Society and Culture
Employed Women Are Not Halloween Costumes
Halloween is right around the corner, so it’s time for an annual public service announcement: women’s Halloween costumes are incredibly sexist. The costumes hanging in the aisles of Party City reflect a set of stereotypes that women are sorted into without their consent. Unfortunately, categorizing women in narrow and reductive terms doesn’t end at midnight on October 31st–it is a reality of gender inequality in the workforce year-round.
Consider just how many Halloween costumes reflect prejudices women face on the job every day: women who are focused on their work and don’t “let loose” are ice queens, women who are aggressive when pursuing their tasks are ball busters, and women who demand respect in the workplace are witches. A man with these same patterns of behavior is considered a leader with the potential to succeed in the corporate hierarchy. A man with this behavior is never reduced into any stereotype that can be recreated with polyester and tin foil for trick-or-treating. If there is a Halloween costume that mocks being a hard working male in the corporate environment, I have yet to find it–but a single Google search turns up two dozen different sexy secretary costumes and many a college campus this Halloween will host a “CEOs and Office Hoes” themed party. There are dozens of Halloween costumes that will send feminists reeling from their local shopping centers this October, but perhaps the most offensive is dressing as a “sexy businesswoman.”
A majority of mass-produced Halloween costumes are offensive, but these are truly disturbing because they reveal latent prejudices within our national mentality. In 2015, when there are two female candidates for President of the United States, when there have been positive strides to close the wage gap, when women are feeling more optimistic about their futures in the workplace–being a competent, gainfully employed woman is still a costume? For most women, dressing up to go to work is the way they support themselves and their families, not a fun fashion statement for a party. Halloween is supposed to be an escape from reality that lets us celebrate kooky, amusing characters–being a woman in the workforce should never be considered “amusing.” Women should feel beautiful, confident and empowered when they get dressed for work. When we turn workplace attire into a costume, we take that power away from women, making them feel like they are dressing up as clowns instead of competent workers. In a work environment where women are constantly ignored, belittled and even threatened, they should at the very least feel comfortable in their own clothes.
Beginning in 2011 at Ohio University, the phrase “we’re a culture, not a costume” has been utilized to protest racist Halloween costumes that trivialize the cultures of African-Americans, Native Americans, and Mexicans, as well as others. The campaign caught on relatively quickly and a call to reform Halloween costumes was taken up by a variety of media outlets—including Buzzfeed, which recently produced a set of videos illustrating how offensive these costumes can be. In keeping with the historic tradition of intersectionality between racial equality campaigns and women’s equality movements, this Halloween, I think that the campaign could be extended further–“we’re 50 percent of the population, not a costume”.
Ask a child in your family why Halloween is fun. There’s the candy, getting to stay up late, getting to play games at school–but above all, it is the costume that makes the day special. As we reach our teens and twenties, Halloween becomes more sexualized and wild but we should never forget that Halloween is ultimately a holiday for children. If you teach a little girl that dressing up in business casual is just as ludicrous as dressing up as a fairy princess, what are you teaching her about the opportunities waiting for her in the world?