Women and Gender

Cohen: Halloween costumes do not define women’s worth, reflect larger social issues

“In girl world, Halloween is the one night a year when a girl can dress like a total slut and no other girls can say anything about it.”

This well-known quote from the popular movie “Mean Girls” reflects a common perception of Halloween, and presents major issues about how society perceives women based on their attire.

It is problematic that people call women “slutty” or “whores” for wearing sexy costumes on Halloween, or the tastelessly nicknamed “Slutoween.” Women should be able to wear whatever they want without it implying anything about them, on Halloween and any other day of the year.

Every October, men and women who don’t advocate feminism for the other 11 months of the year suddenly feel the urge to preach about how Halloween costumes should be less sexualized. But shaming women who do choose to dress sexy for the holiday only adds to the problem, not the solution.

Our culture already too often places a woman’s worth on whether she is sexy enough. Using the word “slutty” in a demeaning way – done more near Halloween than at any other time of the year – is not helping anyone. It only reinforces ideologies that harm women and does not move us any closer toward gender equality.

Labeling women as “sluts” based on their attire is harmful, especially when conceived as a reason for sexual assault.

In January 2011, a Toronto police officer spoke about crime prevention at a York University safety forum. When addressing the issue of campus rape, he said, “I’ve been told I’m not supposed to say this, however, women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.”

This comment led to thousands of women rallying in SlutWalk marches across the world. Within this movement, participants, dressed as “sluts” in revealing attire, protest rape explanations that refer to any aspect of a woman’s appearance. This movement calls for an end to rape culture and victim blaming.

Women are constantly being told their appearances and attire defines who they are as people. It is sad that even Halloween, a day when people dress up for fun, has been overruled by blatant sexism.

While women are being criticized for wearing “slutty” outfits on Halloween, the market hardly allows otherwise. The costumes available for women are mainly oversexualized, featuring short skirts and low-cut tops. This year even brought us Sexy Pizza and Sexy Corn.

A recent campaign, however, asked for more diverse costumes marketed toward girls and women.

Last week, high school student Maya Behn launched a Change.org petition to encourage Party City to widen its selection of costumes for women and provide more realistic costumes. Behn noted that the chain mostly sells women’s costumes that are tight and small. She pointed out that the store’s female superhero costumes, especially, are blatantly sexualized.

Behn’s petition states that the scantily clad options are not the problem. “We do not respect these choices any less,” she wrote. “The problem is that they are the only option.”

This argument is spot on. Women shouldn’t be forced to dress a certain way, and they should have choices.

We do not need to strip all racy Halloween costumes from stores’ shelves, nor should we shame women who want to wear them.

Society at large must understand that no one deserves disrespect based on his or her clothing or costume choice. What a woman chooses to wear does not define her worth or how people treat her — and Halloween is no exception.

Laura Cohen is a junior magazine journalism and women’s and gender studies major. Her column appears weekly. She can be reached at lgcohen@syr.edu.

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