Consent, objectification and cultural appropriation
I would be surprised if you missed it. From your email inbox, to your dorm building walls, to the passageway from the union to the FLC; messages regarding blackface, cultural appropriation and consent are everywhere.
Halloween does seem to be wrapped up in several contentious issues that simmer under our collective cultural awareness. Behind the trick-or-treating and cute Halloween costumes, this holiday has a way of showing some of the prejudices we have in our society.
Objectification and consent
What I do understand, and I am sure most other women do too, is slut-shaming and consent issues around women’s costumes. In pop culture, the first thing that comes to mind is the classic Playboy bunny look from the early 2000s in movies like ‘Mean Girls’ and ‘Legally Blonde’.
If women want to dress sexy for Halloween then they should be able to do that without all the slut-shaming. A woman wearing a sexy Halloween costume does not mean you have a free pass with her. Male or female, what someone’s wearing, at any time of the year, is not an open invitation to make unwanted sexual advances.
That being said, sexy Halloween costumes should not be the only costumes available for women to purchase. There is an overwhelming amount of provocative costumes available for women to the point that it’s actually more difficult to find a costume that isn’t considered sexual.
Don’t believe me? Right now, open another tab and type into Google: “costumes for women”. The vast majority of costumes are tight-fitting, short and revealing. And like I said, if that’s the kind of costume you prefer, and you find it empowering, then by all means go for it.
Wear whatever you want, ladies. But for me personally, I don’t want to wear those kinds of outfits. They don’t make me feel empowered. I want to dress like Medusa this year, but unfortunately, I can only find “Sedusa” costumes.
That’s not even a bit I came up with, that was literally the name of the costume I tried on at Spirit Halloween yesterday.
To me, they reek of the male gaze. They are designed with neither comfort nor self-expression in mind. They are designed to dress women in a way that appeals to a male fantasy. Designed by men so that women look more conventionally attractive.
And of course, all of the costumes are worn by rail-thin women. And because I don’t want to wear a costume that shows every part of me, most years I end up buying all the elements of the costume individually.
For example, last year my boyfriend and I went as Mickey and Minnie mouse. Instead of buying a Minnie costume from the store, I bought a red 50’s style dress and mouse ears off Amazon, borrowed shoes from my mom and did some cute makeup.
I wouldn’t be surprised either if most of you ladies out there did something similar. Even if I was comfortable wearing more revealing clothing, I still wouldn’t because I don’t trust men to respect me or my boundaries if I did experiment more with my style.
Do I wear short dresses? Sure, but around family or friends. Do I wear skirts and tight shirts? Sure, I have no issues wearing those kinds of things around my boyfriend. But not around strangers, especially not on a holiday where partying and drinking are commonplace.
I have lost count of how many court cases I have read where a guy suffers little to no punishment for violence against women because it was the alcohol or because he’s got a bright future.
And even though I know clothing doesn’t make a difference — not statistically — I still can’t bring myself to dress differently because I have had it burned into my mind that clothing does matter. The Washington Post reported, “A Federal Commission on Crime of Violence Study found that just 4.4 percent of all reported rapes involved ‘provocative behavior.'”
So be careful out there this Halloween! Be respectful to one another. And fashion majors, please design better costumes for us. I am tired of having the same problem every year. I don’t want to be a sexy pirate, I am cool just being a pirate.
Last year I was browsing through Instagram and I stumbled upon a post from one of my mom’s friends. It was a picture of her daughter wearing a Halloween costume from Carmen Sandiago. She was ridiculously cute, and who wouldn’t want to be Carmen Sandiego? She’s a badass.
Just one thing though. As far as I know, their family is not Latinx. So is it still cool that this little girl is wearing this costume? Do you feel differently knowing that she’s white than when you did before knowing that information? That’s when I finally learned I have no idea what cultural appropriation is.
Like obviously, don’t do black face. Duh. Being Asian for Halloween is idiotic at best. But how do you toe the line between respecting and appropriating someone’s culture?
Our good friend Google says appropriation is, “The unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society.”
Okay, so don’t be rude. And the more I think about examples that I know to be cultural appropriation, the more I understand. For example, Hijabs, turbans and Native headdresses are all very significant to their culture of origin. As such, they shouldn’t be trivialized or made fun of.
There is also the worry about gentrification. The most prevalent example I can think of is braids or cornrows. I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to have that hairstyle as a white person.
First off, my hair texture is very different from that of a Black person. Second and more importantly, those hair designs are traditionally from people of color. And I don’t want to make a trend out of something that is a part of Black people’s rich culture.
Hair is undoubtedly tied to identity and self-expression. I think Makenna Roy said it best in her opinion piece on this topic when she mentioned, “White women often appropriate Black culture and use it as an accessory and a personality trait. Culture isn’t a personality trait.”
So if you’re not going to be respectful, if you’re not going to learn the roots of what you’re imitating, then simply don’t.
So let’s return to our earlier example. Is it cultural appropriation for that little girl to wear her Carmen Sandiago costume? No, she’s paying homage to one of her heroes. And even though she’s not Latina, I think it’s still beautiful that little girls look up to all kinds of women and heroes, even ones that dont look like them.
But if you don’t know, if you’re not sure, then ask a person of color. Despite my research, I am still not an expert. I am simply a girl out here doing my best to educate myself on these issues. Their voice takes precedence over mine. I don’t want this to be read without being able to lift up the voice of people of color that have written about this issue.
This is just what I have learned. And I just want to impart that upon you.
So don’t be a bad human this Hallowen. Be respectful to women and to people of color.