Ladies, it’s that time of year to let out your inner vixen and to live out your fantasies of being a naughty nun. Guys, it’s your time to sit back and gawk.
Go to any Halloween store and you’ll see that scary has been replaced by sexy: Women (and girls) will be dressing up as sexy kittens, sexy stewardesses, geishas, naughty rag dolls and the like. For the men, however, there are no parallel pool boy costumes or naughty fireman uniforms. (A new industry someone might want to start? But I digress.)
The articles about the slutification of Halloween are in full force again this year. Most people are upset about it — feminists decry that women are allowing themselves to be publicly eroticized, conservatives bemoan the scandalous nature of a lot of these costumes.
As for me, I’m ambivalent. It is shocking to see 7-year-old girls strutting their stuff in mock-revealing outfits. But for the big girls? I’m not one to judge: Throughout my 20s, I was a pole-dancer, Spider Woman and my most favorite — and sexiest — costume was my attempt to impersonate evil superhero Poison Ivy. This year I’m a midwestern wife in a witch’s cap handing out candy to kids, so I have some room to step back and examine this trend in a slightly more detached fashion.
Here’s my catalogue of the popular explanations for the slutification of Halloween. What are your thoughts? Share them and we’ll post them online.
Women dress this way to attract men
Outfitted in a green spandex leotard and tights, wrapped in real ivy and armed with a gun, I was dressed as Poison Ivy, and I thought I looked hot. My hope, I guess, was to attract some man by showing, well, almost all of me — the spandex didn’t leave a lot to the imagination. I got a lot of looks, and a few catcalls, as I hailed cabs to and from the party, but no men chatted me up, no guys asked for my phone number. I was disappointed.
The next year, I’d busted my ankle and went balanced on crutches with band-aids all over me and a t-shirt that read, “You should see the other guy.” This wasn’t a sexy costume, but I got a lot more attention. Dozens of men stopped to ask me if it was a costume or a real injury, and a few came up to offer condolences. Men wanted to get me a drink, find me a chair or help me make up a good story about how I got injured. And, in droves, they asked for my number.
So while I have no real qualms about women letting out their inner slut, I’d recommend thinking about what you’re trying to achieve. Doing this to meet men may not be the best tactic. Most men want an “in” to talk to a woman, an excuse to start a conversation, not necessarily to see every contour of her body in spandex before they get to “hello.”
Virgin/Whore, Mary/Mary Magdalene… Freud had it right
Perhaps women jump at the opportunity to wear latex and whips in public on Halloween because it’s the one day when it’s appropriate for them to show that side of themselves.
It’s the Freudian virgin/whore complex played out publicly for one night each year: Most of the time we try to be good, respectable women — acting as if we were pure as the Virgin Mary. But beneath that, we’ve got a Mary Magdalene, the sinner who is popularly portrayed as a prostitute, who is crying out for attention and conversion.
According to pop culture’s reductive view, there are two central women in Jesus’ life: his mother, the Virgin Mary, depicted as pure, cool and wrapped in shades of blue; and Mary Magdalene, the feisty redhead with wild hair whom Jesus forgives for her sins and impurities. Like the two women of Jesus’ life, modern women have both of these sides in us. When it’s dark and spooky, it’s OK to let your freak out.
While biblically this explanation is a bit shady, I think there’s something to it. Remember that popular song by Meredith Brooks?
I’m a bitch, I’m a lover
I’m a child, I’m a mother
I’m a sinner, I’m a saint
I do not feel ashamed
I’m your hell, I’m your dream
I’m nothing in between
You know you wouldn’t want it any other way
Dressing up as what we fear… or desire?
Maybe women dress up in an über-sexy way because they actually fear the thing that they are trying on for the night: How many of these nice Target customers would be comfortable welcoming a real prostitute into their homes? Dressing up like one — and making fun of it — seems to be a safer way of confronting the situation. (Not a message of Christian charity, perhaps, but we’re in the realm of deep, dark thoughts here; bear with me.)
So what do we make of the popularity of nun and priest costumes? There will be naughty nuns and debauched priests of all varieties running around this year. Is this funny or offensive to those who have taken the sacraments of the priesthood or sisterhood? Are we, in fact, a little bit afraid of those who have chosen the religious life?
Naughty or slutty nun costumes upset Sister Christine Wilcox, OP, director of campus ministry for Sacred Heart Schools in Atherton, California… but only a little bit. In college, Sr. Christine admits that she, too, used Halloween as an opportunity to “express some risqué ideas.” (She wasn’t always a nun!) Young women are exploring what sexy means and how it feels, said Sr. Christine. “Dressing up on Halloween is a supposedly ‘safe’ time to do some bold expressing of such explorations.”
Before she’d become a sister, Sr. Christine dressed up as a Dominican priest for a Halloween party. “It kind of freaked people out as they didn’t know what to call me,” she recalled. “However, it raised interesting questions and I had some interesting conversations with folks because of it.” Now, when Sr. Christine sees a woman wearing a nun’s costume, her first response is to wonder if they might have a religious vocation lurking somewhere inside of them. “Is this one way for God or their psyche to begin to work it out?”
If you’re at a Halloween party where someone is dressed as a priest or a nun, ask them some of these questions and email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll post your Halloween stories!
[This column was originally published on October 24, 2007.]