Letter to the Editor

Sheila Lintott, Chair, Women’s and Gender Studies and Associate Professor of Philosophy

To all Bucknell students who identify as women:

I write with the hopes of inspiring some creativity and individual expression on campus for my favorite holiday, Halloween. Anyone who pays any attention to Halloween costumes is well aware of the implicit mandate for women–and, alarmingly, girls–to sex it up this holiday. Walk down the costume aisle of any store and you’ll get the message: “Ladies, dress up to be anything or anyone you want, set your imagination free, explore possibilities, express yourself, as long as you do it in a sexy manner. Be a nurse, a fairy, a teacher, a pirate, a kitten, hell, be a pimento for all we care. Just make sure your outfit is tight, short, and low-cut. Really tight. Really short. And really low-cut. You want to dress up as Mother Teresa? How fun! Just make sure to show plenty of cleavage and leg.”

What’s to be made of this implicit and actually pretty explicit mandate? Should women follow the “rules?” Is it an opportunity at more freedom than is usually granted to women? Maybe it’s a bona fide opportunity to be sexy without the risk of being slut-shamed.

Sorry to say, but it is not. Frankly, there is no guaranteed way to avoid slut-shaming, no matter the day, no matter the outfit. If you identify as a woman and are at all comfortable in your skin and clothes, slut-shamers can, and likely will, find you. This is so even if you’re just a little comfortable with your physical self–and I don’t think I’ve ever met a woman who is completely comfortable in her skin and clothes.

Maybe the best response to the overly sexualized Halloween offerings is to go the other direction. Choose a costume that distances you from all aspects of femininity and norms of attractiveness. Instead of a sexy zombie, be a hideous zombie in baggy clothes. Aim to make yourself as unattractive as possible and to present a visage that squashes rather than piques sexual interest. Maybe this way you’ll be free from judgment.

Nope. You’ll likely be judged harshly for not being sexy, for not caring about how you look, for seemingly not being motivated to please others. You might be ignored or the target of hostility. Many will find your costume brave, weird, or humorous because a woman who doesn’t care about how men see her is seen as dangerous, an outcast, or a joke.

On Halloween, women are damned if they do and damned if they don’t, as per usual. My recommendation is that you take this opportunity to exercise the ability women are rarely encouraged to practice: choose what you want to do, to be, to say–actually, choose what you want to want, for your own sake, not someone else’s. Free from the desire to please others, the options truly are endless—on Halloween and in life. But for Hypatia’s sake, don’t buy what they are selling–whether at Wal-Mart or via peer pressure. Think. Imagine. Be creative. Have fun.

Want some ideas? Be a goddess/god or mythical hero/heroine! My daughter was Medusa last year and I can loan you the awesome headdress she wore. I want it back, though. It’s awesome. Be Achilles. Just put a band-aid on your heel and wear a sheet. Be a famous thinker or artist. Be Georgia O’Keeffe and carry around one of her large floral representations and a paintbrush and tell those who see a resemblance to female genitalia in your work that they have their own issues. Speaking of issues, be Freud. Carry a cigar and keep repeating, “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” Have your graduation regalia? Be a Supreme Court justice. There are a few particularly good ones to choose from. Maybe you can be one of your favorite professors. I’d prefer it not be me, but if you must, please be sure to represent my best side: my left.

Maybe you can take the opportunity to make a statement. Be a woman with full control over her reproductive life or one who is not at risk of sexual assault. I don’t know how, though.

Wait, I’ve got the best idea yet! Be a feminist: wear whatever you want and demand respect.


Sheila Lintott

Chair, Women’s and Gender Studies
Associate Professor of Philosophy

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