The Halloween Post

by | October 6, 2011
filed under Feminism, Pop Culture, Racism

After Pride, Halloween is probably my favourite holiday of the year. But unfortunately it also tends to be one that raises my feminist hackles, as costume companies come up with new ways to advance racial stereotypes and cultural appropriation, and sexualize women in every single profession and identity you could think of.

Last year I wrote a post of 10 Halloween costume ideas for feminists, including Carmen Sandiego and a spoof on the “sexy nurse” costume. I’m going to add a couple of ideas to that, but first I wanted to point out the “Eskimo Tease” costume (left) I came across shopping for costumes at Value Village. After scoping out costume stores with a feminist eye for a couple of years, it’s rare that I find something that’s a new one, but this one was.

Point one, the term “Eskimo”, while a highly contested term, has a racist past and is generally unacceptable in Canada. Point two, the picture on the packaging and the costume name continues in the tradition of other racist costumes like the ever-popular “Geisha Girl” or “Pocahontas” in implying that racial identity can be boiled down to a recognizable outfit. It’s white people creating symbols to define other races, then appropriating those symbols without any acknowledgment of their history.

Koala Attack Costume

But now onto some cool costume ideas:

1. If you’re looking for something a little bit more macabre and a lot more bizarre, this vicious koala attack costume for kids posted at Instructables made me laugh, and I don’t see why it couldn’t be adapted for adults.

2.Codex from The Guild. While the costume is pretty sexualized, any fan of Felicia Day’s web series The Guild will know that Codex oozes empowerment. I’m betting this will be a very popular costume among feminerds this Halloween and at cons during the coming year.

3.No-sew Jellyfish costume (instructions at Martha Stewart) – just requires a clear umbrella and some bubble wrap and looks pretty amazing.

Owl dress for this year's costume

4. This year I’m dressing as an owl, in an adult version of this costume suggested by alphamom. A picture of the dress I made through really basic sewing of cut fabric “feathers” onto a brown dress I found at a thrift store. Still have to make the mask, then will wear dress over a brown long-sleeved shirt, brown tights, and brown shoes.

5. If you’re looking to be a ladybug this Halloween, let this super cool 5-year-old tell you how:

What are you dressing up as this Halloween?


, , , ,

  • Jessica Carson

    Great post with cute ideas. But I especially appreciate your statement about what’s wrong with racial stereotype costumes. The number of ‘Indian princess’ and ‘chief’ costumes I saw last Halloween made me crazy and your sentence eloquently nailed down why. I hope to be able share this insight with others.

  • Jessica

    Last year I was Rosie the Riveter. Super easy to do. You just get a blue jumpsuit, some boots and a red headband. I even went the extra mile and made an ID badge like she has in the poster. This year I’m re-purposing the jumpsuit to make a Fallout Vault 101 costume… complete with a foam Pip Boy 3000. While looking for supplies at a costume shop, I asked the woman working there if there were “any costumes for women that aren’t slutty” to which she responded “No.” Looks like it’s DIY again.

  • Mary

    “It’s white people creating symbols to define other races” – where do you come up with this crap? Did you check on the package to see where the costume was made? I’m betting “made in china” shows up somewhere. Perhaps it was the white model that caught the attention of your “feminist eye”. It’s really unfortunate your own racism and political agenda distort your objectivity. Why do you think marketers produce these kinds of products? It’s because they sell. It’s because women buy them. The marketplace responds to demand, it doesn’t dictate what consumers think or how they act. If women stopped buying these types of costumes they would disappear overnight. What part of this are you having problems understanding? Or are you simply just too invested in your “woman as victim” feminist dogma?

    • jarrahpenguin

      Hi Mary,

      Thanks for sharing your response, even though I don’t think you actually fully considered the post or the other posts I linked to that I’d written about racial stereotyping in Halloween costumes. First of all, I’m not sure how global labour practices actually change anything – the demand (as you point out) is for these costumes to be sold in Western countries and even though most are made in countries like China, that doesn’t mean the concept was Chinese in origin, or that the majority of the profits end up there. Also nowhere did I say these costumes are solely the market’s fault – women aren’t victims: they have the power as consumers to choose to not buy these costumes. While I do urge marketers to reconsider, I mostly urge people who mindlessly buy these costumes to think about what they’re representing. I agree – if people didn’t think it was funny and want to buy them, they wouldn’t be sold.

      Women (and men) make choices to perpetuate these cultural stereotypes and they have the ability to change it – that’s what I’m saying. Just think before you dress up as another race for Halloween – and consider the many awesome costume alternatives out there. Imagination and creativity are what Halloween is all about to me – picking an easy and thoughtless racial stereotype as your costume goes against that, in my view.

