If you thought that the debate over whether or not we should be dressing girls in sexualized Halloween costumes was squarely settled on the side of “no,” I regret to inform you that you’re wrong.
Last week Leora Tanenbaum, a senior staffer for Planned Parenthood, wrote a piece for the New York Times’ parenting blog, Motherlode, entitled “Your Daughter Wants a Sexy Halloween Costume. How You Should Say Yes.”
As Halloween costumes became progressively more sexual for (primarily) women over the past decade, a serious debate ensued about whether this was a form of feminist expression or another example of the commercialized bodily objectification of women. And yet rather than being reined in, the trend has not only spread to girls, but is actually receiving endorsements.
Tanenbaum’s piece is stunning. She writes: “A girl is expected to wear a costume that exudes sex appeal without crossing an invisible, razor-thin boundary between ‘sexy’ and ‘slutty.’”
And yet rather than question the expectation, she affirms that “The choice—sexy costume, funny costume, scary costume—should be your daughter’s.” She even goes so far as to suggest that girls who don’t wear sexual costumes “may be self-conscious or uncomfortable with their bodies.” She encourages parents to be “nonjudgmental,” and urges, “In the end, even if you wish that [your daughter’s] costume were less sexualized, remember what’s really important: how she feels about herself, and whether she recognizes the larger sexist forces at play.”
In other words, you’re the sexist, mom, if you don’t want your eight-year-old dressed as a sexy secretary while she trick-or-treats with a ten-year-old dressed as Steve Jobs.
Under the new Halloween standards, ‘Men and boys get to be people, while girls and women must be things.’
Shocking as this may be, it isn’t all too surprising coming from the paper that shrugged off Caitlin Flanagan’s Girl Land, which warned a few years ago about the growing sexualization of young and teenage girls. The Times’ reviewer called “hyperbolic” Flanagan’s claim that pubescence is a girl’s time of “coming to terms with her emergence as a sexual creature, with everything good and everything frightening that accompanies this transformation,” and said her concerns about things like widespread oral sex were based on “old-fashioned archetypes and abstractions.”
A walk through any mall, where a store like Victoria’s Secret has its own entrance and product line for tweens, makes you wonder how anyone could deny the reality that Flanagan was decrying. But the intellectual honesty behind Tanenbaum’s pro-sexy-girl Halloween piece suggests that the anything-goes camp of feminism has moved past the denial phase to the embracing stage.
And this line of thinking may grow harder for parents to resist in a concrete way. Mary Valle wrote last week in The Guardian that finding a costume for her twelve-year-old that wasn’t labeled “sexy” proved to be an impossible task. As she noted, under the new Halloween standards, “Men and boys get to be people, while girls and women must be things.” What’s happened to Halloween for girls is indicative of how modesty has been relegated to a social ghetto, while smut has been commercialized and brought into the mainstream.
Tanenbaum’s piece ends with a story about a girl opting for a racy Grease costume in consultation with her mother. The irony must have been lost on Tanenbaum that Grease is the story of a woman who changes her entire look and identity in order to be sexually pleasing to a man. But the modern parenting advice in the second-largest newspaper in the country is not to judge if your daughter wants to use a holiday that built up around the imagination of children to advertise herself as a sex object for boys and men. Instead, you’re supposed to check your “sexist” sensibilities at the door and listen to your daughter. Forget ghosts and goblins or poisoned candy, that is something to be truly terrified of.