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[NYT] Good Girls Go Bad, For a Day

johndiii (229824) writes | more than 7 years ago

User Journal 18

(Bethanie seems to have missed this one... :-) )

October 19, 2006
Good Girls Go Bad, For a Day
By STEPHANIE ROSENBLOOM

(Bethanie seems to have missed this one... :-) )

October 19, 2006
Good Girls Go Bad, For a Day
By STEPHANIE ROSENBLOOM

IN her thigh-highs and ruby miniskirt, Little Red Riding Hood does not appear to be en route to her grandmother's house. And Goldilocks, in a snug bodice and platform heels, gives the impression she has been sleeping in everyone's bed. There is a witch wearing little more than a Laker Girl uniform, a fairy who appears to shop at Victoria's Secret and a cowgirl with a skirt the size of a tea towel.

Anyone who has watched the evolution of women's Halloween costumes in the last several years will not be surprised that these images -- culled from the Web sites of some of the largest Halloween costume retailers -- are more strip club than storybook. Or that these and other costumes of questionable taste will be barely covering thousands of women who consider them escapist, harmless fun on Halloween.

"It's a night when even a nice girl can dress like a dominatrix and still hold her head up the next morning," said Linda M. Scott, the author of "Fresh Lipstick: Redressing Fashion and Feminism" (Palgrave Macmillan) and a professor of marketing at the University of Oxford in England.

The trend is so pervasive it has been written about by college students in campus newspapers, and Carlos Mencia, the comedian, jokes that Halloween should now be called Dress-Like-a-Whore Day.

But the abundance of risqué costumes that will be shrink-wrapped around legions of women come Oct. 31 prompts a larger question: Why have so many girls grown up to trade in Wonder Woman costumes for little more than Wonderbras?

"Decades after the second wave of the women's movement, you would expect more of a gender-neutral range of costumes," said Adie Nelson, the author of "The Pink Dragon Is Female: Halloween Costumes and Gender Markers," an analysis of 469 children's costumes and how they reinforce traditional gender messages that was published in The Psychology of Women Quarterly in 2000.

Dr. Nelson, a professor of sociology at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, said the trend toward overtly sexualized costumes actually begins with little girls. "Heroic figures for women or considered icons of femininity are very much anchored in the femme fatale imagery," she said, adding that those include an assortment of Disney heroines, witches, cocktail waitresses, French maids and an "interchangeable variety of beauty queens."

While researching "Pink Dragon," Dr. Nelson found that even costumes for little girls were gendered. Boys got to be computers while the girls were cupcakes. Today, there are bride costumes for little girls but one is hard pressed to find groom costumes for little boys. Additionally, Dr. Nelson said, the girls' costumes are designed in ways that create the semblance of a bust where there is none. "Once they're older women it's just a continuation of that same gender trend," she said.

Men's costumes are generally goofy or grotesque ensembles with "Animal House"-inspired names like Atomic Wedgie and Chug-A-Lug Beer Can. And when they dress up as police officers, firefighters and soldiers, they actually look like people in those professions. The same costumes for women are so tight and low-cut they are better suited for popping out of a cake than outlasting an emergency.

Obviously, however, many women see nothing wrong with making Halloween less about Snickers bars and SweeTarts and more about eye candy.

Rebecca Colby, 28, a library clerk in Milwaukee, said the appeal of sexy costumes lies in escaping the workaday, ho-hum dress code.

"I'm not normally going to wear a corset to go out," said Ms. Colby, who has masqueraded as a Gothic witch with a low-cut bodice, a minidress-wearing bumblebee, a flapper and, this year, most likely, a "vixen pirate."

"Even though you're in a costume when you go out to a party in a bar or something, you still want to look cute and sexy and feminine," she said.

Indeed, many women think that showing off their bodies "is a mark of independence and security and confidence," said Pat Gill, the interim director of the Institute of Communications Research and a professor of gender and women's studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

It is a wonder gyms do not have "get in shape for Halloween" specials.

In her book "Dilemmas of Desire: Teenage Girls Talk About Sexuality" (Harvard University Press), Deborah Tolman, the director of the Center for Research on Gender and Sexuality at San Francisco State University and a professor of human sexuality studies there, found that some 30 teenage girls she studied understood being sexy as "being sexy for someone else, not for themselves," she said.

