At this point, the sexy Halloween costume is a holiday institution. Pretty much any character or profession or object you can think of has been made into a teensy tiny outfit. Sexy Marvin the Martian? Yep. Sexy Shrek? Uh-huh. Sexy poop emoji? Obvi. There’s even a sexy costume that represents being ghosted by someone, which works well for Halloween on multiple levels.
As the sexy costume industry grows, it calls attention to both how fetishized and how policed female sexuality continues to be in our society. To better understand the debate around dressing as a slutty pencil or naughty nurse for the night, especially in light of #MeToo, we turned to Sovereign Syre — a successful podcaster, stand up comedian, and adult film actress. As someone who has spent the past decade curating sexual desire, Syre obviously has unique insight into the situation, and we value that. We also admire her intellect, which she currently puts to good use as an amateur historian and co-host of Ill Repute, a podcast that reframes the narratives of some of history’s most noteworthy women.
Does the issue of sexy costumes come up again year after year? Yes. But in 2018 it’s a complicated topic that deserves scrutiny, and as the following discussion points out in no uncertain terms, talking about it isn’t enough. It’s time to start examining the individual costumes less and the systems that make them so fraught more.
Ok. Sexy costumes. Let’s get into it.
It’s like in Japan how salary men are allowed to get drunk because the tension of the job is such that anything that you say or do while you’re drunk you’re excused from in Japanese culture, because you have to have an escape valve for really rigid norms. I feel like Halloween is the one time a year when girls get to be a ho.
You know what I mean? It’s the one time of year when girls are sort of allowed to be a ho without any real repercussions. I’m very uncomfortable about taking that away from women. I feel like we’ve all worked so hard to have any kind of freedom. There is this weird backward thinking of ”That’s demeaning” or “super degrading.” It’s like don’t tell women how to women.
The whole point of feminism is liberating, it’s not abolishing liberation. It’s liberating people from patriarchal structures.
The initial pushback seemed to be against women dressing in sexy costumes to seek the approval of men.
And my thing is like, so? And? What’s wrong with male attention? I’m worried about men. If you think a girl’s dirty for having sex with men, what does that say about yourself? You think men are horrible? You think men make women poisoned? Every dick that touches them just destroys them?
It makes me ask “Why wouldn’t you want male attention?” People who are in control and have power? That would be a very smart decision. It may be uncomfortable for people, but, of course, people want to curtsey before those in power. And why wouldn’t a heterosexual woman that’s sexually available, why wouldn’t she want to get the attention of males because one of them she might wanna have sex with?
It doesn’t happen with all men, but she wants to attract men because she might wanna have sex with one of them. I think that’s where it gets a little fuzzy for people. It’s this idea that if you’re dressing for men that you’re dressing for all of them. But no. You’re dressing for the one that you want to fuck eventually.
Totally. I was speaking with a man who asked, “Well don’t you think it’s fair to say that if a woman dresses in a manner that’s sexual for Halloween that she’s going to get more male attention?” And I was like, well, maybe? I don’t know to what extent it’s permission, however.
So what? Men dress for female attention. Gay men dress for other gay men’s attention. I don’t get how this is framed negatively for women in sexy costumes. Well, yeah, sexual people want the attention of people they’d like to fuck. There’s nothing wrong with that. That’s human. It’s not feminist and it’s not conservative, it just is. It’s just the way it works.
The difficulty seems to be in viewing it as commodification like it’s general marketing. Women are presented as saying, “I have turned myself into a product; please consume me.”
Did she? Did she turn herself into a product? Or are we all products? We are in a capitalist culture where we are made to look at our bodies and our time and our intellectual output as literal capital. I mean, the boss says, “When you’re on my office clock, I own you.” We all do that. And I think it has more to do with male attitudes about entitlement. I think that these are still men who see women as a resource they are being granted or denied access to.
It really comes down to women knowing their value. Men are okay with women’s sexuality until women know its power, and then suddenly it’s taboo. Like they want to say a woman is predatory. So? Then don’t give her your shit.
There was this study that was done last year where they looked at a bunch of different Halloween costumes. It was called “Female Disempowerment Disguised as a Halloween Costume.” They surveyed all of these costumes and noted that boys were just offered more characters that represented action and power. Girls tended to have ones that were focused on attraction and seduction with a little bit of infantilization.
What do you think that reflects?
It approaches a discussion of systems of power without attempting to dismantle systems of power. And until the actual systems of power change, why wouldn’t a woman want to wear a sexy costume? That’s still your leverage in society. To make it incumbent upon women to empower themselves when they have such limited power in society doesn’t make sense. As long as the power structure is in place, they are going to do what they need to do to secure a modicum of power. That’s human nature. Men and women do it. It helps establish your position in the caste.
Why do all girls want to be princesses? No one’s trying to dress up like a fucking peasant. No one in their reincarnated lives was ever a peasant. They were always kings and queens. Men fantasize about power and women fantasize about being sexually irresistible because those are the roles we are given by the patriarchy to try to manage and achieve a measure of power. We are told to look at each other in an adversarial way and that’s the patriarchy which says in order for one person to succeed another person has to give something up. We are a system built on slavery and the devaluation of gendered labor.
