It’s October, which means that Halloween is almost here. In the spirit of the occasion, I decided to tackle some interesting issues in a Halloween op ed written last year by a liberal, presumably feminist, mother named Leora Tanenbaum. The op ed is called, “Your Daughter Wants a Sexy Halloween Costume. How You Should Say Yes.”
In this editorial Ms. Tanenbaum focuses on ways to make Halloween an enjoyable holiday for preteen and teen girls, most of whom want to wear sexy costumes. She explains that the problem for those girls is, “A girl is expected to wear a costume that exudes sex appeal without crossing an invisible, razor-thin boundary between ‘sexy’ and ‘slutty.’ A girl who breaks this unspoken rule risks being mocked the way [a movie] character was, all dressed up as a zombie bride while the other girls knowingly wear lingerie and some form of animal ears. But a girl who goes too far in the other direction and wears a costume deemed over-the-top sexy, may get called out as a ‘slut’ or ‘ho’ and publicly humiliated — or worse.”
Thus, the focus of Ms. Tanenbaum’s piece is how to surmount this problem. However, the ideas she presents, while seeming logical enough by themselves, are confusing when considered in the overall picture. Why is this?
While Ms. Tanenbaum never specifically identifies herself as anything like a feminist, my understanding is that society’s overall acceptance of sexiness was caused by radical feminists and the sexual revolution. Thus, people like Ms. Tanenbaum, taking that acceptance for granted, have developed ideas about it that might appear to be a natural progression out of feminism. However, little acknowledged though this truth may be, Ms. Tanenbaum’s “modern” thoughts are a strong example of how the original values of radical feminism have been quietly abandoned. Instead of holding to the values as the first feminists wanted, their ideas and the sexual revolution have actually assisted the growth of some problems the feminists would despise, as can be seen through a closer look at the editorial.
Do Girls Really Need to be Sexy Anyway?
In Ms. Tanenbaum’s second paragraph, where the contradiction begins, she uses quotes in order to introduce the problem she addresses, but her interviewees are the first to show some illogical thinking. First, Ms. Tanenbaum quotes a teenager who says, “You’re supposed to wear a sexy costume,” then a woman who adds, “Halloween is supposed to be about embracing the sinister, but when you are a girl, ‘sinister’ equals ‘sexual.’”
Now, beginning with the first quote, why might girls be “supposed” to dress sexually anyway? It seems as though it might be just because everyone else is too, thus not doing it could jeopardize a girl’s popularity. In other words, “sexy” is simply expected. That in and of itself seems to make sense, except for one implicit issue. While my understanding is that feminists loved the sexual revolution because it served to empower them, taking into account that same focus on empowerment, why would anyone pushing “women’s freedom” want to acquiesce to a quasi-forced display of sexuality, even if it were only the minor display of choosing one costume over another? Meekly submitting to societal pressure seems totally contrary to the idea of “I am woman, hear me roar.”
To her credit, Ms. Tanenbaum for one does not embrace the idea of dressing sexually only to fit in, but she still lacks understanding of this contradiction. One item of further note here is that Ms. Tanenbaum makes a point of mentioning that “the choice—sexy costume, funny costume, scary costume—should be your daughter’s,” so it seems that she may not agree entirely with her interviewee on the necessity of a sexy costume. However, if Ms. Tanenbaum does not agree with her, it seems peculiar that she would use a quote with which she does not agree to explain the problem about which she writes.
Sex as Empowerment… or as Bondage
Secondly, the statement “when you are a girl, ‘sinister’ equals ‘sexual,’” is problematic. To be fair, the woman quoted probably believed that when she said it. It’s also quasi-understandable; if correlating sexuality with wickedness is the norm, then no one would expect anything else. However, even if that is what is expected, why would not a more “progressive” teenager, which might include those about whom Ms. Tanenbaum was writing, decide to break the mold proudly? Since I happen to be a sci-fi fan, how about something like a female Sith Master? Surely that could be villainous without treating sexuality as the focus of the costume.