When the girls were asked what makes them feel sexy, they had difficulty answering, Dr. Tolman said, adding that they heard the question as "What makes you look sexy?"

Many women's costumes, with their frilly baby-doll dresses and high-heeled Mary Janes, also evoke male Lolita fantasies and reinforce the larger cultural message that younger is hotter.

"It's not a good long-term strategy for women," Dr. Tolman said.

But does that mean women should not use Halloween as an excuse to shed a few inhibitions?

"I think it depends on the spirit in which you're doing it," Dr. Tolman said. "I'm not going to go and say this is bad for all women."

Perhaps, say some scholars, it could even be good. Donning one of the many girlish costumes that sexualize classic characters from books, including "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland," "Cinderella" and "The Wizard of Oz," can be campy, female sartorial humor, said Professor Gill. It can be a way to embrace the fictional characters women loved as children while simultaneously taking a swipe at them, she said. "The humor gives you a sense of power and confidence that just being sexy doesn't," she said.

Dr. Tolman added that it is possible some women are using Halloween as a "safe space," a time to play with sexuality. By taking it over the top, she said, they "make fun of this bill of goods that's being sold to them."

"Hey, if we can claim Halloween as a safe space to question these images being sold to us, I think that's a great idea," Dr. Tolman said.

But it may be only an idea. Or, more fittingly in this case, a fantasy.

"I love to imagine that there's some real social message, that it's sort of the female equivalent of doing drag," Dr. Nelson said. "But I don't think it's necessarily so well thought out."

Tanda Word, 26, a graduate student at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, who wrote a satirical article about the trend for The Daily Toreador, agreed. "I think it's damaging because it's not just one night a year," she said. "If it's all the costume manufacturers make, I think it says something bigger about the culture as a whole."

Salacious costumes -- the most visible reminder that Halloween is no longer the sole domain of children -- have been around longer than plastic Grim Reaper scythes. But there has been an emergence of "ultrasexy" costumes in the last couple of years, according to Christa Getz, the purchasing director for BuyCostumes.com, which sells outfits with names like Little Bo "Peep Show" and Miss Foul Play.

"Probably over 90 to 95 percent of our female costumes have a flirty edge to them," Ms. Getz said, adding that sexy costumes are so popular the company had to break its "sexy" category into three subdivisions this year.

Heather Siegel, the vice presidentof HalloweenMart.com, said her company's sexy category is among its most popular. (The two best-selling women's costumes are a low-cut skin-tight referee uniform and a pinup-girl-inspired prisoner outfit called Jail Bait.)

"Almost everybody gets dressed up really, really sexy for it," said Carrie Jean Bodner, a senior at Cornell University in Ithaca who wrote about the abundance of skimpy Halloween garb for The Cornell Daily Sun last year. "Even the girls who wouldn't dream of going to class without their pearls and pullovers."

Last year Ms. Bodner, 21, dressed up as a sexy pinch-hitter for an imaginary baseball team. This year she and her friends are considering being va-voom Girl Scouts.

Ms. Getz of BuyCostumes.com said far more women are buying revealing costumes than firing off indignant e-mail messages asking, "Why are all of your costumes so sexy?" (though some do).

Still, women may be buying racy outfits because that is all that is available. Ms. Getz said she wished there were more sexy men's costumes on the market and that the lack of them is but further evidence of the gender double standard. "It's just not as socially acceptable," she said, adding that men feel comfortable expressing themselves with Halloween costumes that are "either crude or outrageous or obnoxious."

Ms. Siegel of HalloweenMart.com said the costume industry is merely mirroring the fashion industry, where women have more variety in their wardrobes. Besides, she said, men are less interested in accessorizing. "They're happy grabbing a mask and a robe and being done," she said.

At least they get a robe. Ms. Bodner of Cornell estimated that it will be about 30 degrees in Ithaca on Oct. 31.

"We're not just risking our dignity here," she said. "We're risking frostbite."

18 comments

hmmm I dunno (1)

ellem (147712) | more than 7 years ago | (#16662971)

I see to remember Kelli nearly getting raped in a very special episode of 90210 when she was dressed as a sexy witch.

Mmmmm Jenny Garth...

