It's the week before Halloween and Erin and Liz are here to help you avoid costume faux-pas by spelling out costumes that are problematic and why in their ranked listicle. Problematic rating scale goes from 1-3. 1 - you're in the clear, 2 - give that some thought, homie, and 3 - what the f*$@k were you thinking?!
Erin: Halloween is neigh, and you know what that means: everyone is clamoring to dress up and be someone they are not. I love Halloween for this reason - the chance to trade in your ordinary, daily dress in favor for something new. I love to dress up as my favorite female movie characters: I've been Dr. Jo Harding from Twister, Tonks from Harry Potter, and I've got big plans for a Buffy costume this year. But dressing up for Halloween doesn't mean getting a pass at being a dick, culturally appropriating others, or orchestrating a costume in poor taste. Enter "That's....Problematic" a listcle with 5 ranked costumes and details on why they're problematic and how. We aren't fashion experts, we aren't the authority on what you wear or what you do, we're just two ladies with sparkling, illuminating opinions.
Liz: I've never been great at dressing up for Halloween. I remember I once wore my mom's clothing from the 60's and went as a "Hippie". I was and still am very partial to the old school costumes you could buy in the grocery store that were plastic and had those masks that got so hot it felt like your face would melt off. I was Alf one year, and I'm pretty sure that was the year I decided to go nude underneath my costume. I didn't understand underwear was necessary, and I was 8. So, not really a good excuse. Later in my life I sort of stopped dressing up because I'm lazy and really like to lay on my couch, but the last time I actually dressed up, like really dressed up, I was Lucy Ricardo from "I Love Lucy". I loved that costume. But, that was about 12 years ago, and ever since then I have fantasies about dressing up, but for the most part, that takes effort and that's hard for me. But, Erin knows I like to discuss things which are problematic, so I'm definitely going to tell you what I think about these costumes.
Costume No. 1: Everything is Sexy
Erin: I chose this costume because it's complicated for me. I'm a body/sex positivist, if you want to flaunt your stuff, regardless of sex or gender, I believe you are entitled to your self-expression, and that self-expression shouldn't come with the conditions of being stigmatized, objectified, or worse, sexually assaulted. However, we don't live in a perfect world, and more importantly, we live in a very complicated world; one where we use sex to sell anything from burgers to cars, yet, we don't want to actually talk about sex in any kind of public setting. Our contradictory messaging and perceptions around sex and sexuality make analyses like this all the more difficult. I can, however, tell you that from the research I've done, it is far easier to find a sexy plumber, nurse, carpenter, teacher, maid, basically you name it, costume for womyn, than it was for men. When I looked up "sexy plumber Halloween costumes for men" and this is what I got:
So to conclude, I'd give this one a 1.5 - you're in the clear, but, society isn't. I'm looking at you, patriarchy.
Liz: I'm totally cool with people wanting to flaunt what they've got. I'm fine with people showing skin, and wearing skimpy clothing, but it is a problem in the sense that these costumes for women are pretty much all that we are offered. You can be a nurse, but you have to be a "Sexy" nurse. Or, you can be a police officer, but you've got to be a "Sexy" police officer. The idea that womyn only have the option to dress up as something sexy is hard because we are all more than that. And, also, this "Sexy Plumber" for the man is interesting, isn't it? Womyn can only be sexy if they're showing skin, but this guy is totally covered up and that's "sexy"? Seriously, this guy needs his pants hemmed and a proper fit on those overalls. What are they trying to tell me? I'm super confused. I want to be more than merely a "sexy" something, and if a man can dress up as a "plumber" and wear the baggiest costume of all time, then damnit, I want to wear that as well!
I'm gonna go ahead and give this one a 1.5. It's just super, super annoying, but it's not entirely offensive.
Costume No. 2 The "Super Racist" Costume
Liz: Okay, so if you don't understand this photo, I'll break it down for you. There's a guy, wearing a bloody hoodie, in blackface. He's being "stuck up" by a guy in a Neighborhood Watch t-shirt. Clearly, this is supposed to be Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman. This isn't problematic, this is downright disgusting. The idea that someone would think the death of a young man is good for a Halloween costume is sick, plain and simple. Not to mention throwing on black face paint, which is "black face" and assuming people would think it's funny. Nothing about this costume is funny, amusing or clever. The problem here is where did they leave their humanity? This is definitely a 3.
Erin: This one is clearly a 3 - if you need us to describe why this is problematic, believe me, we are going to need some back up. You follow up quickly to say, "it was a joke! It's all in good fun!" To which I reply, think about if it was your family member or loved one. Still funny?
Costume No. 4 The Clueless Tribute. Also, Yes, That's Racist.
Liz: Ahhh yes. Here's what is supposed to be an "homage" or a "tribute" to Orange Is The New Black's "Suzanne" (I'm not calling her Crazy Eyes). This is Julianne Hough, a dancer/singer/actress, and yes, this is a costume. That she wore. In public. If you'll notice, Julianne has darkened her skin a lot because Suzanne is a woman of color, so I'm assuming she wanted to really "get it right"? I called out black face above, and I guess I need to do it again? Friends don't let friends go out on Halloween in black face. Period. It's not funny, it's not cute, and it's most definitely offensive. Someone's skin color is NOT a costume, and people don't get to walk around pretending for a night. Straight up: this is problematic. And troubling. And, frankly, annoying. This picture is from a few years ago, but get it together people. Being a person of color is not a costume. Period.I'm going to go ahead and give this a 3 because people don't get to be ignorant like this.
Erin: Imitation is the greatest form of flattery, no? NERP. I'll give this one a 2 - there's nothing wrong with paying tribute, but, there's also no need to throw on face paint in order to appear to be the same ethnicity as the character you are portraying.
Costume No. 4 The Cultural Appropriator
Erin: This should look pretty familiar to you, every Halloween there's an onslaught of people dressing up in garbs representative of other cultures. Why is this problematic? Because these cultures aren't for play or performance, they are cultures. Dress and clothing hold significant value and purpose within individual cultures. When you don that cheap mass-produces serape for your costume, are you aware that the real deal are painstakingly handwoven from a loom? Also, we have the clear overlap of "sexy" everything in this example with the costumes for womyn. I mean, c'mon guys. This one gets a 3!
Liz: No, just stop. Being a Native American for Halloween? Or a "Mexican"? No. Wearing a kimono on Oct. 31st? Please, stop. Those aren't costumes, they are someone's culture. You don't get to put on someone's culture one day out of the year and think it's going to make people laugh or amuse someone. No, this gets a 3.
Costume No. 5: Who Says I Can't Wear That?
Erin: Costumes are a great way to analyze social expectations on gender and sex. It's not by coincidence that all the costumes for adult womyn are hyper sexualized and the primary costumes marketed to young girls at stores are pink, come in an assortment of princess-like options, or, if they are "neutral" they fall under the "cute animal or object" category - oh, look at that adorable pumpkin! Please note: no one is saying these costumes are problematic. Please continue to dress your small children in a variety of dog, cat, pumpkin, and bumblebee costumes, kthx. Why can't boys dress up like Wonder Woman, or Bat Girl?
Liz: Let kids be kids, people. If kids wants to wear a Batman costume, and the kid happens to be a girl, let her wear it. Don't ask if she wants to wear a "girls costume" because Batman can be a girls costume. She's a girl. Wearing a Batman costume, hence, it's a girl's costume. Let's not put those expectations on kids who want to dress up on Halloween and have fun. It's not a big deal. If kids want to dress up as a character that is, perhaps, the opposite of the gender they present as, who cares? Let them enjoy it.