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Monday, October 16, 2006

Two Great NYT Pieces, and a Coda About Costumes

posted by on October 16 at 15:21 PM

Two great pieces on the New York Times’ op-ed page today.

First, Bob Herbert poses a rhetorical question no one else has bothered to ask in the wake of the Amish shootings: “Why aren’t we shocked” that the killer targeted little girls?

Imagine if a gunman had gone into a school, separated the kids up on the basis of race or religion, and then shot only the black kids. Or only the white kids. Or only the Jews.

There would have been thunderous outrage. The country would have first recoiled in horror, and then mobilized in an effort to eradicate that kind of murderous bigotry. There would have been calls for action and reflection. And the attack would have been seen for what it really was: a hate crime.

Herbert’s NYT overlords hid his column behind the dreaded NYTSelect firewall, but Feminist Law Profs has a link to it here.

The second is a really smart piece by writer Allison Glock on the scarcity of un-“sexy” Halloween costumes for women. Glock went to the store to buy costumes for herself and her daughters, who are 4 and 6; the selection she found, however, was all of the “sexy kitten” variety. They included sexy bunny, sexy devil, sexy leopard, and even sexy Wonder Woman,” which, at $49.99,

was among the priciest costumes, along with the Geisha — both $20 more than Stewardess, which consisted only of a polyester wrap dress with a plunging neckline.

A quick trip to Wal-Mart and Kmart revealed the same dubious selections. While the hemlines were slightly lower on the Kmart French Maid and Cheerleader, Wal-Mart hewed to form with a saucy Red Riding Hood and a naughty rag doll, advertising a “sultry vinyl bodice and thigh highs … lollipop not included.ā€¯

A theme was emerging. And it wasn’t Halloween. Since when did Halloween costumes become marital aids? The hobo has turned into the Hillbilly Honey. The traditional vampire is now the Mistress of Darkness. I have nothing against playing erotic dress-up, or even mass-market fetishism. I’d just prefer it didn’t converge with a family holiday (and wasn’t sold next to the dryer sheets). If you want to play cheerleader at home, go team. But trick-or-treating with your children in anything featuring latex and cleavage seems like a little too much trick. […] My girls were confused. “Where are the monsters?ā€¯ they asked. “Where are the superheroes?ā€¯ I pointed weakly to Wonder Woman and her thigh-high boots. “She’s pretty,ā€¯ said my 4-year-old. Before adding, “You can see her breasts.ā€¯

This reminds me of a running joke between me and a coworker. Every year around Halloween, when we walk past the sex shop on Broadway, we have the following exchange:

“What should I be for Halloween?”
“How about a sexy nurse?”
“No, wait - a slutty farm girl!”
“No - a sexy schoolgirl!”
“No - a trampy stewardess!”
“What about a sexy bunny?”
“I know - a sexy cat!”

We can go on this way for hours.

So it cracked me up the other day to open up the Seattle Weekly and see an ad for Pierre Silber—“The sexiest Hallowen store in the world!”—featuring the following costumes: “Sexy Dorothy”; “Sexy bunny”; “Sexy sheriff”; “Sexy nun”, and even “Sexy referee.” That last one, which features a “naughty” minidress, knee socks, and what appear to be high-heeled cleats, is accompanied on the web site by its male counterpart—a plain old regular referee costume.

RSS icon Comments


The answer is obvious: it's because Halloween has been coopted by adults. It's not a kid's holiday anymore.

Posted by Fnarf | October 16, 2006 3:30 PM

i've always thought that halloween was an excuse for a girl to release her inner-slut. at least, that's the way it seems on halloween when you see women dressed like sexy bunnies or whatever. it was especially noticable in college. you have to wonder what came first. did the companies encourge women to dress this way or did they capitalize on a trend?

Posted by troo | October 16, 2006 3:37 PM

Salon's Broadsheet blog picked up on the gender issue the day of the shooting: "But attacks based on gender, like attacks on the basis of race, religion or sexual orientation, are despicable and horrifying; some would call them acts of terrorism."

Broadsheet talks about Herbert's column today, too:

Posted by another feminist | October 16, 2006 3:38 PM

Anyone else notice the Lovers Packagae "Halloween has never been this Sexy" ad on the left hand side of slog, right beside this article?

I'm just sayin...

Posted by heywhatsit | October 16, 2006 3:49 PM

Well, somebody's buying those costumes or they wouldn't sell 'em.

I think FNARF's right; Beggar's Night in my neighborhood consists of maybe three kids accompanied by their parents. But there's always lots of grown-up Halloween parties everywhere I look.

Posted by flamingbanjo | October 16, 2006 3:51 PM

Why does being adult mean it has to be "adult", though? Being obsessed with sex has never struck me as particularly adult. Wasn't that what highschool was for?

Posted by gfish | October 16, 2006 4:43 PM

Heywhatsit, I see a nurse on the left margin, but not sure she's supposed to be "sexy", seeing as she's spoon-feeding a presumably crazy person.

