The Cricket: For women, Halloween choices reveal a sexist double-standard

By Sean P. Means

The Salt Lake Tribune

Published: October 17, 2012 09:04AM
Updated: February 7, 2013 11:31PM
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Sean P. Means

With less than two weeks to go until Halloween, the pressure is on to come up with an impressive costume.

I’ve been fishing around for a good costume idea, though I can always go back to my fallback plan: “Exhausted parent.” (Second option, as suggested by Christina Ricci’s Wednesday Addams in “The Addams Family”: “I’m a serial killer — they look just like everybody else.”)

I went to one of those pop-up Halloween stores the other day to scope out what’s available — and came back relieved that I am not the father of daughters.

Not to turn all prudish, but have you seen what’s being sold to women and teen girls for Halloween costumes these days?

For adult women, the standard costume design features a thigh-baring skirt, a low-cut top, and often a lot of bare midriff in between. The names for these costumes are usually something like “sexy pirate” or “sexy skeleton” or “sexy nurse” or — well, you get the idea.

For teen girls, the choices aren’t much better. The word “sexy” isn’t used as often in the titles — instead the names are along the lines of “pretty li’l kitty” or “sassy ninja” — but the idea is the same: Short skirt, bare shoulders and/or ample cleavage. (As a colleague with a teen daughter pointed out to me, this is a continual problem with young women’s clothing — not just on Halloween, but year-round.)

And this fabric-minimized option goes for characters that you’d think wouldn’t deserve it. Take this example (from the profanely named but extremely helpful Tumblr website called “F--- No Sexist Halloween Costumes”), of sexy “Sesame Street” characters, such as a women’s Cookie Monster costume that features a very-sheer blue mesh blouse over a blue tube bra and blue short skirt. Good luck explaining that outfit to your kid, or to your kid’s teacher at the kindergarten Halloween party.

Lining up the men’s version and women’s version of the same character costume reveals the complete sexism at work.

Take, for example, Freddy Krueger, the knife-gloved killer from the “Nightmare on Elm Street” series. The men’s costume is baggy black slacks, an oversized red-and-brown striped sweater, a face-covering mask and hat, and a glove with the pointy things on it. The women’s version has a hat and glove like the men’s version, but instead of a shapeless sweater the women get a striped minidress.

The pattern repeats across the costume racks: Men get bulky, lumpy costumes that cover them from neck to foot, while women are offered skin-tight or skin-showing costumes that even strippers would reject as being skimpy. Men get to hide their less-than-perfect bodies under polyester and foam rubber (even for superhero costumes, which come with augmented biceps, pectorals and six-pack abs). Women, no matter what their body type, are invited to let nearly everything hang out.

Women who want to do Halloween essentially have five options: Get skanked up with a store-bought costume, labor with a home-made costume, piece something together from thrift-store clothing, go out as a nun (but not a “sexy nun,” and such costumes do exist), or completely betray their femininity by buying from the men’s rack.

Alas, the best options — home-made or thrift-store — are also the least practical ones. They require advance planning, extra time to shop, and a level of craft skills that busy people often lack these days. (Weirdly enough, American Apparel — a clothing chain often criticized for its sexually objectifying ad campaigns — makes a big deal on its website of selling wardrobe items that can be pieced together for Halloween costumes, and some costumes can be done with some modesty.)

As always, the best approach is to vote with your money. If you don’t like the sexist double-standard, don’t shop at the places that keep that double-standard alive. If enough people do it, the stores will get the message, and the world will be a little less skanky on Halloween.

Sean P. Means writes The Cricket in daily blog form, at www.sltrib.com/blogs/moviecricket. Follow him on Twitter @moviecricket, or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/seanpmeans. Email him at movies@sltrib.com.