It’s your prerogative
By Natalie Serafini, Assistant Editor
It’s a well-known and oft-joked about subject that Halloween brings together two such juxtaposed images: young children running around in pursuit of candy and young women in costumes that reveal more than they conceal. Being the vociferous society that we are when it comes to slut shaming, of course these sexy costumes have attracted the leers, guffaws, and judgement of many—those perpetrators of risqué dress can’t possibly expect anything else!
Some of this judgement originates from a concern for young women’s safety. While I acknowledge that rape and sexual assault are extremely real concerns, directing judgement at women for what they wear—even from a well-intended place of concern—doesn’t make sense. You cannot blame a victim for the actions of a perpetrator of violence. To place judgement or blame on someone for being raped (“If you hadn’t worn that…” “If you hadn’t been out alone at night…” “If you’d been more aware…”) is to absolve the actual guilty party of any wrongdoing. It’s not the victim’s fault that they were assaulted. It’s the rapist or sexual assaulter’s fault for being a sexual assaulter.
Let me put it another way: so-called appropriate attire is subjective, and the line between sexy and skanky differs for everyone. I don’t care where that line is. Clothing—or lack thereof—doesn’t give anyone licence to mistreat you. Rape predates the miniskirt. Sexual assault has nothing to do with what the victim is wearing and everything to do with power. Regardless, even if rape were something that could be avoided simply by covering up, that still says nothing about the victim and everything about the perpetrator of violence. If someone’s being decent is contingent on what I wear, they’re not a decent human being. In fact, I’d say they’re a pretty awful human being.
Since we’ve established that rape is inexcusable even if the victim was wearing a practically non-existent bumblebee costume, let’s move onto the assumptions about women and their sex lives. Unless you’re in a relationship with the person, you’re not in a position to make judgements. This is because you know nothing about their sex life and it’s none of your affair.
Circling all of these unjustified assumptions—that sexual assault is excusable if the victim didn’t wear enough clothing, or that leering bystanders have the right to talk about another person’s sex life—is the idea that a woman must have no self-worth if she appears to be promiscuous. Because society assumes that she has no self-worth, it becomes acceptable to trash-talk, abuse, and even assault her. I don’t think comments, judgements, abuse, or assault are justified, or that there is an asterisk for revealing Slave Leia costumes. I also don’t think so-called promiscuity—whether actual or supposed—says anything about a person’s worth.
One concern attached to a woman “not respecting herself” by wearing revealing attire is the unsolicited concern that the woman won’t be respected by men: she’ll find herself in a series of one-night stands; no man will put forth the effort to get to know her as a person; they’ll never introduce her to their parents; she won’t even be a bridesmaid at other women’s weddings; she’ll die alone, a destitute alcoholic.
Bullshit. That logic assumes a woman’s reputation from Halloween will follow her throughout her life, and that she’ll be a social leper as a result. A costume doesn’t define who you are—if anything, it’s an opportunity to not be yourself for a night. But let’s say you are the sort of person who likes to wear fun and risqué clothing on a daily basis: this fact won’t set your life on a tragic track towards dead, destitute alcoholic.
I’m planning on being a mermaid for Halloween. This will likely mean exposing a substantial amount of midriff and back, leaving little to the imagination. I’m not doing it because I’ve suffered some emotional trauma. I’m not doing it because I don’t respect myself. I’m not doing it because I’m “asking for it.” I’m doing it because it’s Halloween, I like to dress up, and I think being a mermaid will make for a fun and cheap costume. As the great Britney Spears once said, “that’s my prerogative.” But suppose I had suffered emotional trauma or I didn’t respect myself: why should that make me the topic of criticism?
Returning to Spears and her prerogative, I leave you with this thought: “Everybody’s talking all this stuff about me, why don’t they just let me live? I don’t need permission, make my own decisions. That’s my prerogative.”