Busted Halo

Most dating and relationships books, columns and shows won’t go near issues of faith. Author, professor and speaker Dr. Christine B. Whelan assumes faith has some role, and tackles even the toughest questions.

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October 24th, 2007


A Pure Sex, Pure Love Special Edition



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.

It’s Slutoween.

Go to any Halloween store and you’ll see that scary has been replaced by sexy: Women (and girls) will be dressing up as sexy kittens, sexy stewardesses, geishas, naughty rag dolls and the like.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

Maybe women dress up in an über-sexy way because they actually fear the thing that they are trying on for the night?

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 puresex@bustedhalo.com. We’ll post your Halloween stories!

[This column was originally published on October 24, 2007.]

The Author : Christine B. Whelan
Dr. Christine B. Whelan is an author, professor and speaker. She and her husband, Peter, and their dictator cats, Chairman Meow and Evita Purron, live in Pittsburgh. Her book "Why Smart Men Marry Smart Women" is available in stores or at the Halo Store.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • Cathleen Gillies

    thanks everyone for responding. It bothers me when Catholics try to water down the Lord’s teaching – he did SAVE all people he met…Repent and stop sinning…why would a catholic site and tv show have to hide behind and actually encourage behavior that doesn’t lead to holiness…http://www.magdalenepublishing.org/book.html

  • fred

    “…the rest of the world does NOT need to believe the same thing we do.” oh, i seem to recall — “Go, make disciples of all nations.” — I think I’ll take Our Lord’s word before yours brian

  • Brian

    Wow. I understand not everyone wants to dress up “slutty” and believe me there are many people out there who are not interested in looking at such outfits. However, this is NOT pornography, and this is NOT necessarily inappropriate. Halloween is supposed to be fun. Many take this opportunity to dress up as something they are not. Some people may choose to do something totally out of character in order to strike up some fun conversations with friends. Just because that’s what you were for Halloween, does not mean that is what you want to be, or secretly are.

    We are ALL guilty of making assumptions on a daily basis, and letting your assumptions that these costumes are ruining our society and/or our faith is ridiculous. The reason many non-Catholics resent our religion is because too many of us are not willing to try and understand that the rest of the world does NOT need to believe the same thing we do. And what too many Catholics fail to comprehend is that understanding and acknowledging the beliefs of others does not mean you agree with it.

    If you don’t approve of these types of Halloween costumes, great, don’t dress up in them. Talk with your children and guide them to make the decision (on their own!) not to dress that way.

    Leading a successful life is learning from mistakes, whether you made them or not and making the best of everything. If you shelter yourself, or your children from everything, what happens when you or your children come upon a situation you/they are not comfortable with? Chances are you will not address the situation, but instead shy away from it. If do not think clearly about a situation while under pressure, you put yourself in more danger than you are already in.

    Catholics are kind, caring, and understanding. We believe in our faith because we choose to, and we do not need to press our religion on people as some religions do by showing up at your front door. How about more of us start to show it by showing these positive traits towards others as well? Lead by example and others will want to join and be part of us.

  • Mari McAvenia

    I worked at a temporary Halloween store this season, in Cambridge, MA. I can tell you, first hand, that the most popular women’s costumes this year were a sexy faux-Indian outfit called “Pocahottie”, a tight fitting short-take on Robin Hood called “Robyn da Hood” and a slew of revealing pseudo-pirate get-ups that left little to the imagination.
    For men- in the same vein- we sold ridiculous costumes that exaggerated the male appendage. “Party in my Pants”, “Ball Player” (featuring a set of fake hands under the waistband)and an odd take on Aladdin, with a huge, protruding “genie lamp” offered for public rubbing, were tried on by some guys but failed to sell very well.
    For kids, there were the standard super heroes for boys and scaled-down, sexy witches, vampires and Lady Gagas for girls. Many parents commented that the popular themes for young girls were too risque, but they bought them anyway.

