There’s an ad for Ricky’s, New York City’s “Halloween Superstore,ā€¯ in the most recent issue of New York Magazine.
They’re all there, all of Erica’s pet peeves: Sexy witch, sexy nurse, sexy maid, sexy, angel, sexy Raggedy Ann, sexy construction worker, sexy Supergirl, sexy baseball player, sexy pirate, sexy cat, sexy lunatic (a sexy woman in a sexy straightjacket). The costumes shown for men aren’t anywhere near as revealing—not one bares a single square inch of male flesh.
Most of the costumes for men go out of their way to be non-sexy. Men can pick from fully-clothed cop, fully-clothed Dracula, fully-clothed cowboy, fully-clothed pirate, fully-clothed Napoleon Dynamite, fully-clothed redneck.
Some regard this state of affairs, if you’ve been reading the Slog, as sexist in the extreme, deeply wrong. Just another example of how the culture oppresses women. I’d like to go on the record, however, with my full-throated (ahem) support for straight girls dressing up in sexy costumes on Halloween. I actually think there’s something right about it. (No one disputes for an instant that there’s everything wrong with—oh, so hugely fucked up—all those sluttastic Halloween costumes for little girls Erica wrote about earlier in the week.)
Some would argue that it’s sexist because men don’t wear those costumes. So why should women?!? Where’s the equality in that? (Erica claims she’s not against sexy costumes, per se, and that she’s not interested in equal time/baring of flesh. She just thinks there should be more options for women. But I can’t help but detect a whiff of women-shouldn’t-have-to-wear-this-shit-if-men-don’t in her posts.)
Here’s why straight women wear these things: Because they work, meaning they attract welcome attention from straight men. And here’s why straight men don’t wear comparatively sexy things: Because they wouldn’t work, meaning they wouldn’t attract attention—or the right kind of attention—from straight women.
While it’s easy to blame simple, straight-up sexism for the bare-flesh-gap that yawns between mass-marketed male and female Halloween costumes, what’s really at work is the invisible hand of the sexual marketplace. And women aren’t just victims of that marketplace (“aren’t just” means they are victimized in part), they’re also players, tastemakers, and enforcers. And most straight women, while content to compete with other women in the sexiness department, do not feel they should have to compete with men too. They resent men who attempt to out-sexy them on Halloween. (There will be lots of women who regard themselves as exceptions to this rule, women that want men to show up at Halloween parties in Speedos—and those women are likelier to be reading this blog, and they will shortly shred me in comments. You’re still the exception.)
Some men, of course, can and do wear revealing and/or sexy costumes on Halloween—they’re called “gay men.ā€¯ Want to see guys in flesh-baring costumes? Go out to the gay bars this weekend. And why do gay men wear revealing costumes? Because gay men, like straight women, are trying to catch the eyes of men. And all men, gay and straight, respond to un-subtle visual stim. Women, I contend, do not—or not as reliably as men do, I should perhaps say, so there’s less incentive for straight men to run around town in Speedos on Halloween.
So when I hear women say, “How come men don’t have to demean themselves by wearing `sexy’ Halloween costumes?ā€¯ I think—mostly to myself, because I don’t want to get yelled at—”Yeah, there’s the patriarchy, which should be destroyed and stuff, but you women play a part in this.ā€¯ Most straight women aren’t interested in men who seem a little too conscious of their own beauty—and pouring yourself into something tight, something that exposes your assets for the world to see, screams “I know how hot I am! Check me out!ā€¯ That’s a feminine thing to do—in large part because women want to reserve it for themselves. Which is why gay men can get away with it—it’s why we can do it (well, at least while we’re young)—and straight men can’t and don’t.
Sexy costumes makes a man less attractive to women, not more. Hence the Napoleon Dynamite costume, the full-cover baseball player costume, the drunk rube costume.