Arn't I A Woman?: The Halloween Trap: Women, Halloween, and the Image Police



Nov 9, 2014

The Halloween Trap: Women, Halloween, and the Image Police

by Jessie Feigert and Laura Sweat

Femininity and sexuality are fundamentally policed in our society, and there’s no time of year when this is more obvious than on Halloween. Women experience Halloween as a day of concentrated misogyny, representing the opportunity for men to sexualize us, and then bash and ridicule us for this very sexualization. Realizing that this misogyny manifests itself in a multitude of ways for women, we wanted to open up a dialogue of our personal experiences which recognize the no-win situation women are placed in on this holiday. Both of us experienced a response to our images being policed; and the following is a conversation about it.

Jessie: I love Halloween. It’s my favorite holiday- candy, costumes, and Monster Mash?? Yes, please! Halloween is symbolic for people; it’s the one day of the year you get to become someone else with little to no repercussions. For one day- if you choose- you can strip yourself of labels imposed both internally and externally; this feels very freeing to me. But it never fails that every year I find myself silently cringing when I think of the upcoming onslaught of objectification of the female body the holiday inevitably brings.
This past Halloween occurred during my first semester of grad school. Anyone who has gone through the grad process knows that after the first week, you start showing up to class in sweats and a messy bun, no make-up on (if I was chillin Drake would love me) and generally look your worst. Know why? Cause sometimes-even for women- THERE ARE MORE IMPORTANT THINGS TO DO THAN FOCUS ON HOW WE LOOK.

Laura: Two days before Halloween this year, I still hadn't figured out a costume, and one of my friends suggested we go together in drag. He wanted to do it to cheer up his boyfriend, who was playing a show that night in drag himself, and I thought it was a really sweet idea--except that I just really did not want to go to that show dressed as a dude.
So I thought: I'll be a faux queen. I will just femme it up ridiculously. It will be silly and confusing and no one will know what I'm supposed to be. Which is right on target for me and Halloween costumes.
I went to the store and picked out a wig. It was two shades of hot pink--darker at the top and lighter at the tips. It made me think of My Little Pony and Jem. I bought some fake eyelashes to go with it, which had feathers in them.
When I got home, I had a few hours before I was supposed to meet some people at a bar. So I fucked around with my make-up--made it dramatic and sparkly--and tried on the wig.
I was transformed.
I took a bunch of selfies. I sent this text to my friend.

Then I took off the wig, tried to clean some of the sparkly stuff off my face and went to the bar. One of my friends said, “Wow, you’re in a really good mood! What happened?”
And I said, “I just bought a wig!”
For reference, here is another selfie I took recently.


Laura: Recently I have discovered how to feel attractive on my own terms; to look in the mirror and think, “I look hot!” without anyone having to tell me that. I’ve realized that there are people who like my body the way it is, and aren’t wishing I’d lose 20 pounds--that in fact, I don’t have to wait to have a body that fits an ideal to feel hot.  This newfound ability to get out of all the shitty things I’m saying to myself about how not-good-enough I am and actually notice when someone is (politely) checking me out feels like a super power or something. And I wanted to feel a little hot on Halloween.

Jessie: This year Halloween was the one night I didn't have class or homework and had a night off; I didn't have to feel like a frumpy mess, and I could dress up and put on a wig and have fun. I didn't have any time to plan a costume, so a friend and I went to a wig store and put on some colorful makeup; I dressed in an all black outfit: literally black pants, a black jacket, and black combat boots. But this new form of slut shaming still finds a way to make women feel objectified even without their dressing provocatively. Now if you are a woman and you dress in a non-scary outfit on Halloween, you are subject to just as much ridicule as if you were wearing a bikini to church. The implications of this become ridiculous when put in the context of a society that practically mandates women to care about what they look like the other 364 days out of the year.

Jessie: This was the comment I woke up to the day after Halloween. “Drunkrockerguy” is not a friend of mine on IG or anywhere else. He sought out my picture and left this comment for me- a stranger- for the sole fact of making me feel shitty, explicitly for how I look. If this was an isolated incident I could chalk it up to him being some dumb chump, but unfortunately these dumb chumps are everywhere- in fact, they’re running our country. You may not look at this and think “wow, agent of the patriarchy”, but that’s exactly what this is.
Some guy thinking he has the right to comment negatively on how I choose to look reinforces the idea that society has the right to control me, my body, how I choose to look in specific situations, and punish me if I don’t adhere to their rules. The ultimate belief here is that my appearance is an object that represents me, so of course people can tear my appearance down- objects don’t have feelings. I am an abstraction.
I used to be very, very insecure about what I look like, and a comment like this could have sent me into a really dangerous place. This is where feminist literature has really saved me in many ways. The fact that someone would try to reduce me to a pretty face and a pair of uggs is dehumanizing.

