I love Halloween! It is, by far, my favorite Holiday. It is a chance to dress up and act like a kid again, casting off the silly structures that grownups are expected to live within. I don’t want to wear a suit. I don’t even want to wear slacks! I wish there were more opportunities for me to dress as a life-sized Care Bear and go out and have fun with friends! Here’s a perfect example of what I love about Halloween: I am driving my friends and I (who are dressed as the cast from Toy Story) down to meet up with Buzz Lightyear, Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head, a baby doll, and Ken Doll. We pull up to a light, and I look over to see a pirate, grimacing at me. AWESOME!
We had a grand old time running around as giant toys and taking pictures with people in other awesome costumes. We saw some really creative stuff! We saw the characters from Candy Land. We saw Quail Man and Patty Mayonnaise. We saw some super creepy creepersons. Altogether, lots of fun and lots of creativity.
Then my crew and I went down into the area of Denver known as “LoDo.” This is where a lot of the trendy clubs are and where the trendy folks tend to spend their time. As far as I am concerned (and it seemed as far as those in my group seemed to think), this was a mistake. As we fought through the dense crowds, I became increasingly uncomfortable with two things: The dress of many (perhaps the majority?) of the women and the way the men were acting in response to this dress.
I’ll tell you what . . . few places in my life have felt to teem so incredibly with unhealthy sexuality as the club where we spent perhaps 30 minutes in Lower Downtown Denver. In thinking about how the women were dressed, I couldn’t help but have the reaction of, “Why oh Why oh Why would women subject themselves to this kind of degradation and objectification?” I found myself, at times, struggling with many of the same things that I described in my blog on the objectification of women. Simply put, despite my frustration and disgust with the whole scene, too often my eyes went down.
As for the men, I stand firmly behind my belief that no matter how a woman is dressed, we are responsible for our actions, and it is our responsibility to be sex-positive men. Thus, the leering, cat calls, inappropriate touching, and forceful grabbing were out of control and out of line. It is sad that I felt it necessary to pretend to be romantically involved with my friends so that they could worry a little less about being groped. Once again, I am stumped as to where we as men can begin to change the culture of masculinity. I mean, I can start with my adorable nephew Aiden and help him realize that he can be a strong and confident man who also values kindness and gentleness, teaching him about consent and positive sexuality as he gets older, but that feels so delayed. I still feel so impotent sometimes.
That being said, there was something profoundly unsettling for me that I want to explore on here in hopes of getting feedback from my readers. Again, I can say all day that it is our responsibility as men to change the ways we interact with women in unhealthy ways, but unfortunately many of my thoughts that night bordered on “victim-blaming” for the ways that men were responding to the costumes. “Why would you wear that?” “Do you realize how men are going to respond to that thong you’re wearing as if its clothing for a public space?” It made me uncomfortable because I want to hold men accountable, yet I also want to understand why women feel the need to “dress to impress” the men.
Unfortunately, Halloween, for all of its fun and fancy, is a perfect space for seeing all of the problematic things we are taught about sexuality and gender in one place (and in extreme exaggeration). In discussing this with my dear friend Sheila the other day, she made an incredible point, “Look at the ways we encourage our young girls and young women to dress up on Halloween! Then throw in, oh, twenty years or so of gendered socialization and unhealthy sexual messages, and is it any wonder that we see the costumes we do!?”
Her point is dead on, and inspired by great post at Appetite for Equal Rights, I wanted to take a moment to compare some of the most popular costumes for little girls (based on research done by Good Housekeeping, and some of the costumes I might have seen out on a Saturday night of Halloween weekend:
Princess, Age 6 Princess, Age 26
Witch, Age 7 Witch, Age 27
Tinkerbell, Age 9 Tinkerbell, Age 29
Cat, Age 4 Cat, Age 24
Now, my point here is neither to relieve responsibility from men for the ways we objectify women in these costumes nor to further blame women for their objectification. Rather, I want us to interrogate how our gendered expectations come out in incredibly unhealthy ways on Halloween! Consider popular boys’ costumes and what they say about our expectations of our young men. Hyper-masculine much?
Iron Man, Age 5 Iron Man, Age 25
Pirate, Age 7 Pirate, Age 27
Batman, Age 6 Batman, Age 26
All of our men’s costumes are aggressive and hyper-masculine while our women’s costumes are hyper-sexualized. It starts at a young age. It leaves me with a lot of questions (perhaps ones my readers can help me answer).
How can we change the validation that many women feel in dressing scandalously for Halloween, only to be groped and gawked at by our super-her0-clad men? Maybe I am super off base! Is it even unhealthy that women want to dress this way? Either way, how can we change the culture of masculine partying to ensure that all women feel comfortable in whatever dress that they will not be groped and gawked at? In what ways can we help our young girls explore imagination and fantasy in their Halloween costumes yet break the obvious pattern that leads to hyper-sexualization later in life? How can we encourage the creativity and whimsy that makes Halloween fun as adults while not encouraging hyper-sexualization and objectification? Bah! So many questions! I kind of feel like if more of our moms had this approach to the whole holiday, we would be much better off.
What question does this bring up for you? What insights can you share?
Oh . . . and don’t even get me started on some of the ABSURDLY racist costumes I saw this year . . .