Help us raise $7,366 more by 6/20! Donate now.
Girls Without Limits: Intro to About-Face event 8/12 in Berkeley: Find out more.

Are you dressing like a female chauvinist pig this Halloween?

While trying to figure out how to top my costume from last year (I dressed up as M.I.A., and yes, I did look pretty fly), I’m reminded of Halloween’s uniform for young women: the “slut”. The 2004 movie Mean Girls said it best:

Mean Girls describes, but doesn’t explain, this Halloween phenomenon. Why do girls care so much about looking sexy? What do they hope to achieve by dressing provocatively? And why do they feel the need to conform to such a narrow model of expressing their sexuality? After doing some critical research and cultural analysis, I decided to attempt to explain just why girls are so gung-ho on dressing up like “hos” on Halloween.

Our culture simultaneously shames and rewards female sexuality, so it makes sense that girls grow up having very conflicted feelings and ideas. Nothing is inherently wrong with a young woman wanting to feel sexy. However, looking like a Playboy Bunny is only one of an infinite number of ways to achieve that feeling. We can dress up as anything on Halloween (or any other day) to express our unique talents, interests, personalities, senses of humor, strengths, etc.—so why do so many of us just choose to be “sexy” for Halloween?

Typical army costumes for women, teens, and girls. I don't think any of these were designed for combat.
Typical army costumes for women, teens, and girls. I'm pretty sure none of these was designed for combat.

Dressing as stereotypical eye candy has strong cultural implications, and enough young women do so on Halloween that it has become expected. However, when a female chooses to present herself in this stereotypically sexy way, she’s also making an important statement that she might not have considered before going out dressed in what is essentially lingerie: “I am content to be seen as just an object—not a full human being.”

We would like to believe we have achieved sexual liberation and gender equality; we have not. But maybe by focusing on our abilities to dress provocatively, it’s easier to forget the opportunities and rights that we still lack, the violence and discrimination we constantly face.

Ariel Levy discusses this idea, as well as what she refers to as “the rise of raunch culture”, in her book Female Chauvinist Pigs (which I highly recommend). Levy argues:fcpcover

The proposition that having the most simplistic, plastic stereotypes of female sexuality constantly reiterated throughout our culture somehow proves that we are sexually liberated and personally empowered has been offered to us, and we have accepted it. But if we think about it, we know this just doesn’t make any sense. It’s time to stop nodding and smiling uncomfortably as we ignore the crazy feeling in our heads and admit that the emperor has no clothes. (p197)

Levy also asserts that, these days, women have three options:
1. To act “like a man” (a male chauvinist, in particular)
2. To embody “the most simplistic, plastic stereotypes of female sexuality constantly reiterated throughout our culture” (p197)
3. Do neither 1 nor 2, and be considered a prude or an uptight feminist

None of these options seem too appealing, but only the last one can really get us out of this bind. While the first two options might grant a woman shorter-term, individual success, they also perpetuate sexism and misogyny in our culture (hence the term “Female Chauvinist Pigs”).

Girls learn early that their looks count, often much more than their intelligence, personality, or talents. Cultural messages reinforce the idea that, to be successful, we need to be a particular type of sexy and attractive. I want young women, when they are mature enough, to really own their unique sexualities. But I don’t want our sex appeal to be our sole means of getting attention, status, or money, because ultimately, it doesn’t lead to gaining respect or better rights.

Do what makes you feel happy and confident, but ask yourself who you are being sexy for, why, and if you need to look like a Maxim model to feel that way. And remember that your sexuality is part of you, but it’s not the only part.

If you can dress up any way you want to on this holiday, do you really want to hit the default button and look like just another clone? Or do you want to express yourself (and your sexiness) in a more unique, authentic way?


16 thoughts on “Are you dressing like a female chauvinist pig this Halloween?

  1. Last year, my roommates and I went as contestants from the 1990s Nickelodeon game show Double Dare. We were decked out in sweatpants, helmets, knee pads and elbow pads. It was the most hilarious night of my life–we were by far the least (quote/unquote) “sexy” girls that night roaming the streets of San Francisco (no high heels or fishnets for us, thanks), but judging by how much we laughed and how much confidence we exuded jumping around and doing goofy stunts, we had the most fun out of anyone in that city that night.
    I realized that night that dressing up as something original and goofy is the best way to go. Not only were we physically comfortable all evening (what’s better than running around in sweatpants?) but we were comfortable with ourselves, laughing so hard we were crying, confidently enjoying the Halloween experience, and being incredibly goofy with our best friends.

  2. I find this Halloween phenomenon pushed upon us at an early age. Today, the costumes designed for little girls are so provocative and limited. Was it always like this?

    I was browsing through a Halloween catalog when I noticed typical costumes for girls were witches, cheerleaders, “cute candy corn” (literally eye-candy). Then the boys section contained astronauts, monsters, and PIMPS. For eight year old boys. Hope the boy who buys that will grow up as an astronaut or monster instead.

    In a world where costume-makers are as evil as the monster costumes they make, I plan to hold a project where I help the kids I baby-sit with making their own costume. It’s amazing how creative kids are and even more amazing how costume-makers don’t notice.