Laura: We know there are real-world consequences for not complying with femininity. As a woman, your social value and status are tied up with being hot. You can choose not to chase that—and there’s a lot of freedom in not chasing it—but along with that freedom, you get to become invisible and less valuable in a culture that still values you primarily as a decoration.  
Or worse, you become super visible and people are constantly, violently trying to correct you. Stop shaving your legs and watch how much meaner those cat calls get in the summer.

Jessie: We constantly hear sexist remarks disguised as humor the weeks before Halloween: “lol those stupid girls wanna dress as sluts for Halloween, so pathetic.” I don’t just hear this from typical anti-woman creeps, but from so called “progressive” individuals. Last Halloween I read a facebook status from a guy I briefly dated. We have mutual friends and he fucks with the independent scene here in Atlanta which (in theory at least) is somewhat anti-sexist. He made some post about “lol Halloween sluts” and the post got well over 50 likes, some by people I know. A bro in punk’s clothing. There’s a lot of them. Women as well attach themselves to this idea that a woman who chooses to wear an outfit that makes her feel sexy on Halloween needs to be shamed. It is pervasive.

Jessie: In her 2006 study looking at the female body experience, Stacy Sinclair discovers: “Part of the experience of being a woman, particularly in Western cultures, is being looked at and evaluated by others.” Later she cites the definition of objectification as “separating out a person's body parts or sexual functions from the rest of her identity and reducing them to the status of mere instruments or regarding them as if they were capable of representing her.” Sinclair further states that women internalize this objectification and start viewing their own bodies as objects.

Laura: My gender identity is pretty feminine, which makes some things a lot easier for me. I naturally project what’s expected of me as a woman most of the time, without having to try and while feeling like myself. Enthusiastically embracing femininity–that is, complying with it—is obviously helpful in a lot of situations. For example, studies have shown that women are perceived as more professional when they wear make-up. And when your social status is linked to how hot you are, as it is for all women, it’s helpful to comply as much as possible when you want to be perceived as cool, or even as powerful.
But girl, you better walk that line very carefully, because femininity is so devalued in our culture. Go too far with femininity—embrace it too much—and you will be perceived as being silly, stupid, vain and childish.
Go just far enough with femininity to be fuckable—don’t go far enough to make it seem like you’re actually into it.
Be the hot girl who eats a steak enthusiastically. Don’t be the hot girl who’s a princess. Princesses are always demanding things.

Jessie: The act of objectifying women has literally become normalized in society. But just because a pathologized thinking has become normalized does NOT mean it’s ok, acceptable, or healthy. And we should ask ourselves, who is gaining what from objectifying women?
Look, I don’t want to make Halloween political. It shouldn’t have to be. But if we’re gonna “slut shame” (pretty shame?)  women for wanting to express themselves sexually and aesthetically on a fucking holiday we’re gonna have to really break this one wide open to see the underlying issues of objectification and the policing of women’s bodies and appearances that undermine our society if we want to be truthful about what this shaming really means and where it comes from.

Laura: It is the fact that this shit is so fucked up—that the line is so impossible to actually stand on—that makes going super-glitter-lipstick-and-fairy-wings-femme so goddamn liberating for a person who likes that stuff. Can you separate it entirely from enforced compliance with femininity in patriarchy? No, you can’t. But it’s a hell of a lot less constricting than trying to wear just enough make-up for clueless dudes to think you don’t wear it, or trying to find a dress that makes your boobs look good but still makes you look kind of chill and laid back, so that you’re fuckable without bothering anyone.
It’s so much better to be fuckable while bothering everyone.

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Sojourner Truth

Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that 'twixt the negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what's all this here talking about?

That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain't I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man - when I could get it - and bear the lash as well! And ain't I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain't I a woman?

Then they talk about this thing in the head; what's this they call it? [member of audience whispers, "intellect"] That's it, honey. What's that got to do with women's rights or negroes' rights? If my cup won't hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn't you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?

Then that little man in black there, he says women can't have as much rights as men, 'cause Christ wasn't a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.

If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back , and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.

Obliged to you for hearing me, and now old Sojourner ain't got nothing more to say.

Sojourner Truth

Delivered 1851 at the Women's Convention

Akron, Ohio