Bad Girl for a Day (with Permission)

by Anahvia Mewborn

Halloween—the one day of the year that “good girls” have an excuse to be “bad girls” without judgment, able to don skimpy, sexy outfits for one night and still keep their reputations intact.

What’s the problem with sexy Halloween costumes? Women should have the freedom to dress as they please and express themselves comfortably. However, the fact that a woman has to wear such an outfit to “do Halloween right” illustrates the double standards American society holds for women. For almost every type of costume that exists, the female version is sexualized. For example, although costume retailer Party City has a “Women’s Costumes” and a “Sexy Costumes” section, the two might as well be combined under one label. Even the costumes modeled after specific fictional characters or pop culture figures are made more sexy by being tighter and having shorter lengths and higher slits for skirts and dresses, all accompanied by very high heels. “In contrast, costume retailer Halloween Express makes clear distinctions between “Sexy Women’s Costumes” and other types of non-sexual costumes.”

Society simultaneously shames and stifles the expression of female sexuality by creating a good girl/bad girl binary. The way women express their sexuality defines whether they are “good girls” or “bad girls.” Women who express their sexuality are “sluts.” “A woman who expresses her sexuality is a “slut” and not take-home-to-parents material.” Women are pressured to make the impossible decision of deciding to be a “slut” or a “prude”—there is no choice in between.

The number of costumes that have been hyper-sexualized is impossible to overlook. These outfits reinforce the erroneous messages that first, a woman must dress like this to properly partake in Halloween’s festivities; second, any woman who doesn’t wear them is an outsider and in the minority; and third, a woman needs permission (in this case, a holiday) to express herself and her sexuality.

There is nothing wrong with a woman choosing to wear a sexy outfit, regardless of the day. The lack of alternatives to “sexy” outfits for women indicates a societal mandate magnified by corporate-sponsored sexualization more than it indicates a simple lack of demand. That a woman is praised for wearing a sexy outfit on Halloween but not a sexy outfit on any other day underscores the serious paradoxes of rape culture.

Society restricts the expression of female sexuality to certain times, places, and “types” of women. It is deemed acceptable for a woman to wear short skirts and high heels at parties and nightclubs, but that attire is not acceptable during the daytime. A woman is supposed to be a “good girl” during the daytime, but a “bad girl” in private for her significant other (“a lady on the streets but a freak in the sheets”). Permission must be given to women to express themselves and their sexuality depending on the situation. A woman is punished if she steps out of her acceptable roles. She is not seen as a “true” victim of verbal and physical harassment because she was being a “bad girl” at the “wrong time”. One characteristic of rape culture is the belief that only “good girls” can be real victims  because they cannot provoke sexual assault since they do not publicly express their sexuality. However, “good girls” are punished as well, on Halloween when she  chooses not to wear a “sexy” costume. Society has given her permission to be a “bad girl” for a night and she does not take it—she is not “doing Halloween right” because she’s not following the “rules.” Society must stop regulating women’s bodies and women’s choices.

Many women do not feel completely comfortable when Halloween comes around because it is an environment in which a woman has to look sexy or she is doing something wrong. It will take deliberate, collective effort on behalf of women and men to work towards an environment in which women are not judged by what outfits they wear and do not need permission from society to wear them. In this effort against slut-shaming and rape culture, great care needs to be taken not to shame women who choose not to wear “sexy” Halloween costumes. Our goal should be to create a society where a woman is not judged by the kind of outfit she wears; it should not be our goal to prioritize any kind of outfit as being sexier, more feminine, or more liberating than others.

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