Let me preface this column by saying that I don’t care about Halloween. I can appreciate the fact that this faux holiday gives people a reason to have parties, and I certainly enjoy free keg beer as much as the next guy. But after my elementary school years that were filled with Power Ranger costumes and sugar-highs, I came to the realization that the whole concept of playing dress up is stupid. I am rarely seen dressed in anything other than Michigan T-shirts and basketball shorts, so a weekend that revolves entirely around what one is wearing is basically my worst nightmare.
I’ve spent every Halloween of my adult life trying to resist the societal notion that I have to put an incredible amount of thought and time into a costume. But despite my ever-growing disdain for Halloween, I have to admit that the holiday does create a good forum to discuss larger societal issues that may otherwise be neglected.
I don’t think I’m alone in describing some of the female costume choices around campus as somewhat, ahem, risqué. I’ve never really given the tradition of bearing it all on Halloween a second thought. It’s as American as apple pie. But some don’t see it that way. In an Oct. 26 article in Consider magazine, Katie Sauter pointed out a few reasons why racy costumes for women are a result of a male dominated society.
Sauter places the blame mainly on the male CEOs of various costume hot spots for their patriarchal tendencies that serve to “police the acts of women.” Though Sauter does have a point that many costume stores offer an overwhelming variety of sexy nurse/nun/teacher/angel/devil outfits, young women who purchase these costumes ultimately, for one reason or another, make their own decision to do so. The question is, why?
I don’t have the answer, but the danger in this discussion is to oversimplify these decisions by making them solely about a patriarchal society or to oversimplify issues of feminism by making them exclusively about how women dress. There are issues facing women all around the world, such as wage disparities and sexual violence, that don’t get half the attention that sexy kitten costumes get on Halloween.
And feminism is not the only social issue that gets its moment in the sun on Halloween. Racist costumes are also a hot button issue. Most would agree that costumes like dressing in blackface is racist and nothing else, but students at The Ohio University have brought other cultural insensitivities to light.
In a recent movement by an organization called Students Teaching About Racism in Society, advertisements have been created that show minority students holding pictures of racist costumes with captions reading, “We’re a culture, not a costume.” One of the flyers displays a disheartened Asian student holding a picture of a caricature-like Geisha. Another shows a Middle Eastern student holding a picture of a suicide bomber with a detonator in one hand and a beer in the other. These are just two examples of a seemingly unlimited supply of racist outfits. Halloween is supposed to be a fun and harmless holiday, but many who don offensive costumes will use this mentality as an excuse to defend their bigoted choices.
As a Japanese American, I find it difficult to write off these racial insensitivities as harmless costumes. Racist Halloween costumes cause a once a year regression into our segregated past. They magnify our country’s inability to move forward, while putting our cultural ignorance on full display.
The STARS flyers aren’t the first brush with racism that I’ve experienced, nor do I expect them to be the last. But such strong images highlight that racism is a problem that still exists in the country. While the flyers were successful in generating conversation, it shouldn’t take costumes to make people acknowledge true racial issues. Issues such as minority underrepresentation in government, deep-seeded racial divides in the South and economic inequality should be a part of a daily dialogue.
I don’t think that everyone who dresses up for Halloween is a racist, anti-feminist idiot — the idiots of the world certainly don’t need costumes to show their ignorance. However, I do take issue with how the old Celtic celebration of summer’s end — which everyone knows is where the celebration of Halloween originates from — seems to be one of the only times that certain issues are brought to the forefront of conversation. Racism and feminism are issues that arise in our daily lives, not just our costume selection, and young people need to think about them in a larger context, not just once a year.
Joe Sugiyama can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.