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Girls’ vs Boys’ Halloween Costumes: Sexist and ‘Sexified’

Halloween is a great holiday, providing fun opportunities for people to dress up and children to go trick-or-treating. I used to love going out myself for a night full of laughs, not to mention the pillow case full of candy. Costumes differ between genders in both content and characteristics. Girls might dress up as witches, kittens, nurses or Disney princesses, while boys might dress as police officers, firefighters, mobsters and the like. But differences go beyond the ideas behind their costumes. The older a generation gets, the skimpier girls’ costumes become. Subsequently, a question has arisen: are Halloween costumes sexist or “sexified?”

Halloween costumes differ by gender: female costumes tend to be more revealing than males'. | Photo by Pop Culture Geek/Flickr.com

Typically the young girls’ section of stores, like Party City, has costumes such as nurses, “Lil’ Patty Cake Baker” and a boxer dressed in all pink, while the boys’ costumes include a doctor, police officer and fire chief. Amy Rubinson, a feminist who created the blog “Appetite for Equal Rights,” wrote that “the main ‘gender differences’ are not innate, but socially constructed from the very beginning. Girls don’t become nurses and bakers because it’s in their genes, but because it is thrust in their faces from birth that girls are nurses, and boys are astronauts, doctors and police officers.” Halloween costumes are a way in which society constructs gender differences among children and then reinforce with the adult costumes. Rubinson and other feminists bloggers agree on this point. The adult occupational section of costume stores offers women’s costumes such as a French maid, sexy police officer and sexy cheerleader. Meanwhile, the male section offers costumes for astronauts, captains, judges, fire fighters and surgeons.

Rubinson is not the only person to write about the sexist portrayal of Halloween costumes. Womenkind, a marketing and communications company which focuses on informing its clients on how to understand and motivate women said, “Put aside the fact that costumes marketed to the female population are becoming more and more skimpier …  Instead, let’s focus on the pure sexism that exists in the types of costumes offered to each gender. Whether you’re male or female, when you take an inside look at the Halloween costume options currently available, the answer is clear: Halloween is simply the most sexist day of the year.” In their post on their website womenkind.net, they focused largely on sexism in the occupational sections.

Rubinson writes that this is infuriating and unfair but that it is unlikely to change any time soon. I would agree that it can be frustrating, but I grew up being able to brainstorm my own costume ideas and asking my mother to make it for me (she always obliged). I never had to walk down the aisles filled with costumes in order to make my choice. And now that I am an adult, it is not the sexism in costume selection that I worry about. Instead, I have difficulty trying to find a costume in stores that is composed of a decent amount of material. I realize that there are many women that like to feel sexy on Halloween, and that is their prerogative, but I am not one of them and I do not appreciate the increasingly risqué selection of costumes each year.

This growing problem is gaining attention. Exelle.monster.com said,“The widespread appeal of flashing cleavage is hardly breaking news – especially in a forum where there is an ‘excuse’ to do so. What’s new is the incredibly shrinking shelf space for non-sexy costumes.” I know from experience that this is true. There seems to be no women’s costume hanging in the aisle that does not have “sexy” in the name or description.

It is easily noticeable that young men’s costumes are often made with more fabric and are meant to be funny or scary while women’s are generally revealing and attention grabbing. I am not sure if the fad was made popular by Mean Girls, where the main character, Cady (played by Lindsay Lohan), noted that Halloween is the one night a year when girls have an excuse to dress provocatively and no other girls can say anything about it, but it has definitely held true for quite a few years.

Erin Gagner, a freshman psychology major, said, “Girls dress like sluts, and boys dress to be silly or scary.” She is proud of her two recent, but slightly risqué Halloween costumes: Ke$ha and a firefighter outfit (where her favorite part was the thigh high boots). Gagner also reported that girls dress to be a character when they are young, but strive for sexy as they get older. She said, “Age 14-16, freshman year, is when the skimpy and sexy costumes take off because they’re with the older girls that go all out with fishnets and spandex.” I believe that it also has to do with the fact that high school girls purchase or make their own costumes, instead of picking out their outfits alongside mom and dad.

Sara Koclowski and Amanda DeMello, a psychology major and allied health major respectively, stated similar conclusions about the characteristics of female Halloween costumes and their occurrence. People have the right to wear what they want to, but I do not feel that sexy costumes are necessary.

Skylar Davila, a freshman psychology major, stated, “The differences [in Halloween costumes] are chest size, curves and girls’ Halloween costumes tend to be skimpier.” He said, “It’s awesome, so why not?” This sentiment was shared by other male students, and it is a conclusion that makes sense. I believe that a large part of why girls are “sexifying” their Halloween costumes has to do with attracting attention from the guys, and obviously it works. Nevertheless, other costumes should be available for girls who are not interested in participating in this growing Halloween tradition.

Kocklowski said, “I feel that if someone is comfortable enough to dress that way, and they feel that it’s okay, then no one else has the right to judge them based on that.” I agree that people have a right to wear what they want and I do not have anything against the girls that go out on Halloween and wear skimpy costumes, so long as they are choosing to do so. However, as noted by The Huffington Post, some costumes should not be “sexified,” such as Nemo, Spongebob Square Pants and Cookie Monster.

As it turns out, Halloween costumes are often both sexist and “sexified.” The real problem though, is that stores do not offer enough alternatives to those kinds of costumes.

Elaina Zintl can be reached at elaina.zintl@spartans.ut.edu

4 Comments on Girls’ vs Boys’ Halloween Costumes: Sexist and ‘Sexified’

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  2. She is not blaming society in this article. She is simply stating that for a women it is difficult to find a costume that isn’t super revealing. Classy women have a harder time finding a costume because, your right, sex does sell and that is the issue. Not every women wants to give off the vibe that shes DTF on Halloween and stores should make more modest costumes available as well as the revealing ones that will obviously sell quicker.

    Besides the point that putting on a yellow bra and some yellow shorts and going out as a “Sexy Spongbob” is in fact distasteful and downright sad in response to the first comment. So maybe there is an issue with society and there should be more censorship if this is the way women are dressing for Halloween.

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  3. Brian Conner // October 25, 2012 at 6:47 pm //

    I’ve always had great contempt for people who disapprove of ‘provocative’ outfits worn by men or women. I think it is a shame that some members of our society have decided that the human body is distasteful. Are you kidding? It’s the human body. You were born naked. I don’t understand why nudity is so against our social norms. Why is it illegal to be naked in public? It’s the human body, so letting someone see your human body is illegal? To me, that is crazy talk. And now people are talking about Halloween outfits as being distasteful? I don’t like the direction this is going in. There is way too much censorship in America.

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  4. This article makes it sound like costume stores are purposely hiding all the decent, gender equal costumes and conspiring to dress women up provocative fashions.

    All the shelves are lined with sexy costumes because that is what sells. Don’t like it, don’t buy it. Make your own, problem solved. Blaming society as well as retailers for the fact that many women like to dress up in sexy costumes is ludicrous. I know the women in my life are much more strong willed than that. When they dress sexy it’s because they want to, not because it’s an easy option.

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