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November 24, 2010 / missmarymax

In Defense(?) of Slutoween: An Ex-Puritan Reflects on the Wrong Holiday

Image Ganked From Layout Sparks.

Forgive me for still being stuck on Halloween.  For starters, it’s my favorite holiday. (Candy, costumes, and spooks? Score.)  Plus, the holiday plans of m’self and m’friend-group were circumvented by some important happenings; thus, I can totally justify “making up” the missed Halloween celebration for months to come.  Thus — at least in my flexible schedule of celebration — a Halloween blog remains perfectly in order.  Besides, isn’t it kind of a welcome break from all those posts on that other impending holiday?  …I thought so.

I’ve been thinking quite a lot about Halloween this year, specifically the “Slutoween” phenomenon that’s become the go-to October blog topic for so many feminists and girl-power-crusaders.  Prior to this season, my own view of Slutoween pretty much paraded in line with the anti-sex/ anti-sexualization line one probably expects from a self-declared prude: How dare “they” take my rad Day of Spooky Dress-Up and turn it into yet another hypersexual exhibitionist extravaganza? How dare they sexify everyone from Hermione to Nemo*? Have they no shame?

But these days, I suppose, things are shifting.  To begin with, shame strikes me — more and more — as something not worth having.  And modesty, while not without merit, increasingly feels value-neutral.  My own struggle to overcome [insert non-existent term for sexual/body-related shame that makes one want to self-lobotomize] has opened up new perspectives for me on sexuality, and — by extension — new perspectives on Slutoween.  This year, for the first time, I watched those sexy nurses and sexy schoolgirls take the streets and felt a sudden spurt of — how do I put this — admiration. 

After all, while they may be cogs in the pornification machine, they may also — y’know — not.  They may understand their skimpy costumes differently than I’ve understood them.  They may even be triumphing over long-ingrained body dysmorphia or levelling a blow against sexual shame.  Their choice to dress as they have — while potentially complicated by the larger-than-individual forces that make all decisions (and choice feminism as an ideology) complicated — is not necessarily as simple as we pretend in judging it. There is not, after all, a single meaning for any behavior, and my assumptions (or yours for that matter) are not automatically someone else’s reality.

Now obviously, those judgments I’ve levelled at the sexy-milkmaids of Octobers past may also be accurate.  These girls and women may indeed be robots programmed by the patriarchal machine to go wild on command.  But this year, for the first time, I realized I have no interest in judging that wildness.  At least, as I observed individual “naughty” spooks, I started to realize my past perspective was not the only possibility.

In an interesting twist, the very year I find myself coming forward in defense of Slutoween, the fab journalistic force behind Rabbit Write has hesitated in her annual defense.  She writes:

[Slutoween] differs from [LBGT] pride weekend. Both shout sexuality. And it is cool to shout your sexuality from the rooftop– if it is conscious, purposeful. Pride Weekend has an element of reclaiming sexuality, of spreading information. But with Halloween, we aren’t acknowledging what’s going on– we’re not claiming Halloween as a celebration of sexuality, we aren’t passing out condoms like candy.

I don’t know what Halloween would look like in a sexually free society. But I know that it wouldn’t include an article on AOL, warning women that if they dress “like sluts” people might think they “are sluts”.  An article is meant to warn women that sexy costumes send the signal  “you want to have sex.” Oh?


Is this why third wave feminism hates on slutty costumes–because they assume [women aren’t making a conscious choice]?  Because they forget women can be exhibitionists? Or feminists are just jealous? Nope. It’s because Halloween has become mainstream.  Halloween becoming Straight People’s Pride made it infested with alcohol sponsors and amateurs from the burbs. And third wave indie girls in their etsy-bought ironic costumes will have none of.

