Halloween – When It’s Not About Sexiness

Oct 26, 2017
Posted by Jay Livingston

Halloween’s just a few days away, and I still haven’t come up with a costume. I could do the same thing as the last few years and again opt for Slutty Max Weber. But it’s getting old.

OK, that was a joke. But for women, especially young women, deciding on a costume is no joke. A USA Today article on the topic quotes sociologist Lisa Wade*: “All of our choices are bad.”

The choices are bad because it’s about sex. Or rather, sexiness. As Alia Dastigir, author of the USA Today piece, puts it,“Dress sexy on Halloween and risk being judged or harassed, or forgo the fishnets and risk being ridiculed or ignored.” Note the passive voice. Judged, harassed, ridiculed, or ignored but by who? By men of course.

Because men have the power in these situations (and in most), women orient themselves to men’s ideas, hence the two unsatisfactory alternatives. The hegemony of men’s way of looking at things is especially acute in settings built on the expectation of male-female pairing. That setting, typically, is a party – a Halloween party.  And the expectations or hopes can range from “meeting someone” to all the different levels of  “hooking up”  or even to something like romance.

In places were the underlying idea of Halloween is not about male-female relations, women turn out in a variety of costumes, and the dimension they are judged on – by others and by themselves – is not sexiness. When my son was in college, his group went as Clue. Nobody, even Miss Scarlet, was trying for sexy. (My son, for his part, went to Goodwill and managed to find an actual green suit.)

In the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade, participants seem to be striving for not for sexiness but for creativity and humor, often as a group effort.  The Thriller group is a great example, though its numbers make it a bit of an outlier – 200 or so ghouls and zombies with a handful of Michael Jacksons.

The Village Parade is an exception. Many paraders, perhaps most, make their own costumes. In the rest of America, we buy our costumes, and the costume companies cannot very well sell creativity. So most of what they sell for women is sexiness.

* Lisa was the founding editor (along with Gwen Sharp) of Sociological Images, which for a while was by far the most visited sociology blog on the Internet. Maybe it still is.

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