Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Racy, Sexy, and Culturally Appropriate-y: It's Halloween Again, Folks!

Okay, someone tell me – since when did Halloween become a time to fly your racist and sexist flags without censure? I, for one, am tired of it.
So, hopefully we’re all on board by now with the idea that dressing our daughters up as ‘naughty’ leopards and ‘sexy’ nurses might be, say, a tad disgusting. As much as we may be told to ‘take a joke’ and not ‘take ourselves so seriously’,sexualizing young girls is a thing, patriarchal thing that reduces girls and women to their bodies and body parts rather than their intellects and personalities, and a thing that suggests that girls and women exist simply for the sexual pleasure of heterosexual men. (And it’s not so great for young boys either, who are told to conform to certain muscle-bound macho-man stereotypes.) Don’t believe it still? Here’s some side by side comparisons of boy vs. girl costumes and – gag reflex warning—men’s vs. women’s costumes.
But let me use this opportunity to remind us that racist cultural drag – where real life people’s ethnic dress is co-opted into Halloween costumes – is equally gross. As this brilliant series of ads from a anti-racist college student group in Ohio reminds us, a white faced geisha or a sombrero-clad ‘Mexican’ or a feather-headbanded ‘Indian’ costume reduces entire communities of people to simplistic, offensive stereotypes. Such costumes erase our rich and varied cultural backgrounds, and effectively dehumanize people of color – serving us up as cultural jokes rather than equals.
And just in case you thought that racist drag was only something that gets trotted out in late October, let’s remember that ‘racist rages’ happen on plenty of campuses all year round. From ‘Cowboys and Indians’ or ‘Mexican’ themed frat parties to white students wearing blackface or dressing in stereotypical ‘hood’ drag to ‘celebrate’ Martin Luther King Jr. day! Ugh! So enough with that thing, too.
But what can we do about it? Well, I’m so glad you asked. Here’s some thoughts:
  • Use this handy anti-racist costume checklist – useful not just at Halloween! Created by students at Hampshire College, this checklist of questions including Does my costume represent a culture that is not my own? and Does my costume packaging include the words ‘traditional,’ ‘ethnic’, ‘colonial,’ ‘cultural,’ ‘authentic,’ or ‘tribal’? is a handy guide for those, erm, unintentional racists and xenophobes among us. (But seriously, my advice? If you have to ask yourself ‘is my costume racist?’ maybe that’s a good sign you shouldn’t be wearing that costume. And if your frat brother or sorority sister suggests a party involving sombreros or changing everyone’s skin color – DON’T!).
  • How about finding a non-tarty Halloween costume for our toddlers from this list of Empowering Costumes for Little Girls; I’m thinking Amelia Earhart or Hermione might be a better role model for a little girl than, say, a sexy pirate? And here are some related ideas for grown-up women including Baba Yaga, Athena, and Frida Kahlo that might help us plan a cleavage- and fishnet-free holiday.
Amelia Earhart and Hermione Granger costumes via A Mighty Girl
Amelia Earhart and Hermione Granger costumes via www.amightygirl.com
  • What about having an explicitly political Halloween – tongue-in-cheek suggestions courtesy of Feministing – by dressing up as a Radical Militant Librarian, or the Ghost of Health Care Bills Past? You get Nerd-lady props along with extra points for being non-racist and non-sexist.
To read the rest of this essay please visit Adios, Barbie!

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