The Frightening Effects of Sexualizing Women’s Halloween Costumes
Alden Wiygul | Writing Contributor
As a kid, Halloween is the most frightening night of the year when dark things lurk in the shadows. While the expectation stands that Halloween gets less scary as people grow up and get used to the night, for most women it has the opposite effect. Men grow up and have the confidence they can now fight the monsters off. Women grow into adulthood and are confronted with new dangers as they feel pressured by society to wear costumes that sexualize themselves.
While everyone has the right to dress however they want, the costume and media industries have been pushing exclusively sexualized costumes onto women for years. In a study by West Chester University professor Lauri Hyers, 90% of women’s costumes were sexualized while only 11% of men’s are.
Movies written by women set up an expectation that girls, even high schoolers, must dress scantily on Halloween or they will be ridiculed by their peers. Take the 2000’s cult classic “Mean Girls” written by Tina Fey for example. The main antagonist, Regina George, dresses up as a Playboy Bunny, while the protagonist, Cady Heron, has an entire monologue dedicated to how “Halloween is the one day a year when a girl can dress up as a total slut”.
Even if women wanted to shop for regular costumes, it’s almost impossible without getting recommended wild versions, like this Mr. Rogers outfit turned sexy. These costume variants may seem funny at first, but it makes one wonder, “Where are the men’s versions of these ‘sexy’ costumes?”
The portrayal that women can only wear ‘sexy’ costumes is psychologically and systemically damaging. The female costumes created by the industry typically consist of sexualized versions of everyday jobs or even minors. Hence the reason some of the most common costumes are schoolgirls, nurses and police officers.
While in the realm of Halloween, it seems harmless, these costumes have contributed to a lasting effect on women not being able to hold these professions without being constantly sexualized or demeaned. It has led to female police officers or doctors not being taken seriously as society is largely subjected to depictions of them being objectified throughout media. In a report by the American Psychological Association (APA), they found that this type of sexualization has negative effects on cognitive functioning, physical and mental health, sexuality and attitude.
The sexualization gets even worse when it comes to the portrayal of other cultures within Halloween costumes. Companies have just recently started to remove the ability to purchase outfits based on Native American and Japanese culture. It is too late, however, as the sexual mockery of other cultures has cemented its place within America’s stereotypes and biases.
“Please do your research and be sensitive when choosing your Halloween costume,” says Abby Byrd a psychology major at The University of Alabama. “You never know who you will see or what someone is dealing with.”
These issues apply to the entire nation, but they directly affect the good that The University of Alabama has been able to do with its Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) programs. These programs are intended to install equality of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity and nationality at the campus. In October there are multiple events on campus that focus on LGBTQ+ History Month, Italian-American Heritage Month, National Disability Employment Month, mental health, and consent. The Office of DEI at The University of Alabama also has a lesson about cultural appropriation on its website.
Yet, as everyone dresses up for Halloween weekend, hundreds of students will come back to classes irrevocably damaged by the societal expectations of Halloween costumes.
Halloween is a time for celebration, there is no place for the real-life things that go bump in the night, like culturally inappropriate or sexually offensive costumes. Before going out, be aware of the dangers and stay conscious of the choices being made. Fright night is a lot less exciting when its tricks stick around for months afterward.
Alden Wiygul currently serves as a contributing writer. She is a senior double majoring in psychology and criminal justice. Originally from Columbus, Mississippi, she loves to read, write, crochet, and knit. She is looking forward to writing for Alice and hopes to bring more female voices into male-dominated conversations.