Interestingly, although Rabbit Write is losing support for Slutoween just as I’m coming around to it, her post helped me to better pinpoint the tension in my own position.  Granted, our perspectives on Slutoween differ a bit. (For starters, I take issue with the notion that Halloween isn’t as big a deal in many queer communities as it is in straight bars, and I’d argue that the tendency of Slutoween costumes to conform to a heterosexist standard has not kept queer people from, well, queering that image.   I’d also question the implication that queer Pride festivals haven’t become terribly commercialized/ mainstream-ified as well.)  And yet, Rabbit Write hits the nail of my own opinion on the head, when she writes, “But while we are given a free pass to flaunt our bods and sexuality, the culture doesn’t actually become un-repressed. It’s what happens to sexuality when you cage, label, judge then give it one night where it’s suddenly okay.”  

In other words, although Slutoween appears to provide an opportunity for unfettered expressions of sexuality — (which it does — of course — only for expressions that fit a very specific, limited image) — it also functions to inforce the policing of purity that occurs the other 364 days a year. Women dress up — reinforcing the concept of sexuality as costuming, as something women do not generally possess but rather can put on in certain contexts.   But more disturbing still — (even if we dismiss the implications of sexuality-as-costume, the implication that a sexual woman is about as logical as a zombie or a ninja) — there remains the unsettling fact that women are “allowed” to dress this way one day a year.  There remains the unsettling fact that sexual expression and autonomy have been relegated to a 24-hour space, with purity as the standard at every other time.

There remains the unsettling fact — for all of us who are not wearing the sexy-Smurfette costume (or not wearing the “excessively”-sexy version, like that slut across the room) — that even Halloween is not exempt from purity policing.  Sexuality — naughty, slutty sexuality — raises an uproar in defense of moral, chaste purity… even at that Halloween party.  Even during that night when — to quote the Mean Girls doctrine — a girl “can dress up like a slut and no other girl can say a word about it,” those same judgments are thought, whispered, and remembered.  Those judgments don’t cease to exist on October 31st, and they cement the rightness of “saying a word about” someone else’s sexuality — or presentation — every other day of each year.

I know because I’ve done this.  For most of my life, I’ve been the girl at the party, raising her eyebrows and shaking her head.  And yet I know that if I were ever to strap myself into one of those over-priced sexy-Big-Bird costumes it would — in the context of my life and my struggles — be an accomplishment. I know that my pointedly de-sexualized costumes are no less the result of social programming than the costumes I judge.  And I don’t take issue with the fact that I’m a prude.  But increasingly, I take issue with the extent to which my prudishness– like any other sexual choice — fails to be value-neutral.

If I’m opting out of the Slutoween phenomenon, I don’t want it to be because there’s moral superiority in that. I don’t want it to be because I’ve clung fast to the virgin end of the virgin-whore dichotomy, and — in doing so — helped to keep that dichotomy in place.

So, increasingly, I take issue Slutoween for not going far enough. I take issue with the minimal definition of progress it embodies, while challenging my own unwillingness to go even that far.

Yep.  There you have it:  “Slutoween is too much” to “Slutoween’s not enough” in 364 days.  I blame Yes Means Yes.

And by blame, I mean credit, worship, and openly thank.  Happy holidays, all ye spooks and puritans!

*Yes, it exists.  No, I did not link it.  You can google that shit your own darn self.


One Comment

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  1. Aarthi / Nov 29 2010 1:14 am

    Heh, interesting post, as all your posts tend to be. 🙂 I’m sure if I responded at length I’d fill a whole blog-post myself. It’s interesting, your post seems to imply three categories of girls almost- those who choose to dress slutty all year round, those who dress modestly except on halloween, and those who dress modestly even on halloween. Not even getting to the issue of whether such a categorization does or should exist, I think in the face of opposing pressures (dress slutty/reclaim your femininity! be modest/don’t make people think you’re willing to do something you’re actually not!), it might actually be beneficial that there exists atleast a middle ground. As a person who is generally modest to the point of almost being (wilfully) desexualized, I do appreciate that there is an occasion that allows me to feel comfortable departing from my norm without people assuming that I am changing that norm. I suppose, for better or for worse, it means I can dress like a slut for one day, without people assuming I am a slut, which is not to say that being a slut is bad, just that it’s not me. But just because I am fine applying certain labels to myself- “prude”, “innocent”, “modest”- doesn’t mean I don’t want to play outside those boundaries every now and again. 🙂

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