This thread is useless without pics! (1)

Iamthefallen (523816) | more than 7 years ago | (#16663075)

Still, women may be buying racy outfits because that is all that is available. Ms. Getz said she wished there were more sexy men's costumes on the market and that the lack of them is but further evidence of the gender double standard. "It's just not as socially acceptable," she said, adding that men feel comfortable expressing themselves with Halloween costumes that are "either crude or outrageous or obnoxious."

Uhm, let's be honest here. Present company excepted, how many guys do you really want to see wearing skimpy latex clothing?

Yeah, thought so.

Re:This thread is useless without pics! (1)

sielwolf (246764) | more than 7 years ago | (#16663995)

Gregg Easterbrook on ESPN.com discussed the rise [starwave.com] over the last [starwave.com] 20 years of the sexualized NFL cheerleader [starwave.com] and their special efforts on Halloween [starwave.com] . A strong showing all around this past weekend. He points to it as a counterpoint to the drop in teenage pregnancy and then fumbles for an answer [go.com] . He tries to say that dressing like that isn't "slutty" but empowering and thus making women less sexually cavalier.

Of course Easterbrook (as usual, since he's the sort of ponce who will bring out a fact and not understand what other features might effect it) naively assumes that the drop in teen pregnancy implies a drop in teen sex (which seems to be holding strong). The only difference seems to be that teenage Americans now understand birth control and oral now better than those of even a few years ago (and so are at less of a risk of getting pregnant). Of course that is looking at the hard numbers and trying to come up with a logistical answer instead of an academic sex studies one.

Comes down to my general approval of the rules 1. Don't be an asshole 2. don't be stupid 3. have fun.

The sex studies view (which most of these articles have, revealing their irrelevance) often comes up with egocentric worldviews where they are deciding who is at fault. I was watching the doc Slut [imdb.com] on IFC last weekend and it was full of the same sort of empty politicking. It provides no solutions, no answers. Just worldviews to stand up or knock down. The general takeaway: women do it most of all to each other... but that's just the result of the cruel patriarchy we operate in and so girls gotta do it for themselves (SPICEGIRLZ!)

Evolutionary psychology finds many more interesting hypotheses which help illuminate the whole slutty/sexy question. Assuming each sex deriving many of its evolutionary choices to support their primary mission (to reproduce) and their role in it (as a provider or as a nurturer) one can use the benefits (for men: autonomy from childbearing. for women: being sure that their offspring are theirs) and weaknesses (for men: willing mates to carry their children. for women: support during pregnancy) to chart out how we act inter- and intra-sex.

The category 'slut' then plays into that by preying on masculine fears: that though this woman is a willing mate but she is with everyone so there is a good chance it isn't your child. It's counterintelligence on the competition. And so through this prism the male version of a slut isn't sexual but resource based: the scrub (in the TLC definition of the term). He may appear to be a good candidate for providing long term support (flashy rims, great clothes) but he's paper thin (the Escalade's a rental, he's in debt up to his ears, he's already supporting three babymamas).

So what is so great about Halloween? In the modern age, it completely undermines the above evolutionary behaviors. It's a one day vacation from the above war games. Women can have their cake and eat it too. Because there is this holiday where being sexualized is duty free, women can explore their sexuality without the fear of permanent 'slut' labelling (which is just enhanced by our modern age of birth control, etc). If some other girl calls her a slut, anyone can say "So? That was Halloween. Everyone dresses like a slut on Halloween." This also explains why the 'sexy' costume hasn't hit the male market: it provides no benefit and there is no correlary. A scrub is still a scrub. He isn't gifted $500k to use as he sees fit for 24 hours.

I always figured... (1)

Le Marteau (206396) | more than 7 years ago | (#16663137)

... you can learn a lot about a person by what he wears for Halloween. People tend to dress up as per their desires, so, for example, the woman who dresses up as a dominatrix really has those desires inside.

Then there are the men who dress up as women on Halloween, and don't think anyone knows that that's what the really want to do and that it's more than a joke.

Re:I always figured... (1)

Timex (11710) | more than 7 years ago | (#16675109)

Then there are the men who dress up as women on Halloween, and don't think anyone knows that that's what the really want to do and that it's more than a joke.

I think it depends on the effort put into the "costume".

