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Halloween is no longer a holiday of ghosts and witches. Instead, we have created a holiday for hoes and betches. The astute observer will notice that come the 31st of October, while the boys on our campus choose something snarky, stupid, or just plain Snooki, a large portion of Brown’s female population uses Halloween to expose as much skin as possible.
Some people think this is a terrific trend toward gender equality. It’s all about choice, say pop culture feminists like Jessica Valenti, author of The Purity Myth: How America’s Obsession with Virginity is Hurting Young Women (2010). Valenti opposes what she calls the “moral panic” over casual sex and open sexuality. If my roommate feels empowered in a Sexy Cop outfit, then let her be! Embracing her choice brings us closer to a more equal world. Work it, ladies!
Others disagree. Conservative bloggers like Susan Walsh argue that young women are actually doing themselves more harm than good by leaving their dorms in outfits only appropriate for the bedroom. These authors begin with the assumption that all women my age want to be in long-term committed relationships. (For a hilariously scary post, check out Susan Walsh’s blog – bottom line: if you don’t have a boyfriend, you’re a huge failure.) By dressing to imitate porn stars, say these conservative women, we are letting men write the rules by giving them what they’ve demanded for millennia – sex without commitment.
I’m not so sure about either of these arguments.
On the one hand, I don’t see much danger in dressing like a Sexy Duck if that’s what you want. It may not spell “girlfriend material” in bright lights – but it might! And who says you are looking to be anyone’s girlfriend, after all? Plus, if a guy is going to judge you for how you dress, then you don’t want to date him anyway.
On the other hand, I don’t see Sexy Costumes as particularly empowering, either. As a woman who very much enjoys good sex, I applaud the progress we have made towards a more egalitarian society in the past fifty years. A Brown student in 2011 can freely express her sexuality in a way that she could not in 1960 – not to mention that there were no female Brown students in 1960, only Pembroke gals. Still, I have a hard time seeing how dressing as a Sexy Toaster brings a woman much sexual pleasure.
A third set of writers brings up this question as well. As journalist Ariel Levy argues in Female Chauvinist Pigs (2005), today’s “raunch culture” – as witnessed by the rise of Girls Gone Wild and porn-star Halloween costumes – presents both an improvement and a challenge to women’s open sexuality. Take the case of Halloween costumes. On the one hand, women can wear whatever they want without being punished or excluded. Conversely by putting on a skin-tight costume, young women appear less concerned with their own pleasure and more concerned about being recognized as “sexy” by the male gaze.
I also feel ambivalent as I scan the dance floors at Halloween campus parties. Yes, I see a lot of great cleavage exposure and many boner-inducing outfits. The girls do look sexy, indeed. But I also sense anxiety on the part of the girls, as they look around and hope that a guy is looking at them, wanting them. Although the women look sexy, they cannot feel sexy unless they have the assurance that a man is desiring them. Is that empowerment? It’s not a healthy way to approach sexuality.
So what to do? Well, for one, ignore the bullshit advice about bagging a man. Those conservative authors are just mad that they’re not getting laid – so in turn, they have to make girls who do get laid feel badly about themselves. If you want to wear a sexy outfit, then go for it. News flash: a guy can dump you just as easily if you dress like a nun or a sexy nun.
But if you do decide to dress sexy, make sure you’re dressing sexy for the right reasons. Don’t do it because you are hoping to attract attention. Because once you do get this attention, then what? You’re happy for a bit until you’re unhappy again. At the end of the day, “sexy” is all about how you feel on the inside. The only way to keep feeling good about your body and your sex life is to emanate that sense of hotness from within.
We can’t let others write the rules of our sex lives. If you only feel sexy because a man is looking at you, then you’ll need to do some deep digging about why. Because, honey, you are desirable. You are desirable on Halloween – dressed “sexy” or any other way. You are desirable on days other than Halloween, too. You don’t need to be in costume to get attention. And you don’t need to get attention to be sexy. You are sexy. And once you know it, then it won’t matter what you are dressed as, _(insert random noun here)_ or Sexy _(same random noun)_.