As a guy, I’m in the lucky position of costume-freedom around Halloween. I feel no pressure to go as anything ‘sexy’ or ‘adult’. I could go as anything from a Comida! wrap to drunken Gandalf the Grey; from an ablaze Royal Clarence Hotel to Yoda’s mother; from Donald Trump to a North Korean ICBM. No one would bat an eyelid or, more crucially, have expected anything else. Unfortunately, the societal expectation for women to be aesthetically pleasing to men dictates not only what costumes are easily available to women, it can put pressure on them to pick their favourite animal and find a way to make it sexy.
It’s the expectation surrounding a woman’s choice of costume that’s the problem
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with going as a sexy anthropomorphised anteater (don’t google it, trust me) for the fifth year running, if that’s what makes someone feel their best on the big night; a certain degree of slut shaming, intentional or otherwise, occurs when people take a hardline anti-sex approach to Halloween. It’s the expectation surrounding a woman’s choice of costume that’s the problem. A quick Google search demonstrates what I mean.
Searching ‘halloween costumes men’ brings up superheroes, villains, zombies, a giraffe onesie etc. A few phallic symbols, yes, and one or two six-packs are on display. But, on the whole they are creative, varied, and open to men of all shapes and sizes. On top of the images, the suggested additional searches feature ‘badass,’ ‘nerd,’ ‘diy halloween,’ and ‘hot’— suggesting some sexualisation but on the whole a mostly joking or fun costume expectation.
girls must try to look sexy, lest they be called prudes or otherwise mocked
On the flip side, when searching ‘halloween costumes women’, the image is far different. There are still some exceptions, but on the whole costume suggestions for women are images of conventionally attractive white women wearing sexualised outfits. Evidently, the expectation is that on Halloween the guys can relax, and the girls must try to look sexy— lest they be called prudes or otherwise mocked.
We’ll take one example from these results to further demonstrate this. On the men’s results, an image on the first page is that of a man dressed as a priest; on the women’s, the seventh result is a nun wearing lingerie: same theme, vastly different expectations. To clarify, I don’t wish to shame anyone who does decide to dress like this, but the assumption from society that they will indicates the male gaze (cheers, Mulvey) imposing itself on Halloween— not to mention the cat-calling and other forms of sexually abusive behaviour women get at the hands of men during this holiday.
I spoke to two second-year English students, asking them if they as women experience societal pressure to dress in an appealing way to men on Halloween:
“People always love to poke fun at so-called ‘sluts’ on Halloween, but really there’s not many other options for girls. Also, if you cover up or wear a ‘funny’ costume then people call you a prude or boring. You can’t win.”
“There is a certain pressure for women to dress sexily at Halloween, which is fine because I do enjoy it but I would sometimes like to go as a stuffed olive without being judged.”
more could be done to give costume equity to all genders
As with so many other things, this seems to be a lose-lose situation for half the human population. While still acknowledging that dressing up as a sexy cat, fox, or witch can be exactly what some want to do, and can even be liberating, evidently more could be done to give costume equity to all genders. How to help? The answer may not be clear cut, but — shock horror — less harassing, slut shaming, and labeling people as a prude would probably help.