean he would never, ever commit rape. I’d say he would be far less likely to commit rape, but it’s no guarantee. Every parent has a moment where he or she thinks “that’s not how I raised you!” or “where did you get that from?” There is a small number of men with feminist mothers who have used parts of that experience to ingratiate themselves with women they want to exploit for decidedly anti-feminist purposes.

      • I also have to raise a bit of disagreement here.

        It seems that the only time assumptions about feminism are a problem is when those assumptions are negative.

        Say something like, “All feminists are angry man haters.” and you trigger an argument. Yes that generalization is wrong but people would point it out.

        Say something like, “Feminists have better sex.” and for the most part only non-feminists will say something about it. I guess those feminists that rightly had a problem with being assumed to be man-haters don’t mind assumed be better at sex….

        • Well, to turn the tables, which point would you rather argue on? ” all non-feminists are angry women haters,” or, “non-feminists have better sex.”

          Perhaps this is just me, but I’ve noticed that saying something negative about someone is more likely to cause argument then saying something positive about them.

          But I am not quite sure what the feminists have better sex thing has to do with what wellokaythen said.

  21. wellokaythen says:

    That does it. I’m moving to Brazil. Thaddeus, can I get a ride from the airport? : – )

  22. wellokaythen says:

    I’m struck by the word “sexualized” in use here, because it’s such a vague, passive use of language. Costumes are sexualized, young women are sexualized, Halloween is sexualized, etc.

    But, who is the active party in this? Who is doing the sexualizing? When one person “sexualizes” another, then what precisely is that person doing to the other? I would love to see an active sentence construction that says one person is doing something to another, like “he sexualized her.” That would call for some better definition and some real assignment of responsibility.

    At some point at some level someone has decided that dressing like A is appearing in a sexual way and dressing like B is not appearing in a sexual way. In fact, if I say a women dressed a certain way has been sexualized, then I am also sexualizing her. If I look at her and see sexuality, then I am sexualizing her. In many ways, it’s in the eye of the beholder.

    Meanwhile, talking about sexualization walks a very fine line into some very muddy waters. Saying a costume is overly sexualized is similar in some (some!) ways to saying “you could tell she wanted it, look how she was dressed!” It tends to put emphasis on the outfit instead of the perception of the outfit. If I tell a woman that her outfit is too sexualized, then I am sexualizing her in a way, as well. I would likely “creep her out” with my interpretation of her costume choices.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] “irony” and “contradiction” here, missing the essential coherence of these two positions. Sexy Halloween Costumes for Girls Don’t Cause Rape (The Good Men [...]

  2. [...] negligent OpEd, writers such as Amanda Marcotte, Lindsay Beyerstein, Jill Filipovic, and Hugo Schwyzer lit up the feminist blogosphere with commentary and myth-debunking [...]

  3. [...] young women to “be careful about where they flash their treasure.” Thomas, Jill, and Hugo set her [...]

  4. [...] Sexy Halloween Costumes for Girls Don’t Cause Rape [...]

  5. [...] Especially in a culture where rape and groping runs rampant. “”It’s not too much to ask men and boys to ‘look, but don’t touch.’ A yo… [...]

  6. jennyclower says:

    [...] “It’s not too much to ask men and boys to “look, but don’t touch.” A young woman who wants to be noticed, even desired, without being assaulted isn’t making an unreasonable request. She’s not defying the facts of biology. She’s asking to be watched, appreciated, and left unharmed. Saying that she’s asking to be raped is like saying that a talented actor who portrays an unsympathetic villain particularly well on screen is asking to be attacked by an outraged member of the movie-going public. There’s a difference between a performance and an invitation, and it’s not that hard—really, it’s not—to distinguish the two.” – Sexy Halloween Costumes for Girls Don’t Cause Rape — The Good Men Project [...]

  7. [...] an invitation, and it’s not that hard—really, it’s not—to distinguish the two.” – Source Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. Categories: Uncategorized | [...]

  8. [...] Sexy Halloween Costumes for Girls Don’t Cause Rape — The Good Men Project (via sexisnottheenemy) [...]

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