I've seen guys "dress up" and make a bad show of it, in an effort to protect their machismo. (Imagine someone the build of "Refrigerator" Perry in a poorly-fitting dress, bad makeup, and a wig that looks like it got pulled from a light socket and doused with water.) There are others who make every effort to dress the part and look good doing it (usually, these are the ones that are going for the "authentic look"), and those are the ones that I think might harbor those desires.

For the record, I've gone to two different Halloween parties dressed as a woman: once when I was in college, and another at my sister's house, a few years later. When I was in college, I ran into my lab partner, and he said his initial reaction (which got corrected when I spoke) was that I was "just some ugly girl". At my sister's party, nobody that saw me recognized me at first. One or two couldn't get over it for the course of the evening.

Hm. (1)

Some Woman (250267) | more than 7 years ago | (#16663343)

I don't like the implication early on in the article that women are "forced" to buy skimpy costumes. Nobody is forcing the sexy dominatrix pirate maid on anybody. Costume stores stock that which sells. I am uncomfortable with such costumes (for personal and climatological reason), so I choose not to wear them.

Re:Hm. (1)

Marxist Hacker 42 (638312) | more than 7 years ago | (#16663533)

I really liked the comic strip this week that had the little girls dressing up as "Eskimo Pochantas", "Eskimo Angel", and "Eskimo Princess" for a "Maine Halloween"- lots of fur in all three costumes....

Re:Hm. (1)

TechnoLust (528463) | more than 7 years ago | (#16663891)

Many women dress like that anytime they can get away with it because they want reassurance that they are more attractive than other girls. Guys like scantily clad females and the hottest girl showing the most flesh will get the most attention and Win Halloween (to steal a concept from banky). Lets see who I remember from the party at famous... Naughty Cheerleader, Naughty Schoolgirl, Naughty Nurse, Dirty Slut, Dominatrix, and John Bennet Ramsey (her boyfriend must be a perv)

Re:Hm. (1)

Some Woman (250267) | more than 7 years ago | (#16664077)

Quite true.

Personally, I'm going as a prim and proper witch.

Re:Hm. (1)

TechnoLust (528463) | more than 7 years ago | (#16665187)

Does that mean that you put more importance on people liking you because of your mind than because you wear things that let them get a good look at your "naughty" bits? Because that's just absurd!

Oh and the best sexy outfit (1)

sielwolf (246764) | more than 7 years ago | (#16664391)

is the sexy Hermione Granger [youtube.com] as pioneered by once-sexy Lindsay Lohan. See, it can work on two levels: it has the essence of being nice and sweet and it can be covered up with that Hogwarts cape... but then she can come bursting out top and growing out from way down below.

Also Hermione is going to grow into a stone-cold fox it isn't even funny. Ron is such a moron.

saved me the trouble (1)

queenofthe1ring (768698) | more than 7 years ago | (#16665087)

In her book "Dilemmas of Desire: Teenage Girls Talk About Sexuality" (Harvard University Press), Deborah Tolman, the director of the Center for Research on Gender and Sexuality at San Francisco State University and a professor of human sexuality studies there, found that some 30 teenage girls she studied understood being sexy as "being sexy for someone else, not for themselves," she said.

I actually considered doing a journal about slutty costumes and what the point of them was. But that quote, pretty much sums it up. Would taking off your clothes for something skimpier still be sexy if no one else appreciated it?

Re:saved me the trouble (1)

Iamthefallen (523816) | more than 7 years ago | (#16667803)

Wearing sexy underwear underneath a business attire can make you feel sexier, despite no one else being able to see it.

A "private" piercing can have the same effect.

Or just the old tucking your junk in between your legs and singing "My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard; and they're like, It's better than yours, damn right it's better than yours" in front of a mirror wearing only your moms underwear.

Point is, external validation isn't needed to be, or feel, sexy. External validation can help boost it, but it's not required.

Re:saved me the trouble (1)

subgeek (263292) | more than 7 years ago | (#16669325)

Or just the old tucking your junk in between your legs and singing "My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard; and they're like, It's better than yours, damn right it's better than yours" in front of a mirror wearing only your moms underwear.

ah yes, that old stand-by. um, i mean it appears you're on a mission for TMI in all categories, not just those concerning marital loans.

