Thursday, October 30, 2014

Don't Tell Me How To Dress: Thoughts on Feminism and Halloween

A week or so ago I read an article entitled "Don't Call Me a Basic Bitch--I Can Love Pumpkin Spice Lattes and Still Be Extraordinary". The article talked about the stereotyping of young females who get the label "basic bitch" just for drinking fall themed coffee. The point was that everyone, in this case young women, have so many more dimensions than just being a pumpkin spice latte drinkers.

I think this ties in well to some of the controversies surrounding another fall event--Halloween. Halloween has become a holiday riddled with controversies about what kinds of costumes are appropriate and inappropriate. Some are obviously outrageous and shouldn't be condoned (i.e. dressing up for example as a Mexican, using your costume to make fun of someone else's culture), however, with women's costumes in particular, I think the lines get significantly more blurry. Prominent among the world of women's costumes is the "Sexy _______ (fill in the bank)". You can be a sexy cop, a sexy nurse, or a sexy John Oliver (as Oliver pointed out on his show with significant amusement). These sexy costumes often get slammed by feminists as being degrading and objectifying. There are whole websites dedicated to "Taking Back Halloween" and offering less stereotypical costumes to women.

I think, however, that there is another way to look at these sexy Halloween costumes. What is wrong with having one night where (within reason) women can dress up in a way that they wouldn't usually? If you want to go out, feel confident, and wear something "sexy", what is so wrong with that? I think that instead of seeing these costumes as degrading, there is a way to see them as empowering. As a young female, it's a commonly accepted idea that Halloween is the one time where it is okay to dress in a more risqué manner than you would usually. If I want to go out and show more skin than I usually do, it's not only my right to do that (freedom of expression), but it's counter productive for feminists to criticize women for their costume choices. The whole point of feminism is to advocate for the rights of women--so why shouldn't one of those rights be allowing women to dress how they want, whatever way that is, and not be objectified. Women certainly shouldn't be condemning other women for their costume choices.

If wearing a sexy Halloween costume makes me feel confident, then that doesn't mean I'm just doing it for someone else, it means that I as an individual have the capacity to derive benefit from the way I look. Every time women dress up it doesn't mean that they are doing it for other people. I think it is very possible, and know from personal experience, that dressing well, whatever that means for us individually, can give women an added confidence boost even disregarding the opinions of others. Wear what makes you feel comfortable, not what other people say should make you feel comfortable.

I think that the Halloween issue with costumes plays into a larger issue confronting the feminist movement today. Women need to stop condemning other women for not fitting into their view of a feminist. Feminism should mean women can wear whatever they want without fear of objectification by men or women. Feminism should mean that we as women support other women's decisions of what to do with their bodies, whether that means what they are wearing or who they are sleeping with. Feminism doesn't have to mean rejecting all of society's ideas about beauty or sexiness, it just means acknowledging that those ideas don't define women. Dressing in a sexy Halloween costume doesn't mean you can't also be a feminist.

I'm not saying women shouldn't wear clothes on Halloween or that there should be an overwhelming amount of skin being revealed, but within reason, I think that it's my own prerogative to dress "slutty" or "not slutty" on Halloween, and I think it's the job of other women to support my decision, and make one for themselves. If I want to dress up as Jane Goodall one night and a sexy nurse the next, I shouldn't get judged any differently, except maybe to say that Jane Goodall costume might be a little bit more creative than a sexy nurse. The point is, I can be a feminist dressed as Jane Goodall and a feminist dressed as a sexy nurse--either way, I'm still a complex individual that can't be defined by how I dress on one night of the year.

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