Today begins our week of women writing about Halloween. Here, Lindsay conjures the Ghost of Internet Past to tell a real-life horror story.
I am about to take our blogger/reader relationship to a whole new level of intimacy. Here is a a block quote from something I wrote in my Livejournal in 2005:
Halloween was pretty fun. I was an old lady. I got to wear a sweet wig, and seeing that it was the least sexy costume of all-time it also became this kind of conscious protest against girls dressing up like sluts for Halloween. Seriously, ladies. Do you really think you’re retaining some of your dignity because it’s Halloween? Do you think that somehow makes it different than dressing like an “angelic prostitute” or “kitty hooker” any other day of the year? I ran into girls whose costumes were just out and out “prostitutes”. Ok, if you want attention that badly, can you at least come up with something creative? I can’t even tell you how much Halloween breaks my little feminist heart in half.
Let’s first sound a trumpet for the sliver of this that isn’t embarrassing: I self-identified as a feminist at 18! In my Livejournal!
But the parts about this quote that make Post-Liberal-Arts-BA Me cringe? For one thing, my use of the word “slut” seems a little too reliant on all of us understanding the fixed, patriarchal definition of the term. The only times I use that word now are in contexts that draw attention to how stupid, narrow and contradictory the accepted definition is, or, poolside, when I reveal that at the height of my Bikini Kill worship I once scrawled it across my belly in permanent Sharpie. (I wish this were true.)
On a larger scale, I now recognize now that Halloween isn’t as cut-and-dry as simply saying “displays of sexuality = bad.” Or “sex workers = bad.” Because I know that the power dynamics of female sexuality aren’t that simple either. And what is Halloween if not a manifestation of all the frustrations and challenges of contemporary feminism played out in a frenzied, fast-motion pantomime? Choosing how to dress up on Halloween in 2010 is a delicate, awkward dance because being a feminist in 2010 is too.
Feminism is essentially about choice, and Halloween is a situation in which the rhetoric of choice is evoked for women in a really condescending way. Because we’re lead to believe that we have so many choices: You could be a sexy cop! Or a sexy scarecrow! Or a sexy Ghostbuster! Or a Spongebob SexyPants! How ever will you decide with all of these CHOICES?
But, in hopes that the creative director of HalloweenCostumes.com is reading, let me clarify. When I say that feminism is about choice, I see it as being not about a choice from an already-defined array of alternatives. I see it as having the power to reject the choices you already see around you. Feminism is about choosing off the board. It’s not always easy, and sometimes it requires some imagination (or a really good wig). But when you’ve exerted that freedom, whatever the choice may be – that’s power.
So for my first Halloween in college, with the aforementioned naive semantics but the most genuine intentions, I was an old lady. My friends had all gone out to dinner earlier but I’d stayed back, so on my way to a party I sat down alone on campus shuttle from my dorm to the subway stop. The bus was packed with angelic prostitutes, kitty hookers, meathead guys in really jokey drag, meathead guys in really gory make-up, and a few girls and guys who’d chosen to go off the board entirely.
Standing to my right, a red-faced guy in a grass skirt and coconut bra held a half-empty Gatorade bottle (the liquid inside the color of no Gatorade flavor I knew) and hollered something profanity-laden to his friends across the aisle. A moment later we locked eyes, and he looked suddenly repentant. He leaned down towards me, ear-level, and said, “I am so, so sorry about my language. I hope I didn’t offend you.”
It was a moment before I realized that this was not a rare scene of a college guy apologizing to a college girl for making an offensive joke, but that this guy thought I was actually an old lady.
I was too embarrassed to correct him (more retrospective charm I will chalk up to being young and naive), so I just shook my head and looked away. I made it to the frat party, and as it was still the beginning of college and before I’d realized that frat parties weren’t my scene, I had an awful time and left early. The guys at the party were too busy minding the angelic prostitutes and kitty hookers to talk to me, but I knew even then that that was for the better. I’m sure those girls felt at some point in the night a kind of power, and who am I to say that they were doing it solely for the guys or that they were wrong or that what they felt wasn’t real? But on the bus earlier that night, I’d felt something real too. I’d learned what it felt like to enact (albeit in a pretty silly way) a representation of femininity that confused and rebuffed the expected choices. And I think I even knew at the time that that’s what empowerment feels like.