Why yes, I’m wearing nothing but a witch hat.
I used to be part of the auto-feminist head-shaking and judging of those young ladies with their skimpy costumes for Halloween. As I did last year, I want to apologize for that and say that I have completely done a 180 on this and want to give my full blessing to anyone who wants to walk around half-naked for the holiday. (Which has probably already passed, as far as adults are concerned, anyway.) Be a sexy pizza! I do not care. Not just that, but I say work it, girl.
Here’s a general rule of thumb that I think would help clarify things a lot for feminists who are dealing with a confusing mix of disapproving of the way that women are sexually objectified while also wanting women to feel free to express themselves while worrying that this expression is being misunderstood/commodified by sexist forces but also understanding that women have every right to handle that on their own terms: If anything that pops out of your mouth sounds like it could come from the Christian right, maybe rethink that.
When Christian fundamentalists wax on about modesty and how it’s women’s job to control what men are thinking, I immediately see that shit for the sexist garbage that it is. This is true even though they are getting really good at aping the language of feminism and talking about the issue as one of female empowerment. Like Jessica Rey, Christian fashion designer, whose views are described by Katelyn Beaty here:
Rey believes that the now-ubiquitous bikini hurts women. She cited a 2009 study conducted by Princeton psychologist Susan Fiske that asked 21 undergraduate heterosexual men to look at photos of fully clothed women, then look at photos of bikini-clad women. Fiske noted that the bikini images activated the men’s brain regions associated with tools, or “things you manipulate with your hands.” While some commenters noted that the images in the Princeton study were headless (thus already depersonalized), to Rey the study proved that the effects of the bikini are dire in a hypersexualized culture: “Wearing a bikini…shut[s] down a man’s ability to see her as a person.” In order to preserve their personhood, Rey said, women should dress more modestly. “Modesty isn’t about covering up our bodies because they’re bad. Modesty isn’t about hiding ourselves. It’s about revealing our dignity.” First step? Buy a Rey Swimwear–tagline, “who says it has to be itsy-bitsy?”–swimsuit.
I laughed my ass off at this, because the only real difference between Rey’s suits and typical bathing suits is like an inch more butt coverage and no belly button.
If her suits became the standard bathing suits, then her suits would be the new standard of “slutty” clothing that we all shake our heads over. After all, this woman is still sexing it up. “Modesty” and “slutty” are always culturally relative. I like that bathing suit! I want to wear it, even. But I can’t say I think it’s significantly more modest than the current bikini I own.
The reason that men struggle to see women as full human beings has nothing to do with women’s sexuality being inherently oppositional to women’s humanity. It’s because….men are trained not to see women as full human beings. That one is on men, not women. It’s up to men to get straight in their heads. Women’s ability to manipulate the internals of a man’s mind with cloth is way overrated. Women could cover up completely, and then men would be blaming women’s ankles for men’s inability to see us as human beings. It’s not how little or much you wear that is dehumanizing. It’s the fact that you’re part of the gender that has to endure having what you’re wearing being debated constantly that’s dehumanizing.
Here’s the thing that I can’t get around: The urge to dress in risqué clothes and get admired is one that I have zero beef with. Sex is good. Admiration is good. Fun is good. The problem with Americans is we don’t value these things enough, and are ready at the drop of a hat to shame and blame people for having a good time.
It’s much easier — and, unfortunately common — to shame individuals rather than try to change the society that seemingly made their choices for them. But Bell also notes that Slutoween especially appeals to twentysomething women because we’re overloaded with contradictory messages about sexuality. “For instance, ‘Now’s the time to have lots of sexual experiences, but you’d better not cross the line into being a ho. Be assertive but not aggressive. Be feminine but not too passive. Be sexually adventurous, but don’t alienate men with your sexual prowess,’” she says. She theorizes that October 31 is the one night of the year that we’re able to tune out all of society’s confusing expectations of what we should or shouldn’t be when it comes to how we look and how that reflects in our appearance.
She’s so right. Like this tweet from Rashida Jones, who I usually adore, who went on a spate on Twitter pretending that naked pop stars is a new phenomenon:
Of course, the line between “sexy” and “slutty”, as previously established, is totally in the eye of the beholder. And you cannot control what the beholder thinks. I get called a slut all the time on social media, and I’m a woman who dresses fairly normally, cloth-coverage-wise, and has been in the same relationship for years. Merely being unwilling to pretend sex is a gross thing that good girls don’t want is enough to cause a beholder to make that judgment. Women have to be both sexy and modest all the time, but no one is willing to actually define that line, because the point is you are supposed to lose.
Jones finally did say something not awful on the subject.
Also, calling on all men to show me dat ass
— Rashida Jones (@iamrashidajones) October 19, 2013
That is actually what the real story is. It’s not surprising that women want to strip down, get flirted with, get admired, and maybe even (gasp) have sex. Those are normal, understandable, and I say awesome human emotions. What’s interesting is that men seemingly don’t want to be admired for their looks. Well, I think they do, but our culture tells straight men that being sexually desirable is emasculating and makes people think you’re like a woman. Being accused of being “gay” is common. You’re supposed to get women to want to have sex with you, but you can’t get there with blunt advertising of your sexual attractiveness. Sometimes I get the impression that the ideal for men would be to be able to get women to have sex with you without ever having to go through the icky, emasculating process of turning them on. Taken to its extreme, you have rape culture.
So really, while I think we have a cultural habit of always assuming the problem is women, the issue with “Slut-o-ween” is men, who are oppressed by cultural standards that paint male sexual display as emasculating. I say less clucking over half-dressed women and more demanding that men run around in thongs for ladies’ visual enjoyment.
Of course, I will point out that if we’re going to make Halloween a more naked time of year, we really should consider moving it to July or August. Shit is getting cold out there.