Ellen Goodman had a different view. (1)

winkydink (650484) | more than 7 years ago | (#16666931)

She and I agree about as often as Bush & Al Franken.

Undressing for Halloween

By Ellen Goodman | October 27, 2006

OH DARN, I guess I'm not going to be able to wear that diaphanous costume with the teeny-weeny skirt and the plunging neckline after all. The "Garden of Evil Spiritina" is all sold out for this Halloween.

There's barely even time to get "L'il Bo Peep" -- or should I say a "L'il Bo Peep Show" costume -- Fed-Exed from my Web merchant. I could, however, get that "Hottie Little Red Riding Hood " bustier and boots to come over the river and through the woods to this grandmother's house.

Yesss. Welcome to the Halloween horror show. This is the time of year when mothers across America get another chance to rant about the culture that pushes daughters directly from "Barney" to "Jail Bait." This is when teens can surf the aisles or the Internet for those special costumes that are designed to help them fantasize about what they want to be when they grow up: "A French Maid." And when young women raised on "Free to Be You and Me" find themselves free to be either "Biker Chick" or "Blushing Bride."

Is there anything more depressing than the "Naughty Housewife" ready to go trick-or-spanking? Sure. It's the number of young women who will tell you fervently that as a post-feminist generation, they are liberated to make choices. And their choice for Halloween is "Alice in Pornland."

It's enough to make the average feminist want to bite into that apple with the razor blade.

But first, let us take that "choice" banner, attach it to our broomstick, and fly east as far as London, where there is another sort of masquerade going on. The story of the hour is not about young women uncovering their bodies. It's about young women covering their faces.

London has been in an uproar about a 24-year-old teaching assistant and Muslim suspended because she refused to remove her full-face veil. A minimal number of veiled women caused a maximal furor. Prime Minister Tony Blair decried the veil as a "mark of separation." Even the prime minister of Italy declared, "You can't cover your face; you must be seen. . . . It is important for our society."

The young woman, Aishah Azmi, insisted that "Muslim women who wear the veil are not aliens." Then, in one of those wonderful ironies, she unsuccessfully appealed her suspension, arguing for the freedom to wear a garment that would have been imposed upon her in a fundamentalist Islamic country.

Have you noticed how much dress and undress matter? Even to prime ministers? Have you also noticed how many women believe they are making their own choices when they are actually caught in a cultural vise?

Here in America, our Halloween revelers have only the scantiest -- and I do mean scantiest -- idea of how the market has shaped the options that they regard as their own. Most women are only dimly aware of how we internalize the liposuctioned, breast-implanted, celebrity-shaped images that define the "right" female body. They are even less aware of a culture that defines sexy as something seen rather than felt.

There in London, a young teacher wearing the niqab seems equally unaware that the mask she dons as an act of self-expression aligns her with the mullahs of repression. After all, in today's Iran the choices may be veil or jail. And in Afghanistan, women are choosing the burka to save their lives. As Deborah Tolman, who wrote "Dilemmas of Desire," says, the stakes are astonishingly high: "If we can't cover it, we can kill it. That's the context."

Mullahs and marketers are not the same. Nobody is forcing an American woman into the "Sultry Witch" costume. Nobody is forcing a British citizen into a full-face veil. But there is something, well, scary when women claim the "freedom" to fit into such narrow constraints of sexuality.

Lyn Mikel Brown, co-author of "Packaging Girlhood," says, "We can't talk to girls about sexuality or desire but an entire media is pushing sexualization on them." Nevertheless, there's a fine line for girls between being sexy and being slutty. Halloween, Brown says, may be the one day "you can be a skank and get away with it." But what a way.

On the other hand, the niqab may identify its London wearer as a pious Muslim and proud dropout from Western sexual culture. But it does so by making her faceless. What a way.

Remember when we used to talk about role models for girls and women? At least one website is selling "Supergirl" costumes for teens. But what's that I read? She's "all grown up and is ready for some action of her own." This Supergirl comes with a bustier and hooker boots. She's definitely sold out.

Bah (1)

leoPetr (926753) | more than 7 years ago | (#16677831)

I find the equation of showing skin with not being good very annoying.

And, boys, stop pretending that you are disgusted with male nudity just because all your peers are pretending to be disgusted with it. Nudity is a prosaic thing. Relaaaaaaax.
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