I love Halloween. Dressing up, eating unlimited candy, and throwing festive parties with all of my best friends make this spooky holiday a highlight of the year. But in the midst of all of the sugar and decorations, there’s one thing that has always bothered me: The sexualization of women’s costumes.
I recently went on a quest for the perfect costume with a male friend of mine to one of those mega Halloween stores that appear every October (You know, the ones that pop-up in warehouse-sized buildings and contain everything from Hollywood-worthy makeup, accessories for every occasion, and costumes galore!) While walking down an aisle filled with costumes depicting public servants (police officers, firefighters, airline pilots), I asked my friend if he noticed the difference between the costumes intended for men and the costumes intended for women. Our conversation went like this:
Me: “Do you notice how sexualized the women’s costumes are? I mean, what kind of real police officer wears a mini skirt and deep cut shirt out in the field?”
Friend: ”What are you talking about? That’s how costumes have always been. Women’s costumes have always been sexy.”
Me: “But aren’t you bothered that the costumes for women are hyper-sexualized when the costumes for men look like actual police uniforms?”
Friend: “Come on, it’s Halloween. Don’t take it so seriously. It’s cute when girls wear sexy outfits on Halloween!”
I attempted to explain to my friend the extreme dichotomy between Halloween costumes for the respective genders and how there is a social expectation for women to highlight their sexuality while men are seemingly free of that same pressure. To my friend, nothing seemed odd about how costumes for each gender are marketed and he was genuinely perplexed by my disapproval of the sexualization of women’s Halloween costumes. To me, his lack of awareness of this gender divide and disparity in expectations is representative of how much of society is complicit in the sexualization of women on Halloween merely because time has never been devoted to considering the double standard. But take the time to consider, even for just a moment, and the result is a shocking realization of the objectification of female participants in the celebration of Halloween.
At one point during our conversation in the Halloween store, my friend asked, “Why are you upset about the differences in men’s and women’s costumes? They make the same costumes for both genders. You have a guy’s police officer costume and a girl’s police officer uniform. The same for all of the other costumes, too.”
Yes, similar costumes are available for each gender. But the difference is that a man’s police office costume is labeled “Police Officer”, whereas a woman’s police officer costume is labeled “Sexy Police Officer.” And if the label and name of the costume don’t explicitly depict the difference, the designs of the respective costumes do. A male police officer costume consists of long pants and a short- or long-sleeved shirt that buttons from the collar down to the waist. In contrast, a female police officer costume consists of either a dress with a low v-neck cut that is designed to showcase the woman’s cleavage and a skirt that goes down to mid-thigh at best and mid-buttocks at worst, or “booty shorts” that can be mistaken for underwear and a crop-top that reveals as much abdomen as it does cleavage.
For women on Halloween, costume selections include “Sexy Firefighter,” “Sexy Superhero,” “Sexy French Maid,” and “Sexy Cat.” Shopping for a Halloween costume as a woman is not unlike the scene in Mean Girls when the main cast attends a Halloween party during which all of the female characters adorn lingerie and animal ears. This scene has been viewed by many as a comedic portrayal, but it is more aligned as a realistic depiction of modern Halloween marketing and expectations.
To be clear, women should not be shamed for the clothes they choose to wear. I myself love a good mini skirt and v-neck shirt. The issue of importance when it comes to women’s Halloween costumes is not the presence of the female form; Rather, it is the selection available to women on Halloween and how that selection varies so drastically from the selection available to men.
So why are women’s costumes so highly sexualized when men’s costumes aren’t? Despite such an apparent double standard, why does this hyper-sexualization of women on Halloween continue to be so pervasive in today’s society? How does it all fit into the #MeToo movement? And if you’re a parent, how do you talk to your child(ren) about the sexualization of this beloved holiday? How can we, as individuals and as a collective society, effect positive change and achieve gender equality come Halloween?
Tune in for this five-part series on The Sexualization of Halloween:
Part I – Introduction to Modern Halloween Costumes
Part II – The History of Halloween Costumes
Part III – Halloween Costumes in the Era of #MeToo
Part IV – Talking to Children About the Sexualization of Halloween
Part V – Effecting Positive Change & Celebrating Halloween Equality