Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Scared Shift-less?

Last week, Julian found this risible op-ed in the New York Times about how sexy costumes are ruining the family-friendly character of Halloween. Julian’s sarcastalicious reply letter said, among other things:
I'm sure the glob of clay little Timmy brought back from nursery school, with "Worldz Graytest Mom" scrawled on it, is an exceptional piece of art, but it confers no special rights. It entitles you to no special authority over the direction of American culture. It does not obligate the rest of us to water down our entertainment in order to spare you the burden of cracking the manual on the cable box that came with all those terrible, filthy channels you're paying $40 a month for. It certainly doesn't require us to defer to your judgment about which occasions are "family holidays" to be celebrated in whatever manner you're comfortable with. There is, I realize, the risk that the instant they're old enough to stop brunching at your nipple, your precious tots will be scarred for life by the sight of a bit of cleavage, but I feel confident they'll recover somehow.
So I’d been chuckling about that passage for several days, and planning to link to it eventually but never getting around to it. And then what should appear in the O.C. Register but another article denouncing the same trend! And how’s this for irony: while the reliably-left-wing Times included an op-ed decrying the trend on family-values grounds, the reliably-right-wing Register included an article decrying the same trend on feminist grounds. I would say this constitutes further evidence for the theory that editorial page editors choose their guest writers to make their ideological opposites look like dopes, except the Register article appears in the “Life” section.

To the author’s credit, she doesn’t actually espouse the feminist line herself, but she does let a women’s studies prof speak authoritatively without the barest hint of dissent:
"Looking sexy is now considered normal, feminine behavior for a woman, so on a day like Halloween, women will take it as creative license to wear revealing clothing and no one can call them a tramp that day," said Donna Gough, an assistant professor of women's studies at Cal State Fullerton. "And for men, it's a day where they can openly stare at and drool over women in such attire without being called a chauvinist pig." … "The message being sent for a woman is that you have to wear these costumes to fit in and be normal and be considered attractive and appealing to men," said Gough.
That’s right – all those women wearing French maid uniforms and scanty cavewoman skins have been pressured into it by our chauvinistic culture. Of course, most women I see in such outfits seem positively giddy about it, but I suppose that’s just false consciousness.

How exactly did the sexification of Halloween occur? I must have missed the meeting where the boys all got together and hatched their dastardly scheme to overstock the costume shops with slinky stuff. Or maybe it was a decentralized process – probably one of those zero-sum status-seeking games I’ve been hearing about. Women who dress up sexy make other women look frumpier by comparison, so they have to sex it up too, and pretty soon they’re all shivering at outdoor Halloween parties without having gained any relative advantage. I suppose Robert Frank would recommend a bare-skin tax. I recommend throwing a big shapeless sheet over your head and going as a ghost. Then you can either cut out eyeholes (if you want to see) or go eyehole-free (to protect your corneas from being seared by the sight of skin).

(All right, I can’t out-snark Julian, but I sure can try.)


Kevin B. O'Reilly said...

What if, five years from now, "stuffing the turkey on Thanksgiving" became popular parlance for pre-family meal adult fun? And Thanksgiving-themed sex toys were put on sale right next to the paper cut-out turkey centerpieces?

What if gay pride parades, in a bid for mainstream acceptability and marriage rights, began banning flamboyant displays of homosexuality?

Would it be OK with you and Julian if people complained then? That's all they're doing, right? I haven't seen anyone actually propose a bare-skin tax.

If the whole point of a holiday is for people to share customs year after year, it seems natural that people will complain when those customs are suddenly and drastically altered. It's not something *I* would whine about, but this counter-whining campaign is nearly as obnoxious.

Glen Whitman said...

If they were putting giant dildos next to the turkey basters, I think you'd have a point. But that is miles away from what we're talking about here. By and large, people are wearing these sexy costumes at adult parties, not donning them to hand out candy to trick-or-treaters. And besides, while the outfits are skimpy, they generally don't involve the actual baring of breasts or genitalia. So even if kids are exposed to them, it's not that big a deal. Some people dress that way every day.

As for shared customs, I reject the notion that traditions must be uniform across society. There probably are people out there who have B&D-themed Thanksgivings, and the thought of such people doesn't ruin Thanksgiving for me. People who don't like the sexy costumes at Halloween should be more selective about the parties they attend.

dgm said...

Please! There have always been women who use Halloween as a day of sexification, just as there have always been men who take advantage of the day to dress as women and/or ogle the scantily clad.

The troubling part is how much Halloween has been sexed up for tweens (but probably no more so than pop culture and tween clothing the rest of the year.)

Anonymous said...

My thoughts that really do nothing to support anyone one way or the other:
-I went to Party City with my friends so I could find a mustache (yes, a mustache, which I am wearing with a slip--sexy? I don't know) and I noted all the sexy outfits. I don't care that there are sexy outfits because like Glen said, it's not like those are the outfits my mom is going to wear to hand candy to the children. And those kids' mothers aren't wearing them either. What bothers me is the complete un-originality of them. A referee? So what? Alice in Wonderland? Big deal. Those don't make any sense--those things are not sexy. If you want to be sexy, put some thought into it to figure out something that IS inherently sexy and go as that. Not as something you scrounged up and then put thigh highs and pushup bras with. Go as lady godiva or something where it makes sense to be nearly naked.
-It doesn't matter what you wear anyway. I think I got as many ogling looks when I was dressed as a shower loofah as when I was dressed as a dominatrix. I expected it with the second one, but even the first one I got guys rubbing all over me, yelling "loofah me, loofah me!" Eh. It's Halloween. These people should spend more time being angry over the dumbass, costume-less 17yr olds that come to the door, holding out a duffel bag, mumbling what sounds like "trick-or-treat" at 11:30pm.