Casey lives in Washington, D.C.
Where I went to college, the most important question in October was not what you were going to be for Halloween. Halloween was a mere afterthought to the key costume party on campus: Night of Decadence. A giant underwear party attended by thousands, NOD is most likely only allowed by the administration because of the length of its depraved history. It’s been around for decades. Despite the administration’s efforts to quell the party by requiring wristbands, guest lists, months of detailed planning and security at every corner, the party shows no sign of being stopped.
NOD is always held the Saturday before Halloween at a residential college that in many ways resembles a motel, with a wide, open courtyard that allows plenty of space to see the drunken partygoers drift from room to room. The party planners for NOD embrace themes like “A Night in NODingham: Bring Your Stiffest Arrow” and “NOD Bless America: Choose Your Position.” Like most events involving a dress code, the girls were much more preoccupied with what to wear than the guys. Most guys put on a pair of theme boxers and a hat and called it a day. But it was easy to see how the party could play on the worst of female insecurities. Would your costume be creative enough? Could you find the right balance between looking sexy and looking trampy? And most importantly, would you look hot? The gym was never so packed as the weeks before NOD. The salad bar ran out of salad. And I heard of girls who turned to vomiting to lose enough weight to feel OK baring almost all. (This truly seems like a Halloween horror story to me – there are few things less sexy than vomiting up your Chipotle dinner right before a party.)
There were other women, though, who embraced the party in a truly feminist way. Many of these women wore nothing but underwear, pasties and elaborate body paint. These were the girls that truly owned their bodies and their sexuality. They are the type of women who take any event and make it their own, who show that there is a feminist possibility at every turn.
Choice defines much of third wave feminism. And if you are one of those body paint girls, then more power to you. But I wasn’t. I was drunk and wearing a costume made of underwear while seeking out the boy I was currently hooking up with. And then making out with a different one. (Maybe – the memories are a little fuzzy). Was it sexually empowering the way that third wave feminism attests that pornography and nakedness can be? Not at all. These feel like decidedly anti-feminist moments in my life, but they aren’t moments I regret. I enjoy the memories of NOD: the giddiness of being nearly naked, the discomfort fading to brazenness as we became more and more intoxicated, and, of course, the disastrous liaisons that resulted from the night.
Is there such a thing as a flexi-feminist? As a less-than-staunch flexitarian, I like to think there is. I understand that the pressure to put sex and beauty front and center during Halloween – and NOD – is something that many women find disrespectful or offensive. I see their point. I myself no longer tramp around in a corset and underwear on Halloween night. But I think there is something valuable in being able to understand the issues and choosing to engage anyway.
I think if third wave feminism allows you to decide for yourself what constitutes a feminist act, then it also must allow you to decide what isn’t feminist. For me, NOD wasn’t a display of feminism. Flexi-feminism isn’t disguising a non-feminist act as feminist just because you were able to choose it for yourself. The same way I avoid eating meat products most days of the year, but sometimes cave into those Chick-Fil-A chicken nuggets, I am ok with living up to my feminist principles, most of the time. If nothing else, the feminist in me is glad to have a horror story or two for later down the road.