  • Eric Johnson

    Halloween is not your favourite “holiday” after Pride. In fact Pride is not a holiday either. A holiday according to the dictionary is considered time off work or school. Well in all my years, never have I had a day off school or work because of Halloween.
    So if truth and accuracy is what fuels your desire to write about social injustice, then could you please start with proper definitions.
    Thank you

    • jarrahpenguin

      Ha! Usually I’m the stickler for proper word usage, etc., so I can’t be annoyed that you corrected me on that, as nitpicky as it may have been. You are technically correct: perhaps using “annual celebration” would’ve been more accurate.

  • Vancouver Concerned

    I hope that you spend some of your time and effort to blog about all inequality.

    I’d also hope you have the courage to leave my reply up (as I will do my best to be sincere, yet respectful in my tone).

    A few Stats Canada numbers for you…
    • Of the 160,000 Canadian University Graduates last year roughly 100,000 were female and 60,000 we male. No equity programs to rebalance the inequality.
    • Young men (ages 17 – 24) entering the work force are more likely to die in a work place accident than all other ages and genders combined. The work available to these less educated men are in areas such as Mining, Forestry and Construction. Areas were companies are failing to protect these young and inexperienced males from dangerous work environments. Yes they are cocking and inexperienced a large reason why society needs to protect these workers.
    • Men are far more likely to be victims of violent crimes than females. Most violent acts against men go unreported. However, murder rates are harder to twist. 72% of murder victims are male in Canada. Yet we continue to hear “Stop violence against women and children”. Shouldn’t it be “Stop Violence” … period? A close friend of mine was one of the 2011 victims…nice guy not out for a fight and was stabbed to death.

    So a young male stepping into the work force has less education and a much higher rate of death than a young female. That is significant isn’t it?

    If you are going to spend your life dedicated to fighting for human rights, I’d hope you keep an open mind to the challenges that all members of society face.

  • jarrahpenguin

    Hi “Vancouver Concerned”

    Thanks for your post. If you check out the comments thread for this post: you’ll see we’ve talked a bit about the third point you make before. No violence is okay. What we talk about at gender focus is that there are gender dimensions to violence. So when we talk about violence against women it’s not to say it’s in any way less abhorrent than the violence men experience, but there are different influencing cultural and social factors.

    This blog takes the view that rigid gender norms hurt men too – they make men subject to violence disproportionately by stigmatizing physical weakness and making men fear being viewed as gay or feminine. That’s not cool. They also hurt women by the long tradition of gender relations that has led to domestic violence against women via women being seen as men’s property.

  • jarrahpenguin

    In terms of education, it’s notable that although women are graduating at higher rates, they’re still making less money on average than men. Women of colour make even less money – it’s important to also consider race (some men of colour make less on average than white women too and violence patterns also vary by race).

    And back to the job opportunities thing – if you look at the recession, it has hurt men hard. And it’s not something women should celebrate, as I point out here:

    It’s not something to celebrate that women’s jobs have been able to survive partly because women were disproportionately working in lower wage, less secure jobs such as in the hospitality industry. We need good jobs for everyone and social programs that address unemployment (for men and women) and the poor working conditions in casual jobs that women disproportionately fill.

    I believe that demonstrating the artificiality of gender barriers and how they hurt people of all genders, that will help lead to equality.

  • jarrahpenguin

    Also feel free to search the blog for tags like “masculinity” if you want to see some of the other stuff we’ve written that deal with issues men face as a result of gender inequality and gender stereotypes.

  • Vancouver Concerned

    I am a man, with a mother, a wife, two sisters and a daughter. I also have a son.

    It upsets me to suggest my son has it easier because of his gender. Something that is either implied or directly stated in the media daily.

    My 1 year old son is born into the following challenges.

    2x higher rate of Homicide
    3x higher rate of Suicide
    2x higher rate of Work Place Injuiry
    2x higher rate of Violence
    9x higher chance of serving in a war zone
    40% lower chance of getting a university education

    Please read these statistics carefully. They can also be found on the statistics Canada website…next to the salary comparisons. So if we are playing the statistics quiz, which one of the of the categories above would you trade for a higher wage?

    I think what is frustrating for many men is the message that it’s constantly communicated in the media that it’s a “man’s world”.

    A man is often faced with very difficult decisions, particually when raising a young family, with lower education, such as having to travel away from home and/or work in dangerous environments (such as mining, forestry and construction) to support the family.