  3. The problem is there aren’t that many options. Shopping for costumes is so difficult for women and even little girls. There’s nothing scary or funny or creative. Everything’s a slutty version of something, even in the children’s section. While my boyfriend can pick a funny Reno 911 character, dracula, Captain Kirk, a man riding an ostrich, or pretty much anything else he can dream up, I have a choice of sexy dead bride, sexy witch, sexy vampire, or sexy fairy. It’s BS. Even the costumes that try to be creative and emulate funny characters from tv or cartoons are “sexified.” My only option for a regular costume would be something ridiculous and unisex like a ketchup bottle, or something outdated like Olive Oil from Pop Eye. (Which also has a sexified version, if you choose one). Women and litttle girls are left creating their own costumes, or picking the same five things every year, looking like a slutty version of SOMETHING if they pick it from a store.

  4. I do not think, that when a woman chooses to dress sexy on any day not just to a costume party or for Halloween, that she does it for being a sex object, and the same can be said for a male. I mean a guy does not dress up like superman just to seem sexy for women, but i think he also does it for himself. He does it so he can feel strong, even immortal, even for a night, and even if he does do it to be eye candy, he has chosen to represent himself this way, and we choose who we are. This also applies to women, if she wants to dress like “eye candy”, its her choice and she has the right to express herself.

  5. Yes, it may be a woman’s choice to dress up like eye candy–but how many other choices does she really have?

    I definitely think that making costumes is the best way to go. It’s much more fun and creative, and usually cheaper.

  6. I completely agree with this article. I’m in my first year of uni and we have a Hallowe’en party soon. Having just looked at the photos from last year’s parties, only one girl wasn’t wearing either a mini-skirt (maybe ‘belt’ would be more appropriate) or tiny dress. I think I can safely say I’ll be the only girl wearing a floor-length dress this year…

  7. This year, I’m going as a roman soldier and my boyfriend is dressing as Jesus. I’m making my own Spear of Destiny. We’re probably going to hell for this….

  8. You dont have to use the the costumes that are gender specific, or apparently so. Like an astronaut. As a women, you could shop off the ‘mens’ rack. Looking at costumes as gendered says more about your own perception and psyche than it does about the costumes themselves. You can hire that silly/fun ‘man in an ostrich’ outfit. And the man can hire the ‘witch’ costume too, if he’s got the backbone to face-off against silly social expectations and convention. l dont think they check your package before they’ll hire a costume to you.

    You dont have to embrace nor buy into the nonsense that society forces on you. In fact, flying in the face of that and dealing with the blowback is the only way to take back your humanity, diversity and individuality from society, which is ultimately about forcing everyone through the same mould. Facing the fear of going against the nonsense is possibly the most difficult obstacle. But ironically, its only a product of one’s own thoughts, mentations and ideations that one has unwittingly integrated into a falsified sense of self. And to that extent one need only change their own minds… which is quite simply.

  9. You don’t have to buy a costume per se. Even if you’re not the artsy-craftsy type, you can make a great costume out of things available year-round. Want to be an Indiana Jones-type adventurer? Go to a sports-supply store and pick up a pith helmet and a heavy cotton shirt (khaki, of course). Use a carabiner to snap a canteen onto your most beat-up pair of jeans, put on your hiking boots and you’re ready to go. Is a fairytale princess more your style? Browse the local thrift store to find a great deal on a gently used formal gown, then accessorize with a toy-store tiara and sparkly ballet flats.

    You know what bothers me most of all? It’s not so much that women choose to be, and are encouraged to be, and are in fact provided with few choices other than to be, openly and provacatively sexual on Halloween. It’s that for so many, it actually doesn’t represent a change of pace from how they dress the other 364 days of the year. My costume this year isn’t remotely sexy (I’m going to be a Celtic harvest-festival celebrant, in honor of my ancestors with whom so many of our current Halloween traditions originated), but I would enjoy dressing up in a sexy costume purely for the experience of dabbling with a new persona for the day. But then, I never dress provacatively in the first place! What’s the point of dressing up in a costume, when its most striking feature (i.e., sexiness) is no different than the most striking feature of what you wear the rest of the time anyway?

    I would like to disagree with Abed Yamout. One does not dress in a sexy manner to “express oneself.” By definition, unless a woman is a sexual narcissist, her choosing to dress “sexy” refers only to how she will be perceived in the eyes of others. If she truly wanted to express herSELF, she would think first about what she wanted to convey from within, what she wanted to see when she looked in the mirror. Yes, she would consider how others would perceive her, but it would be in the sense of communication – not that they would perceive her as an inherently desirable object in herself, but that they would see her as she wished to be seen. A person who hasn’t been correctly perceived can hardly be said to have “expressed herself” to her satisfaction, no? Unless this theoretical young woman is an empty mass of pulsing lust, I doubt what she would truly want to express herself as is eye candy. Women don’t dress in provocative outfits for themselves – do you really think anyone wears fishnet stockings when she’s alone at home? Women do this because they’ve been fed the lie that it’s the only thing to do, the only way to be, the only way to fit in, and that fitting in is paramount. They’ve even been told that it’s what they need to do to be happy. They’ve been told this is what they want, and they’ve been told it’s liberating, and they actually believe it. But that placebo effect, like the shallow sex appeal it promotes, is only skin deep.

  10. Ah, such a good article! I am ordering the book pronto and absolutely love the valid points she made. I am sick and tired of being considered a prude since I don’t think playboy looking models have any place on Halloween costume ads any more than they do in Reebok shoe commercials, or hamburger commercials, or countless other example of eye-candy placed throughout our lives. It is easy for the men but how would they like it if all of the half-naked, surgically enhanced women were suddenly replace by half-naked, surgically endowed men? Everywhere they looked, in every movie they watched.. An extremely out of the ordinary Mr. Perfect would be there to make them blush, make them feel less than adequate meanwhile all the women presented would be completely average. Sounds GREAT to me.

Comments are closed.