Halloween remains a valuable outlet for self-expression

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“In the regular world, Halloween is when children dress up in costumes and beg for candy. In Girl World, Halloween is the one night a year when a girl can dress like a total slut and no other girls can say anything about it.” That is, at least according to Cady Heron in the 2004 cult-classic Mean Girls.

Halloween has an inevitable evolution as we age. As infants, our parents pick costumes for cute camera opportunities. As children, we plan all year for Halloween and consider every option until we find the perfect costume. In middle school and high school, we start getting trendy and even bare a little skin. By college, all bets are off and costumes range from clever, to raunchy, to downright inappropriate. Nowhere was this more obvious than Occidental’s campus this past Friday.

But Cady Heron was right: Halloween is the one night a year when women can dress up as whatever or whomever they like. We should not be worrying about being too revealing or too “slutty,” but should instead have the choice to wear whatever takes our fancy that night. Whether that be scary, crude or humorous, dressing up and letting your freak flag fly is all in the Halloween spirit of disguise and mischief.

In the United States, we seem to have an affinity for revealing costumes. Whilst studying abroad in England last semester, it was apparent that their Halloween was more about scary costumes—think dark eye makeup and an abundance of fake wounds— than about who could flash the most skin. American culture, on the other hand, encourages raunchy men’s costumes and saucy women’s costumes as the norm. And while there are plenty of so-called “slutty” women’s costumes that make no sense (such as the readily-available “sexy corn on the cob” outfit) these are all in good fun. Halloween is the ultimate holiday for self-expression and creativity, and everyone should be allowed to interpret the tradition as they see fit.

To preserve this tradition of self-expression, Halloween needs to be approached with an element of wariness and responsibility. We do not have the right to judge our peers on the raciness of their costumes, whether they decide to go as a mummy or a Playboy bunny. Perhaps even more importantly, men have no right to make unwanted advances on a woman because of the amount of skin she has on show. A revealing outfit in the spirit of Halloween is not an invitation for verbal or physical abuse, and is definitely not an excuse for men to act however they want toward a woman.

In fact, if there is anything that recent events on campus have taught us, it is that there is a fine line between being whoever you want to be for one night and being insensitive. At Occidental, posters bearing the message “We’re a culture, not a costume” were appropriately displayed around campus. Costumes that stereotype a particular group, religion or culture and display them as nothing more than an outfit should never be tolerated. Living up to the spirit of this holiday and all its tomfoolery also requires the responsibility to know when to apply sensitivity and self-restraint.

Today, Halloween is the closest we get to bacchanal celebrations. We are allowed—even encouraged—to eat piles of candy. We are urged to indulge in a little escapism and dress outside of our normal attire. We are coaxed into playing pranks and frightening our friends through the day and long in to the night. Halloween at Occidental was no exception.

At this year’s Fall Fest, despite wind, rain and surprisingly chilly temperatures for Southern California, students stayed in the Halloween spirit and wore a variety of costumes. The men and women of Occidental donned various animal onesies, dressed as vampires and witches, imitated hordes of zombies and celebrated as scantily-clad fairies and other winged creatures. Weather was no matter, as both men and women were showing skin on Halloween, staying true to Cady Heron’s prediction.

It seems that Occidental mostly embraced everything good about Halloween—we took full advantage of the fact that what our outfits should be our own choice, whether raunchy, revealing or otherwise. But costumes parodying a specific culture are a big contrast to costumes which play up a person’s own sexuality. While we do not have the right to judge anyone chooses to dress sexily, no one should ever make the choice to dress up at the expense of someone else’s heritage.