Women have a right to dress slutty on Halloween, and to feel safe doing It

Would that there were more occasions to wear catsuits!!!

This is a post I wish I didn’t have to write. But the LA Times found this op-ed by Charlotte Allen somehow credible enough to publish, and so I have to. This is a post in defense of dressing slutty on Halloween. It is a post arguing that dressing slutty, for Halloween or any other occasion, is not an invitation for rape. This is an argument that really shouldn’t have to be made in 2011, but sadly, here we are.

Charlotte Allen juxtaposed dressing slutty with Halloween and the Slutwalk movement. She argues that feminists (all feminists – ’cause we’re all the same, apparently) are hypocrites because we rally against slutty Halloween costumes, yet bare all at our Slutwalks. Then she goes on to say that feminists are in denial of the “reality” that visual stimuli somehow makes men’s brains tell them to rape, and that rape is linked to hotness, or youngess, or something. Basically she’s saying that dressing slutty invites rape and women should know better and if it happens, it’s probably your fault for being an idiot feminist in denial.

(Did I just put words in Allen’s mouth? Sorry, I couldn’t help it. As my friend Simone said, “I want to punch this op-ed in the face!” Read it for yourself if you want to check the accuracy of my interpretation, but fair warning, it may make you feel stabby.)

Here are some points that Allen missed about feminists, Slutwalks, and sexy Halloween costumes:

1. Not all feminists feel the same way about dressing slutty on Halloween or Slutwalks. Not all feminists support Slutwalks.

2. Feminism is – in the most basic terms – about being free to make choices. Feminists write angrily about sexy or offensive Halloween costumes for women not because they don’t believe women should ever dress sexy or slutty on Halloween, but because the proliferation of sexy costumes is so great and so overwhelming that it’s difficult to find something that isn’t a sexy version of a regular costume. There are very few CHOICES for women outside the sexy/slutty genre. Being angry that 99% of costumes offered for women (and even young girls!) are “sexy-something” costumes is not only rational, but not the same thing at all as telling women they shouldn’t dress slutty on Halloween.

3. When feminists share ideas for non-sexy Halloween costumes, they aren’t (or shouldn’t be) trying to encourage women to “cover up” or shame women who choose to dress slutty; they are simply helping women who choose not to dress slutty come up with some ideas because non-sexy ladies costumes are few and far between.

Here are some points that Allen really doesn’t understand about feminism, rape culture, and a woman’s right to dress slutty on Halloween:

1. Allen wrote, of Slutwalks, “Women get another chance besides Halloween to dress up like prostitutes!” Well, yeah! I would argue that women don’t have enough opportunities to dress up as prostitutes, or anything else. For those of us who aren’t actors or burlesque dancers or LARPers, socially acceptable opportunities to dress up – in ANY costume – are rare. I don’t think I need to hash this out, but for many, dressing up like a slut is FUN. People who enjoy dressing slutty do it because it makes them feel sexy. For most, Halloween is a once-a-year chance to channel our inner sex kitten. Dressing slutty is a choice that women should be empowered to make for themselves. It would be anti-feminist to suggest otherwise, or shame a woman for dressing in a way that makes her feel good.

2. Dressing slutty is not an invitation to rape. Ever. Seriously. Period. Rapists will rape no matter whatever the fuck their victims are wearing. Dressing conservatively will not protect anybody from rape. Suggesting that men are susceptible to “visual stimuli” and therefore unable to control themselves around sexy-dressed ladies is supremely offensive to men.

3. In a perfect world, women should be able to feel safe wearing a sexy costume. They also have the right to feel safe walking down the street bundled up in a winter coat but the reality is that often, they aren’t safe. Not because they’re wearing the wrong thing or “sending mixed signals” or whatever the fuck, but because of op-eds like Allen’s, that continue to place the blame, the shame, and the responsibility on women instead of working to prosecute rapists and educate would-be-rapists.

What Allen truly misses about feminist responses to dressing slutty is this:

We are about breaking down rape culture, not breaking down women who want to wear catsuits on Halloween.

How should we celebrate Teen Halloween?


Image via Wikipedia

Halloween used to be my favorite holiday.  I loved dressing up in elaborate, homemade costumes and going trick or treating.  I loved it more as I got older.  I think the fun of trick or treating peaked for me in high school.  Yep, I was a teenage trick or treater.  Trick or treating with friends – especially friends who could drive – was exponentially more fun than trick or treating with your parents.  My friends and I hung on to trick or treating as long as we could, going for the last time our freshman year of college.  I had just turned 18, and judging by the response of the adults in the neighborhoods we chose to pillage, we were officially too old to be trick or treating.

From then on, I had to navigate the strikingly different progression of adult Halloween traditions that involve serious partying (either at bars, nightclubs, or house parties) and hyper-sexual costumes for women.

In only one year Halloween stopped being about this:

And started being about this:

I am grateful that I made it to age 18 before I began participating in these types of Halloween celebrations. According to ABC News, however, many cities are banning teenagers from trick or treating.

This makes absolutely no sense to me.  Banning teenagers from trick or treating forces them to find alternatives and for most kids, that will mean finding an unsupervised house party or college party with alcohol.  And since at a party you’re dressing to impress your peers, and you wont be in the company of elder neighbors or small children, young women may be more tempted or pressured to dress like a “sexy kitten,” “sexy nurse,” or Snookie. And if a teen doesn’t have a house party to go to, they could also be tempted to engage in the more traditional types of “mischief night” or “cabbage night” vandalism. Boredom is a huge motivator behind pumpkin smashing, egging, and TPing.

I suppose some might argue that teenagers are competing with younger children for candy, and that their participation might deprive some youngsters. I feel like this is a minor problem.  For one, teens are likely to go out a little later than the youngsters and will most likely be grabbing up the leftovers.  Also, if one were to run out of candy before the teenagers arrive, it wouldn’t be a tragedy.  Since teenagers can buy their own candy whenever they want, teen trick or treating isn’t about the candy.  It’s about dressing up and hanging out with your friends.

As a society, we get up in arms about the sexualization of young girls and about the perils of binge drinking.  So why on earth would we force teenagers to cut their childhood even shorter, slap on a corset and cat ears, and pick up a solo cup?  In this case, it really might be better to get teens back out on the streets, hitting the pavement for a few Kit-Kats and M&Ms.