Patriarchy says the only way to survive is to be okay with that. So, that is reflected in costumes and movies. The way for people to get by is to find a way to be okay with the circumstances they find themselves in. We have to find a way to enjoy being submissive. Find a way to enjoy or capitalize on being sexy and seductive. None of it is fair.
And that’s why people talk about female equality and I’m much more women’s liberation. And the liberation part is from the patriarchy. It tends to liberate not just women, but everybody. It’s a liberation from the system that’s incredibly broken and forces people to do these mental gymnastics. Men have to accept or even be turned on by the idea of dominating and completely consuming another person. Women have to find a way to be okay with having their person completely sublimated to another person when they have children. It’s just horrible.
Those are complicated concepts to examine. It’s more like “Sexy costumes are kind of hard for me to work through cognitively. Best we just don’t wear them.”
It all comes down to the point at which male behavior is pushed out of the realm of routine. “Well, she’s sexy so of course I treat her that way.” Men talk about themselves as if they are the unbridled id. Men have no expectations to behave themselves. And if they do behave themselves they should be commended as exemplary, good men. When women behave in this way where we do what we want we’re still regarded with a great deal of contempt. But men, you know, if they behave themselves, they’re to be commended.
I think that a sexy Halloween costume is just another example of men having sour grapes. They feel that they should be entitled and have access to our sex all the time. And when we dress sexily and we don’t offer ourselves to everyone, we’re bitches. We’re being assholes. And they’re being good men by resisting that impulse, but they need to point out to us that we’re not being very nice by dressing sexy and not fucking them. It’s like “I deserve it and look at what a good person I am.” But they’re bitching and moaning the whole time. “They’re just out there and I don’t do anything about it. But you should know that’s fucked up.”
It’s the damage of this male entitlement. It’s like who gives a shit if my tits are out? Unless you feel like you’re entitled to my tits. It’s like don’t rape people. How about that? Like, how about everything isn’t about your dick?
It’s the patriarchy and everything is organized around the male experience and the male desire and I think why #MeToo shocking for a lot of guys is that they really just had no idea how traumatic their sexual expression can be. They are shocked at how much women don’t like being sexually accosted, at how gross we think it is. It’s because the power dynamic is what it is.
In and of itself it doesn’t really bother anyone. But it’s about the power dynamic of it. Which is why I say all of this is about pretending to approach the systems of power by pretending to talk about it but never fully opening it up and talking about what it’s really about. All of this stuff makes people feel really shitty because there’s a power imbalance.
It creates so much cognitive dissonance for people to have to think through those experiences. You can see that with people who think the real threat is false accusations because the only way to process the sheer volume of people being assaulted is to assume most of them are lying.
It’s not a witch hunt. It’s not a court of law. It’s about women. It’s about empathy. It is saying, “Listen to me. These things happen. It happened to me. Clearly, you don’t understand how endemic this problem is.” I don’t think it was ever meant to be, a fucking witch hunt and take down every bad actor. It was to communicate with other people and say, “Look, if we all start talking about this so people can’t ignore it anymore and something needs to be changed.”
All of this is useless unless we get to the larger discussion of the way power is structured in the current society instead of making it about individual men or individual sex acts.
A hand on my lower back means something different depending on who you are to me. Like whether you’re my dad or my boss is a big difference. And that’s what no one is talking about. They’re trying to pull it all down to individual acts that are completely decontextualized from the very power of dynamics that make them feel horrible for people.
I think all of that really is kind of why sexy costumes become so fraught.
And, to me, dressing that way is in the spirit of Halloween, which started as the one night when people got to act out their id. It makes sense that women would dress sexily because that’s part of our being. Our sexuality is beyond under control from the time we hit puberty until we die. It’s non-stop. That’s probably also why men often dress like powerful figures or villains. All Hallows Eve is meant to be sort of a purge. It’s supposed to be a night when people get to live out a character.
And yet sexy costumes continue to be framed as some sort of invitation.
It comes down not to whether or not someone dressed sexy and instead whether or not the perpetrator felt like it was up to him to rape them or not. That’s what it comes down to. To me, I’m just so tired of the idea that if somehow women just acted right then they wouldn’t get hurt. It’s like get me the fuck out of here!
I’m like, fuck you! If women just acted right? You mean that people that have the least amount of power in the culture? Sure. Okay. You know that I mean? Yeah, because we’re the ones writing the laws that disrespect us. We’re the ones setting the pay gender standards. We’re the ones doing all that. It’s so bizarre! It’s such a textbook abusive relationship. If you just acted right, I wouldn’t have to hurt you.
Women have to wear rape whistles and turtlenecks and be afraid to masturbate or cum or go on a date. It’s so fucking sad. Oh God. And then at the end of their days, they’re 80 years old and they get raped by a burglar. You know what I mean? It’s mythology that women are just out of control.