    The use of sex to sell stuff is nothing new. In-your-face, graphic sluttiness appears everywhere, everyday in advertising. I believe that the ubiquitous exploitation of the female body – for commercial purposes- has spoiled the fun of dressing up for Halloween and put even more pressure on women and girls to get their “slut” on, simply to fit in with the crowd. Kinda sad, really.

  • J.M. Doyle

    Dr. Whelan, This article repeats the tired old cliche about women being expected to be either Eve (sinner) or Mary (too pure to imitate). Except you have substituted Mary Magdalene for Eve.
    I guess one could argue men are expected to be either Adam (dupe, or complicit in evil) or Jesus (God, too perfect to be imitated). This article is not helpful in promoting either a healthy, much less Catholic, view of sexuality.

  • Gennie

    I also think this article sounds like it’s condoning wearing immodest Halloween costumes. Believe it or not, that doesn’t happen everywhere. People in small-town America, at least places where I’ve lived, rarely do, but they may start if the idea gets put in their heads.

  • Justin

    There is a good resource about the truths of sexuality for teens. It’s called “Theology of the Body for Teens.” It explains the truth and source of human sexuality from Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body and adapts it for teenagers.

  • Becka

    i agree with the commenters. im one of the few girls who wont be dressing slutty for halloween..id rather be something cute; so it kinda bothers me the attitude you have towards dressing sexy on halloween..and confusing i thought this was a catholic website. im not even a devout catholic but it kinda surprised me. i think this article kinda encourages young women..hey even catholics think its fine wink wink. But anyway thats just my opinion. a little discouraging for a girl trying to ignore the world’s beliefs that its okay to let our your “inner slut”..

  • Bob Hunt, RN

    From the day we’re but tiny tots, boys are taught that women exist to for the purpose of meeting their sexual desires. Pornography is rampant in our culture and is literally destroying families and souls. I don’t see anything in this article that helps Catholic men or women in our goal to reflect the glory of Christ. Oh, and can we please be spared the old saw that the Church isn’t doing enough to meet my needs? Try taking some personal responsibility, for pete’s sake.

  • MM

    I know this might be a small detail, but it would be nice if you could actually post factual material. Let me remind you that Mary Magdalena was NO prostitute, sinner, or impurities. It is only in Luke that it mentions she had 7 demons were cast out of her. Where do you get those other 3 from? It’s bad enough the Mary Magdalene does not get respect from the church, but the fact that in today’s ago, people, no less women, still have this old school view of who Mary Magdalene was. I understand the argument you are trying to make and I agree that these are the two roles that women are usually put into, but stop with the slandering of who Mary Magdalene was

  • Jason

    I agree that the pictures are a little much, but decent article

  • John

    Christine, I love your article and totally agree. I have mentioned to some people before, that as much as we want to pretend it does, the church has not found a great way to approach sexual identity and desire in young people. There are many attempts and definitely some good groups, but the vast majority of young people aren’t complacent with the “don’t have sex till marriage argument.” We haven’t really addressed that in the last 200 years sex/marriage has been pushed back over 10 years in human maturation. Sexual frustration wasn’t a big deal when you were married at 14. Halloween provides an (albeit poor) “free-pass” for such exploration and examination. Ignatius of Loyola even talked about the importance of examining emotions properly, not pretending they don’t exist. And while there may be much better ways that being a naughty cop for halloween, the church isn’t providing many better alternatives for truly exploring sexual desire in 2010 America.

  • matt abid

    I have to agree. It seems this is a misguided article that doesn’t really help us ward off the evils of the holiday. How are we helping to not tempt guys?

  • Gayle

    Dressing as a nun can be habit forming. :-) I dressed up as a nun in college and entered the convent several years later.

  • Cathleen Gillies

    It would be great if you could post virtuous costumes as opposed to feeding the pornography epidemic that is hurting catholic families.

    I want to direct people to Father Dave’s site but can’t understand all the porn like visuals popping up. Are we really preparing the way for the Lord by bating and switching God’s people?
    Thank you for responding to my concern.

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