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In the spirit of Halloween, Bianka Farmakis has decided to conduct a social experiment. She’d dress both conservatively and provocatively, and record the results.
In the week leading to Halloween, I was asked three questions by friends and loved ones alike:
- What are we doing?
- What are we drinking?
- How slutty are you dressing?
Halloween, a pseudo holiday, once typified by confectionary consumption and gothic decorations, has transgressed into a platform for exhibitionists and perverts alike to congregate and observe the parade of scantily clad provocateurs.
Though a holiday manifested through exaggerating the ‘darker’ side of life, with ghouls, ghosts and guts galore, it seems as though, when it comes to dressing up for Halloween, women fall into either a “Virgin” or “Whore” classification, a disposition predetermined by online retailers advertising their costumes with a prefix of ‘sexy’ or ‘classic’.
In essence, the 2005 film “Mean Girls” summed it up: “Halloween is the one night in a year a girl can dress like a total slut and no other girls can say anything about it”.
A Google search of “Female Halloween Costumes” returned links to several reputable store brands, all of which either use a specific category of ‘adult’ or ‘sexy’ to describe the costumes for women available. A similar search for male costumes lacks this sexual specificity.
As a child, I was always avoided dressing like the latest Disney princess, instead opting to be Spiderman and Po from the teletubbies (over several consecutive years).
It was this reflection that inspired the basis of the following social experiment.
With Halloween themed events occurring over the past week, I took the opportunity to see the differences between female and male perspectives when dressing up. To put it bluntly, I wore one ‘sexy’ outfit, and one classic costume.
October 22nd, Halloween Cruise: Sexy Vampire.
Accompanied by a friend dressed equally as provocative, we strode through Sydney’s central business district at 6pm, gaining wid- eyed gawks from suit clad men who were embarking on a commute home to their (most likely) conservative lives. We stood out obviously, cleavage and legs covered only by a thin veil of fake blood and lycra, and though the attention was extensive on our way to the event, it was upon arrival we saw three things:
- Girls who looked like us
- Guys who looked at girls dressed like us
- Girls who didn’t look like us (and got ignored)
There was every kind of costume there from sexy witch, to sexy nurse, to sexy cat, to sexy nun and so on and so forth.
The night’s festivities ensued. The next day I discussed what happened with my accomplice for the night, “LC”, a psychology major and low key feminist. When asked about whether Halloween was a time for women to dress provocatively, she immediately said yes, “It’s my right to dress however I want – I’ve never felt pressured to dress a certain way because I’m a woman.”
“Halloween is a time to wear things you normally wouldn’t so why shouldn’t I take that chance.”
Continuing with the discussion, we explored the paradox of Halloween. In some ways we were exhibited as sexual beings, stripped down and possibly only gaining male attention over other girls at the event because of the depth of our necklines.
But in others, it was an incredibly empowering right.
“I feel pretty in control with men and women alike, whether dressed in sweat pants or ‘slutty’ costumes.” LC continued.
“At Halloween I can wear things that might not normally be socially accepted, and honestly guys should too. It’s entertaining at the end of the day.” We laughed, recalling two men dressed as sexy French maids.
I met with Vice President of the National Council of Women of Australia, Annie Kiefer to further explore the sexualisation of women at Halloween.
“Dressing provocatively, during the teenage years, is a rite of passage for some girls. To dress up, or down however you’d like to phrase it, is pretty much like a ‘why not’ mentality.”
“Men do it in different ways, and it is a large component of exploring gender and sexuality” she concluded.
October 28th, Halloween Party: A Ghost.
Looking for the most gender neutral, sexually ambiguous costume, I opted for a Halloween classic: a bed sheet with two eye holes cut out.
Safe to say, neither my identity nor my personality were bothered with dressed in this outfit as male attention steered clear. It was a night of dancing, solitary drinking and zero conversation other than; “Who is that guy dressed as a ghost?”
The assumption of my gender was interesting. With no skin on display, I was instantly assumed to be male.
God forbid anyone thought I just wanted to be a ghost.
Male Halloweener, “MM” gave his personal insights on the sexualisation of women at Halloween time.
Though he admitted to enjoying the provocative spectacle, as a sensitive individual, he maintained it was wrong to strip women (pardon the pun) purely down to their sexuality, even if only for one night of the year.
“I think it’s wrong to suddenly suspend feminist ideals and respect for women just because it’s Halloween. It’s arbitrary to the occasion and what should be celebrated anyway.” he stated. “We all want candy, doesn’t mean you grab extra because it’s Halloween”
MM continued “It’s as if feminism dies at Halloween. Either that or men aren’t regarded as sexy as women. I don’t know what’s more insulting really.”
Gender Studies Associate Professor of the University of Sydney Ruth Barcan, (an expert on the development of the male gaze in contemporary society) commented on its prevalence during the festive season.
“Fancy dress, because it is explicitly a form of play, licenses people of both genders to experiment with dress, including (but not only) in its sexual dimensions. It legitimates forms of response, conversation, banter and behaviour that wouldn’t necessarily be countenanced in other circumstances”.
Upon sharing my contrasting experiences with her, Ms Barcan agreed Halloween “accords some license to particular ways of gazing – but not only for men”.
Ms Barcan argued that the focus on the sexualisation of female costumes over male remains tied to conventional constructs of gender, drawing on how perceived images of men and women has fuelled a ‘ready-made’ artificial industry of costume making that conforms to these easy and recognisable categories.
Ms Barcan concluded the discussion by arguing there is a balance between women being sexualised and actively sexualising themselves, highlighting “I think a feminist would say it is always a woman’s right to dress how she chooses! It’s less a question of rights and more a question of the differing social consequences of dressing erotically for different women in particular circumstances.”
“It’s probably fair to say that there is less social stigma attached to dressing erotically at publically sanctioned celebrations like Halloween than in other circumstances.”
So, whether you’re a sexy witch, feminist bitch, or somewhere in between, there’s some candy for thought.