News Colette Browne

Monday 15 September 2014

Colette Brown: Sexy Halloween women's outfits are scary – but not in a good way

Published 30/10/2013 | 01:55

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Picture posed by model

If you are female and are dressing up for Halloween tomorrow night, there's a high probability that I can describe your costume in one word: sexy.

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Sexiness may not be very scary, but that's no longer the point of women's costumes. Their only function is to titillate.

Check the catalogue of any costume shop in the country and you could be forgiven for thinking that you had inadvertently stumbled across a Disney-themed fetish site.

Women's choices run the gamut from sexy pirate to sexy witch to sexy soldier.

In truth, the only scary thing about most of these tawdry costumes is how flammable they all look.

Admittedly, when it comes to the intractable gender issues of our time, Halloween costumes are pretty low down on the list.

However, the irritating thing about their proliferation is how ubiquitous these coquettish costumes have become.

Increasingly, if you don't want to prance about in the depths of winter looking like an extra in a low-rent porn movie, or at serious risk of hypothermia, you'll have to make your own costume.

You'll certainly have a hard time buying one online from Halloween costume websites featuring page after page of asinine ensembles with names inspired by 'Nuts' magazine, like "hot pants hero" or "swashbuckling babe".

The only tacit acknowledgment of the existence of the feminist movement on most of these sites is the inclusion of a sexy "40s lady naval officer" costume alongside their sexy "flirty sailor" outfit.

Not exactly what our feminist forebears had in mind when they set out to shatter that glass ceiling all those years ago.

If you were wondering why it increasingly seems like Hugh Hefner is designing women's Halloween costumes, the answer is that it is apparently empowering to wear these skimpy outfits.

"Classic sexy costumes are empowering and make a woman feel confident, wild and even a little bit naughty," claims one American retailer.

Really? In my naivety, I thought female empowerment was inextricably linked with overcoming centuries of discrimination and attaining social, economic and political equality. If trussing oneself up like a BDSM Bo Peep is now the epitome of female empowerment, then the word has clearly lost all meaning.

Before I'm accused of slut shaming, it should of course be noted that women have the right to dress in whatever way they want. That goes without saying. But it should also be possible to divorce the issue from women's individual appearances and have a debate about the broader implications of a worrying trend that has seen a porn aesthetic seep into popular culture.

Instead of criticising women who dress in an overtly sexual way, it is legitimate to question why so many are doing so.

This is a fractious subject in feminist circles, where some dub any autonomous decision of a woman as inherently feminist and any criticism as a patriarchal personal attack. These are the so-called choice feminists who champion any decision of a woman as empowering, no matter what that decision is.

Decide to run for political office? You're empowered. Work as a prostitute? You're empowered. Dress like a sexy nurse for Halloween? You're empowered.

The problem with this church of choice is that it quickly becomes impossible to question anything. Choices are not made in a vacuum and are influenced by, among other things, class, education and popular culture.

So, for example, it's all very well for middle-class feminists to describe themselves as "sex positive" and staunchly vindicate a woman's decision to work in the sex industry. But their defence rings hollow because they are very unlikely to ever find themselves confronted with making that decision.

Fifty years ago, in her seminal book 'The Feminine Mystique', Betty Friedan wrote that the "personal is political" – that it was impossible to speak about personal choice without acknowledging the societal strictures that constrain those choices. Today, regrettably, this fundamental connection between the personal and the political is in danger of being lost because of an erroneous assumption that the women's movement has achieved its aims.

It is possible to dismiss the preponderance of hyper-sexualised Halloween costumes as insignificant, nothing more than a personal sartorial choice, or to view it as a symptom of a deeper societal malaise in which women have unconsciously co-opted the misogynistic imagery that bombards them every day from billboards, magazines and other media.

Ascribing every choice a woman makes to female empowerment sounds great but, it seems to me, lofty notions of empowerment are being used as a marketing elixir to sell tawdry products.

Irish Independent

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