If I had only to guess from Ms. Tanenbaum’s own designation of three kinds of costumes, I would have thought there were at least some who wished for a change. Furthermore, there is no better example of such a girl than the teenager Ms. Tanenbaum quotes, who has “never worn a sexy costume” because she’s “fearful that other people will see [her] as a ‘slut.’ It’s kind of a bummer.”
If, however, less sexy costumes were more accepted, or even given more positive exposure in society overall, then the choice really would be left up to the girl, and not up to whatever everyone else was doing, which accords better with feminist empowerment. Furthermore, if the girl thought revealing clothes did not flatter her, she would have no fear in choosing an outfit she preferred. Unfortunately, today’s culture seems to be mostly deadened to anything but sexiness, so now teenagers are afraid to be progressive and individual against it.
Obviously, then, even disregarding the religious population, the sexualization of the culture has turned into a problem for ordinary, secular girls. There is a real irony in this. Once again, my understanding is that the radicals wanted to sexualize the culture because it gave them power.
Now, Ms. Tanenbaum is correct in saying that this expectation of sexiness that did not exist decades ago has made Halloween a lot more difficult for today’s girls. However, the problem would never have happened if the feminists had not chosen to seek power using sex in the first place.
The Real Cost of Sexiness
Unfortunately, in spite of these issues, the title of Ms. Tanenbaum’s article is not “How We Can Empower Our Girls to Change the Restricting Standards of Peer Pressure.” Instead, she attempts to make the same destructive sexiness more acceptable.
After discussing the first interviewee and one other teen, both of whom would like to wear sexy costumes but are scared of receiving bad peer pressure, Ms. Tanenbaum attempts to suggest a different sort of solution that the mothers of those in a similar situation can implement. The mother should “set reasonable limits on the costume . . . depending on her age and your values. And if a sexy costume leads to unwanted attention or shaming, both daughters and parents have to remember that neither girl nor costume is to blame.”
While she seems to mean well, Ms. Tanenbaum is definitely off here. Of course most girls would not intend to cause sexual advances from their Halloween costume, so she is probably right in “girl is not to blame.” The girl’s costume, on the other hand, probably is. Men, through no fault of their own, are more visually inclined than women—not that I would know, but that is what I have learned from reading about and discussing gender differences. After all, as Ms. Tanenbaum says, girls’ costumes are supposed to “exude sex appeal,” which probably makes it difficult for even virtuous boys to look at the girls wearing them in a respectful way. Being “sexy” means the girl wants those around her to be reminded of sex, right? Well, whether Ms. Tanenbaum would like it or not, the only fail-safe way for a woman to eschew unwanted advances is to refrain from drawing the wrong kind of attention to her body.
One of Ms. Tanenbaum’s interviewees even says, “even though it can feel really good to be sexy, it can also feel really bad when you’re objectified.” The only problem with this statement? Being “sexy” is automatically objectifying. If all a teenage boy is drawn to notice is a girl’s body, he will not be thinking of her as athletic or smart or fun or even beautiful, which, though it might seem similar enough, is crucially different because it allows for the boy to see the girl as a person rather than an object. Instead, probably all he will be thinking about is sex. While I concede that a lot of girls seem to enjoy that to some degree, can it really be true that every girl nowadays would prefer being noticed for what she is rather than who she is?
One Must Know the Evil to Destroy it
Now, to recap, the radical feminists’ use of sex as empowerment has created the expectation that, at least where Halloween is concerned, girls ought to dress in a sexual way. That is bad enough because it leads to objectification of the girls and temptations to impurity for the boys. Worse still, girls who might want to dress differently seem to feel significant pressure to follow the majority. More than anything else, this shows that our society desperately needs to realize how harmful this over-sexualization has been, so it can begin to rebuild itself on its own original foundation of true values. Unlike then, we Catholics, instead of participating in this evil like everyone else, must recognize it for what it is, and, more importantly, pray for God’s help in destroying it.