For many years, October 31 has heralded a night of unique, elaborate costumes worn by trick-o-treaters of all ages. While dressing up has traditionally been a fun and harmless aspect of Halloween, our society has taken it to a whole new level by grossly sexualizing costumes, often in degrading ways.
As I sifted through costumes on the internet, I found obvious and distressing patterns. The costumes in the “teen girls” and “women” sections were short, gauzy dresses, paired with high heels or flimsy flats. Looking under the “men” and “boys” categories, I, however, found that most of the costumes covered the entire body and were often accompanied by dark boots or sneakers. Just last weekend, during our Halloween Dance, I noticed that students wore costumes reflective of these trends. Many girls sported revealing, low-cut costumes; many boys were dressed in more substantial clothing. The difference in costumes marketed to girls and boys sexualizes the female body and sends the subliminal message that girls are sexual objects, while boys are not.
Specific costume tropes are also pointedly marketed towards boys or girls. There are rarely female doctor costumes, but nurse costumes – short frilly dresses with red crosses – are abundant. Under the “men” category, you’ll likely see a doctor costume, equipt with a stethoscope and scrubs, but not a nurse costume. These gendered costumes perpetuate the myths that girls can’t be doctors and boys can’t be nurses.
By continuing to sexualize, group, and label different Halloween costumes, society sets arbitrary guidelines for how different genders should dress. It is difficult for today’s young women to find costumes that are not revealing, so naturally they often succumb to purchasing costumes they may not feel totally comfortable wearing. Girls, for lack of an easy alternative, are pressured to choose from an overwhelming flood of provocative Halloween costumes, each shorter than the next. Boys, dressed in superhero costumes as children, are steered towards increasingly “masculine” costumes as they grow older.
The obvious solution would be for stores to offer less sexualized costumes to girls and women by using gender-neutral marketing. Unfortunately, change this big is unlikely to happen soon, and will probably not come from us.
In the meantime, we must be aware of how costumes, and stereotypes, are being gendered and marketed. And instead of focusing on which costumes are supposedly meant for girls, boys, women, or men, we should focus instead on what we like and feel comfortable wearing. We can change the collective mindsets on gender roles, hypersexualization, and unnecessary societal norms by making an effort to reduce sexism in Halloween costumes.