I guess the pendulum has swung to the other extreme, from the child's choices of "princess ____ (or whatever Disney film happened to be out that year", "Barbi", etc., with their gender-limiting messages, to the "Sexy ___" of the adult market, which - no surprise - is equally limiting.

Guess "Sexy" is supposed to be the new "Scary", which makes sense when you think about it.

But of course, we're talking about commercial costume companies, which not only appear to possess the cumulative imagination of a winter root vegetable, but which presumably cater to adults embued with an equal lack of imagination to the point that they either can't come up with something better out of their own closet, or be bothered with a quick trip to the thrift store, where they could spend about 1/10th the cost for something a bit more "unique".

Like FB said, people must buy this crap, or the companies wouldn't keep selling it every year.

Posted by COMTE | October 16, 2006 4:53 PM

About the shootings:

Um, I think, actually, we are shocked the gunman targeted, seperated, then murdered these little girls. The NYT writer is probably reeling more from the fact that he doesn't have a "hot topic"-angle to work on this story, but the rest of us I think are pretty mortified.

Posted by Dougsf | October 16, 2006 4:53 PM

Make your own darn costumes! My best memories of Halloween growing up are of coming up with some crazy idea & then having my parents help me create it. One year when everyone else had store-bought fairy wings I was the "Undead Fairy-tale Princess" & I had the time of my life destroying a pretty dress we got at VV to make it look decomposed. I don't understand just buying some plastic thing at Wal-Mart. It's like buying a pre-made Jack-o-lantern: what the hell is the point if you don't get pumpkin guts all over the kitchen?

Posted by SeattleExile | October 16, 2006 8:12 PM

Man, I'd roll with the sexy Sasquatch costume for sure. I mean... who wouldn't?

Posted by Chilligan | October 16, 2006 9:53 PM

I again blame and thank Internet porn. I totally believe it's a wonderful thing for society that will mature over time into something less wretched than it too often is today, and that it will eliminate a lot of bodily taboos, but this is a transitional period. I'm not saying 4 and 6 year old girls aspire to be porn stars - not directly. They aspire to be as cool as teenage girls, who notice how excited teenage boys get about porn, and become more slutty as a powerful way of attracting attention, which all teenagers want. Not too long ago, a sexy costume was risque, and the masses who want to be seen as risque now all want sexy costumes. But, before long there will be a collective realization that it's not a novelty anymore, and costume-wearers will switch back to trying to out-creativity their friends, with a generally higher level of sexiness that won't be the blatant sole feature like with costumes today. The only thing that really annoys me is the lack of sexy costumes for males. Straight men, for all their societal advantages, really got the short end of the stick from evolution in the general difference between their sex drives and those of the women they lust after, and I see this bit of gender discrimination in the costumes as ultimately deriving from that fact... this might not be obvious to a lot of people, but I don't feel like listing the intermediate causes. If I were a costume maker, I'd make some sex-object costumes for men, though. Get the idea out there.

Posted by Noink | October 16, 2006 9:59 PM

Isn't it horrible enough that people were killed? Why does it matter that they were girls (or, per Herbert's hypothetical analysis, Jews or blacks, etc.). Would it be better if the killer had picked on boys? Perhaps if the killer had tried to pick out a representative sample of the population, killing 10% of the class's blacks, 51% of its males, 49% of its women, etc. then he would have met with your approval. You have to be fucking kidding me that you're appalled that a deranged psychopath wasn't more politically correct in his choice of victims.

Posted by R | October 16, 2006 10:28 PM

The NY Times writer was stating the fact that people don't see these kinds of crimes against women and girls as hate crimes. Excuse me, I take that back, men don't see these kinds of crimes as hate crimes.

It seems like men are as likely to admit it as the average American is to admit that U.S. foreign policy is usually not so savory. If men admitted that women are frequently raped and murdered just for being women, then they might have to confront why that is, and their complicity in our misogynistic culture that embraces violence against women. But, hey, at least we're making progress. Now it's actually illegal to rape and murder women and girls.

Posted by keshmeshi | October 17, 2006 1:04 AM

thanks for telling me what i do and do not see as hate crimes, keshmeshi. i didn't realize that I was so comfortable with rape and murder until you pointed it out to me. somebody should lock me up, i'm obviously a danger to society.

Posted by charles | October 17, 2006 7:47 AM

R - It makes a difference because those who we brand as "psychopaths" choose women as their victims over and over again and it's women who are raised to live in fear of this kind of thing happening to them.

And why are all the costumes sexy? I think it has escalated from just a few sexy costumes to ALL sexy costumes because no one wants to be the one frump at the party. (Not that I am down with the sexy costume cause) There was a really great skit about this on SNL a few years back.

Posted by K | October 18, 2006 4:29 PM

Erica, please be a Sexy Single Grain of Sand for halloween!

Posted by Bettina | October 18, 2006 5:15 PM

A total _Mean Girls_ moment! "In girl world, Hallowe'en is the only day that girls can dress up in sexy costumes, and nobody can say mean things about them..." God, I love Lindsay Lohan.

Posted by Thom | October 18, 2006 8:22 PM

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