To be scary or to be funny … or sexy? These are the questions. Halloween is here and if you’re like me, you’ve been planning the perfect costume since football season started. Unfortunately, from the costumes I’ve seen shopping, at parties or circulated through social media thus far this year, “to be racist or to be mysogynistic?” may be the better question.
First of all, for those of you planning to don a “sexy geisha” costume, “funny Mexican” getup, or paint your face brown, don’t. Cultures are not costumes and dressing like one, or what you think is like one, is racist.
“But it’s just a joke, jeez!”
While your intentions may not be harmful (I’m sure many people pick a costume just because they look hot in it), it is a joke, it’s sexualized and that’s the problem. White defines “normal” in America, and therefore everything else requires a justification, “weird, scary, funny, sexy…” and the list goes on. Further, the descriptions attached to these costumes say as much, just try perusing an online Halloween outlet, and count how many times the words “sexy” or “funny” precede a cultural costume.
But ask yourself, when it really comes down to it; what is funny about or inherently sexual about these cultures you want to wear for a night? Nothing. Bottom line: culture is not a commodity for our amusement or fantasy.
Using a culture for a costume also perpetuates harmful stereotypes. You can’t encompass an entire culture in all its complexity in an outfit, so don’t you think you’re going to end up leaving some things out? Of course you are, and what that means is that what comes together in the final product is the easily identifiable stereotypes for certain cultures that you get to wear for a night. But while you may get to remove the costume the next morning and toss it aside for next year, a member of that culture or ethnic group you are representing does not, which means that they deal with the negative stereotypes that these costumes help perpetuate all year, every year.
Along with racism, misogyny is another no-no for your Halloween costume considerations this year (and every other one), let alone the two of them together. Judging by social media backlash, I was not the only one who was shocked to learn that people have been dressing up as Ray Rice and his now-wife Janay Palmer (Rice was caught on tape earlier this year knocking Janay Palmer out in an elevator). Not only have some of these costumes involved blackface (again, painting yourself to portray another culture or race is not acceptable), but have included black female dolls as accessories meant to represent Janay Palmer.
When did a woman getting punched unconscious become joke-worthy? This trivializes violence against women and allows it to exist in public sphere as comedy and to continue in the private sphere by not outright condemning it. If anyone was confused about what rape culture is, that’s it right there.
Although it’s hard for me to believe some people may not know where the line is (Ray Rice and Janay Palmer, really?), many people pick out costumes with good intentions and may be unaware of the harm they are inflicting on others. This article isn’t meant to shame anyone for their costume choices (except maybe the Ray Rices and Janay Palmers out there), but to inform, and urge that this year you do not participate in racist and/or misogynistic traditions.
Besides, Halloween is a holiday that celebrates creativity, so get creative, check your privilege and think of something better.
Collegian Columnist Caroline King can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter by @cgking7.