Trick or Treat or STOP IT WITH THE OFFENSIVE COSTUMES ALREADY: What Not to Be For Halloween

Like a pap smear or tax season, it happens every year: People wear racist and sexist costumes on Halloween. Hell, maybe you’ve done it yourself! You didn’t know what to be for that one party so you jammed some feathers in a headband and called yourself Pocahontas. Or you grabbed a toy donkey and a poncho and went as a cartoonish Mexican. We’ve all made mistakes and hopefully learned something from them, like how not to be the offensive asshole hanging out by the pumpkin keg. Because seriously, you really shouldn’t wear that stuff.

Dressing up as a stereotype reinforces it, plain and simple. Think about it: The “joke” that is a racist/sexist/culturally appropriative/homophobic/transphobic costume hinges on other people knowing what you’re dressed as and why it’s “funny” (it isn’t though, actually). In order for me to understand that you are a “gangsta” I have to see your bandana and fake braids—and possibly blackface—and do the racist math. This costume decoding happens dozens of times over on Halloween night, and by the time the sun comes up on All Hallows’ Day you’ve reinforced the hell out of harmful, tired stereotypes among countless friends and acquaintances. You’ve also probably alienated and offended countless others who didn’t laugh at your “white trash” beer belly or your Chop Suey specs. It’s a problem.

a man and woman both dressed as burgers, but the woman has far fewer items of clothing on
Who ordered the spandex burger?

Also a problem: sexist costumes, as anyone who’s been advised to dress like a total slut for Halloween is well aware. Don’t get me wrong, I fully condone Halloween hotness for people of all genders, but when the women’s sexy hamburger getup (which is sold out, btw) involves a formfitting bandeau and miniskirt and the men’s version involves, well, a giant foam hamburger, something sexist this way comes.

Lucky for us, lots of smart people are calling bullshit on these Halloween shenanigans and offering suggestions for alternative, less stunningly problematic outfits. Take, for example, this excellent poster series from STARS on why cultures are not costumes:

three posters from the Ohio STARS project showing an Asian, white, and Latina student protesting Halloween stereotypes
Friends don’t let friends wear these costumes.

Adrienne at Native Appropriations has a great response to Spirit Halloween Superstore’s sale of “traditional” Native American costumes along with an archive of posts from Halloweens past, and the Root has a roundup of racist Halloween costumes that will blow your mind. (Bonus: Bitch has covered offensive costumes as well.)

A great resource for venting sexist Halloween frustrations is the Fuck No Sexist Halloween Costumes Tumblr, which lines men’s and women’s costumes up side by side (see: above burger platter) and lets the double standard speak for itself. On at least one occasion they’ve photoshopped a reverse-sexist costume scenario too. Behold, the sexy watermelon:

man in a watermelon dress, woman in a watermelon suit
At least, I *think* it’s photoshopped. Unless Michael Phelps is going seedless this year?

Rethinking that newly purchased Geisha costume and and want to replace it before the Halloween parties start this weekend? First of all: good for you! Second: There are tons of places you can go for fun suggestions! Like right here at Bitch! Also, the Mary Sue has a list of 10 Awesome Ladies to Dress Up As, and Take Back Halloween is a site dedicated to helping you find an amazing historical figure and becoming her via costume. Taking kids trick-or-treating this year? Check out Everyday Feminism’s tips for avoiding sexist Halloween costumes for the younger set.

If you’re dressing up for Halloween this year, avoid stereotypes, and tell your friends to do the same. I’m sure you’ve got a great idea for a feminist costume anyway, right? So share it in the comments and let’s tap that pumpkin keg already!

by Kelsey Wallace
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Kelsey Wallace is an editor in Portland, Oregon. Follow her on Twitter if you like TV and pictures of dogs.

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8 Comments Have Been Posted


Michael Phelps never looked better, IMHO.

Looking for Halloween Costumes

It was so depressing going out to costume stores in Kelowna. Every single store was plugged with misogynist sexiest costumes of nurses, Alice in Wonderland, etc. I think the worse one was the “fat woman” That costume made me super mad. It was the naked body of a fat woman and it was directed towards male costumes. There were many costumes highly offensive in general but the ones with the connotation of fat woman are definitely the most insulting ones. There was one called “tinker belly” WTF. I decided I am not going as Rosie the Riveter this year because Fuck Halloween and the stupid costumes fabricated by white man.</SPAN></P>

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I work at a store that sells costumes and the "Pocahottie" (yes that's the name of it) seems to be one of the biggest sellers...(it's as bad as it sounds) There's also a lot of men dressing up as women, not as a specific character or in drag exactly but just because it's "funny" for a man to be dressed like a woman. And if I hear one more comment about people looking for plus size women's costumes to wear as a joke and asking me "if there are any fat princess costumes" or "how fat are the plus size costumes"....UGH.

Yay way to slutshame

Go Bitch!

Slow news day?

I like both burger costumes, but they're both cheap pieces of junk, really. The men's costume can be unisex, the "women's costume" is not really unisex in mainstream culture. This could be corrected by calling the men's costume "unisex," showing a female and male model in the costumes, and making costumes in smaller sizes that are less skimpy (for women). Amiright here?

The ethnic stereotype costumes are not politically correct and insensitive, you're right, but I think costumes are about costume. If you would feel embarrassed wearing the costume in front of someone of whatever group's identity you're assuming (who is also in costume), the costume may not be a wise choice.

Otherwise, you're killing me, Bitch Media. First you went off about the stupid Victoria's Secret "sexy geisha," now the hamburger costumes. I maintain the the VS costume is inoffensive and does not play to an ethnic stereotype, despite being derived from geisha costumes of yore. You suddenly have an appreciation for the culturally rich history of geishas when Gawker or whatever tabloid outlet pretends that roleplay lingerie is controversial. You're cool with sexy costumes, but of what? Of what?!? Are women in sexy costumes only allowed to dress in generic exotic wear?

im loving the watermelon

im loving the watermelon costume- kinda weird on the guy though

Halloween Costumes

Love how this post is worded. (Pap smear or taxes...)
Way too funny but yet true. Could any of these Halloween costumes just be pure fun without us overthinking them? I think we in a too politically correct world, let us just have some fun this upcoming Halloween.

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