    I’ve personally been the victim of multiple sexual assults as a child and physical assaults as an child and an adult. There is no women’s shelter with a legal protection to fall back on or men’s support group to join (just me, myself and I). There is usually just jokes about violence when you talk about it (so I don’t). I then read daily about how I, as a white male am sterotyped as a preditor and I have it easy and I prey on the women, children, minorities, and a number of a long list of atrocities I inherit just because of how I was born.

    I guess the 2,700 men who killed themselves in Canada last year just didn’t realize how good they had it.

  • jarrahpenguin

    Hi again,

    As I said, I agree that gender roles have a negative impact on boys too – your citation of homicide, suicide, and violence rates being prime examples. Boys are told not to express their feelings constructively and instead encouraged to prove themselves through physical strength and violence.

    By contrast, women experience higher rates of depression and suicide attempt, arguably as a result of how we’re socialized to differently process feelings and social pressure. That said, part of this difference could be due to men’s under-reporting of depression and other mood disorders because they’re seen as feminine conditions.

    Gender binaries hurt everyone. If you’re looking for more on the history of masculine roles I recommend Manhood in America: A Cultural History.

    Gender binaries also mean that men who choose to look after kids or take caretaking jobs are stigmatized. That’s linked to a traditional devaluation of domestic “woman’s” work, and it’s not cool.

    But please take a look at all the statistics – women may be graduating at higher rates than men but they’re still drastically underrepresented in tenure-track positions and in STEM careers, widely considered a field with good long-term prospects. That said, women are overrepresented in humanities, partly due to their being streamed into these “less scientific” fields and also due to men being discouraged there for fear of being seen as “feminine”.

    And I do think it’s damaging to perpetuate the message that “it’s a man’s world” – partly because it limits men’s choices as you’ve pointed out.

    I think I do consider gender’s impact on men. I think dismantling gender norms benefits both men and women, in ways I’ve mentioned above.

    But when you come right down to it, there are many pervasive cultural motifs, double-standards, and social norms that continue to disproportionately affect women. I’d recommend: “He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut” by Jessica Valenti if you’d like a huge list of examples.

  • Sheila K

    I’m fascinated by the whole costume thing and who gets to dress up as what. While I was putting black makeup on my face for Halloween this year (not blackface, big distinction!, I was the grim reaper, didn’t want my face to show under my costume), the thought did cross my mind that IF I was putting black make-up on to imitate a black person I would realize how very, very wrong it was. Why some other people don’t get that, I’m not really sure. Then I pondered Raffi Torres and his wife who went as Jay-Z and Beyonce for Halloween, complete with a bucketload of brown skin paint. If they hadn’t done the skin paint though, I would have thought it was an acceptable, kind of cute costume. My logic is this: clothing that entertainers/public figures choose can be considered costume(Beyonce in particular has some fab ones), so imitating that isn’t off-base. Skin colour isn’t a choice, therefore, not a costume item to be imitated. Does that make sense? But then what about a historical figure like Pocahontas — is it ever acceptable for a white person to dress up like her, without brown paint and/or sexy-fied version of her outfit? That one makes me uncomfortable. As you point out, there are such a wide variety of costume ideas out there, it’s easy to avoid crossing the line, even if the line is not always clear. Love the koala attack one and your owl looks great!

  • jarrahpenguin

    Interesting point for sure, Sheila. When it comes down to doing specific people instead of caricatures, it’s a little bit more difficult to generalize. I guess my approach would just be to think outside the box and try avoid toeing the line.

    I like the logic you came up with about clothing as costume vs. skin colour.

  • Jessica

    Just a note on the “holiday” technicality– holiday is based off of Old English words for holy day, and Halloween is based on older pagan celebrations. And just for good measure, Halloween is also statehood day in Nevada, thus a day off from school. Jarrah’s use is appropriate.

  • Jessica

    Why don’t you start your own blog that focuses on the inequality that men face? This blog (from what I’ve seen so far) doesn’t claim that men have it better than women; it simply focuses on problems that are faced by women.

  • Pingback: » Why Study the “Unimportant”? Gender Focus – A Canadian Feminist Blog()

  • I could not agree with you more. I have to make my own costumes to stay away from the inappropriate stuff they are selling these days. It’s horrible what society is willing to put up with. I am going to check out that other post you mentioned in your article. I’m very interested.

    • Halloween Costume

      I am totally agreed with Emma. There are several different and easy ideas are available on Internet for the Halloween costumes. And you know the rented costumes are sometimes non hygenic and not of size also. So its better to get some easy Ideas from the internet and make them own at home. Most of time home made costumes are unique and of good size. I would prefer to make these kind of halloween costume at home.