Halloween Costumes Enforcing Gender Roles


With Halloween less than a week away, college students are scrambling to create the perfect costumes. While brainstorming what my own costumes might look like, I couldn’t help but make an unsettling observation: Halloween costumes are designed much differently for men and women. Most all costumes are designed specifically for one gender or another, but those for women are much more sexualized than men’s costumes.

Our culture attaches a tremendous number of  “shoulds” and “musts” to gender identity. These “gender boxes,” or the set of gender ideals constructed by society, are full of contradictions. Women, for example, are expected to be leaders while still following in a man’s footsteps, fun but still feminine and caring; but not overly emotional. The same is true for men who are pressured to be sensitive and respectful while still asserting dominance in relationships with women. All too often, Halloween costumes are a subtle reminder of these unrealistic expectations cast by our peers.

Women’s costumes, no matter their theme, always seem to exhibit some type of sex appeal. The difference is blatantly apparent in costumes which are made for both men and women. Let’s take a popular costume theme worn by both genders, such as Power Rangers. A typical Power Ranger costume for a male consists of a helmet mask and muscular body suit which reveals little skin. The female costume for a Power Ranger disregards the show and consists of a short and revealing tank dress or a tight-bodycon suit accompanied by high heels and glasses, instead of show-accurate helmets. While the male version of the costume stays true to the characters, the female costume is hyper-sexualized.

As a young female, I do not have a problem with femininity, my concern lies with the pressure women feel to to dress in provocative costumes. I consider myself a feminist and try my best to avoid confining people to the societal “norms” of their gender. However, every year, I too yield to pressure to wear a Halloween costume that is, well, slutty. Mainstream costumes clearly create a line of gender difference which forces women to be attractive, sexy and provocative while crafting men’s costumes to reflect strength and dominance.

[pullquote align=”right”]“The mainstream costumes create a line of gender difference which forces women to be attractive, sexy and provocative while crafting men’s costumes to reflect strength and dominance.”[/pullquote]

These Halloween costumes showcase what is socially acceptable and valuable in our ideals about men and women. By buying into the pressure to dress a certain way for Halloween, we are guilty of reinforcing these negative stereotypes. Many may argue the stereotypes I labeled as negative aren’t harmful at all. However, I believe the harm stems from the societal shaming people endure when deviating from the standard way men and women are expected to behave. This Halloween, let’s not condemn girls for dressing like “sluts” nor harass them into showing more skin. Additionally, let’s not judge those whose costumes don’t fit our personal standards of gender. Halloween costumes reflect our society’s attitudes on gender, but they don’t have to reflect yours.