Turning Tricks or a Liberating Treat?: Unmasking the Hyper-Sexualization of Halloween

It’s been referred to as Whoroween and Slutoween -- and I personally prefer “All Sluts’ Eve” -- but whatever you call it, there’s no denying that Halloween has become a very adult holiday.  So before you purchase that sexy Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle costume (of course that exists), let’s take a closer look at this kinky evening.

The Halloween “to dress sexy or not?” dilemma is a new application of an on-going feminist debate.  On one side of the issue, we have the Second Wave feminists.  Focused on equality, these are the individuals who find a woman’s decision to dress as a French maid (or “Domesticated Delight”) for Halloween to be a perpetuation of gender inequality -- and they’re also the individuals who may indulge in some trash-talking about the scantily-clad revelers.

In the opposing camp, we have the sex-positive branch of the Third Wave feminists. They believe that sexual freedom is central to women’s freedom and therefore embrace sexuality and its expression -- which, in this case, might come in the form of a sexy Big Bird costume. (And, given Big Bird’s recent prominence on the political stage, I think the winning costume would be Big Bird wearing an “I Only Sleep With Democrats” tank top. You heard it here first.)

Are men part of this costumed sex parade?  Not quite.  Men’s costume options include anything goofy, grotesque, or heroic (“Look, he’s a sandwich! How delectably cute!” ).  But what would it even look like for a man to dress slutty on Halloween -- in a non-humorous way? Is that even possible?  That might be as difficult to imagine as a man dressed slutty in the office.

Adult women aren’t the only ones having fun with fishnets.  Kids’ costumes have also become heavily sexualized, with a disproportionate number of children’s costumes resembling characters from an erotic Disney movie (or a fetish party -- your choice).  Even pets are getting in on the action.  Yes, now you and Fluffy can both be naughty school girls. Dreams do come true.

How did sexy costuming become a Halloween custom?  It’s been linked to the drag costumes and risque outfits of the early 70’s Village Halloween Parade in New York City, as well as the increasing “skimpification of America.”  My favorite little-known, obsolete ritual of Halloween involves helping women hunt for husbands.  The Irish would even bury a diamond ring in the mashed potatoes and serve them up to some unwitting diner on Halloween -- an auspicious omen for imminent true love.  The mash potatoes may now be ring-free, but single ladies have pushup bras and stilettos to facilitate the matrimonial matchmaking (or at least a one-night stand).

Halloween is a modern example of Mikhail Bakhtin’s notion of the “carnivalesque,” in which everyday life is turned upside down and inside out.  During large festivals or carnivals, like Halloween, hierarchies temporarily dissolve, the sacred becomes profane, and -- as is the case as of late -- good girls become “bad.”  Why is this so appealing? We’re temporarily given permission to dress seductively, without being seen as inappropriate. And while being given permission to dress provocatively can be liberating -- having it become an imperative is not.

Feeling overwhelmed by the annual costume hunt?  Follow these tips and you’ll be the envy of those in less inspired ensembles:

  • If you are opting for a scandalous costume, avoid the sexy nurse-playboy-bunny-witch-French-maid cliched disaster, and whatever you do, don’t stoop to what I refer to as the “slut in a box” option.  You know what I’m talking about: the insta-outfits available at places like Ricky’s and various Halloween pop-up stores.  Like, for instance, this slutty construction worker costume. You’re better than that.  (Clarification: You’re better than any pre-made costume, not just the sexually suggestive ones.) And the number one rule of a sexy costume? Own it.
  • Create a “play on words” costume, like a “cereal killer,” “pigs in a blanket,” or a “mail order bride,” all of which are sure to spark conversation and foster interaction while you’re roaming about town.
  • Follow Nicole Richie’s lead (yes, you read that correctly) and join her backlash to the sexy costume craze: “Girls, can we all pledge that we will not dress slutty for this Halloween? The jig is up."  Choose a gender-neutral costume or luxuriate in a costume that might be considered downright frumpy. And remember: mascot costumes aren’t just for furries. It’s nippy by the end of October -- these animal suits will keep you nice and toasty, while other girls freeze their racy rears off.