“Halloween is the one night a year when girls can dress like a total slut and no other girls can say anything about it,” says Cady in that memorable scene from Mean Girls (admittedly, pretty much every scene from Mean Girls is memorable). What follows is a parade of high school girls, each clad in a more preposterous “costume” than the last, all of which are essentially skimpy outfits and a pair of animal ears.
With this line, screenwriter Tina Fey proved once again that she’s not only funny, but insightful as well. She was perfectly on the nose with this one. What she didn’t mention, however, is that while girls’s costumes generally involve revealing as much skin as possible without being naked, guys actually put more clothing on for costumes, a novel idea. In Cady’s first Halloween party, for example, her crush is dressed in a football uniform for a costume. Regina, on the other hand, is wearing what looks like lingerie and bunny ears.
Silly girl, you say, this is only an exaggeration of real life as designed for entertainment and Hollywood! Halloween costumes aren’t that blatantly sexist and sexual! To which I respond, WRONG.
While, say, dressing up as a sailor for a man means dressing up as a sailor, for a woman this inherently means dressing up as a slutty sailor. Searching for a woman’s pirate costume? We hope you mean slutty pirate! And the other day when I tried searching for a shotgun costume, the first ten results I got were, oh-so-intuitively, sexy cowgirl costumes. (Try it yourself.)
And it’s not just for Halloween, either. Purim has become the new “show-offy meat market,” according to loads of anecdotal evidence and at least one article in Tablet. The pressure to show skin seems to be an entirely female one (although from my own traumatizing experience with men in Speedos, I’m perfectly fine with men resisting the call to cave and undress for the holiday). No, I don’t need men to start stripping for Purim for me to feel better about all this. But I would like to go to a Purim party without feeling matronly simply because my cleavage is hidden and my underwear isn’t the entirety of my outfit.
It’s fine by me if women want to wear revealing costumes in the dead of winter; I have no objection to the occasional need to show off our bodies, or to feeling sexy in a barely-there outfit. But why must everyone do so? And why are men exempt from this trend to interpret “dress up” as “undress”?
This Purim I’ll be dressing up as a pregnant wife (yes, it’s a costume, no, I’m not pregnant) (it’s funny because I’m only 3 months married, and my husband will be carrying a shotgun and it’ll be a shotgun wedding…oh, never mind) and showing no more nakedness than I usually do. But I’m fairly certain that I’ll end up feeling like Cady did, walking into a party in a funny costume and realize that I’m the only one who didn’t realize I was supposed to read “costume party” as “sexyfest.”