In the infamous words of Cady Heron, “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.” If you take a trip to your local Party City or pop-up costume shop, you’re guaranteed to find shelves stocked with skimpy costumes that often bear a closer resemblance to lingerie than actual clothing. French maid? Nurse? Schoolgirl? Take your pick.
But what about boys? Is it okay for males to talk about their female counterparts’ Halloween costumes (or any other aspect of their physical appearance) either directly to women or amongst each other? I think so. I know this might not be the most popular or politically correct opinion, especially in light of recent events in the media, but hear me out. After presidential candidate Donald Trump’s confession of sexual assault was brushed aside by some as locker room talk, I spent a lot of time thinking about whether I should be offended about potentially being the subject of such conversation. But here’s the thing: I wasn’t exceptionally horrified or surprised by his lewd comments but by his admission of nonconsensual groping and kissing women. These are physical and criminal acts and absolutely should not be confused with comments an average individual may make.
Do catcalling and “locker room talk” contribute to rape culture? Possibly. The two can certainly coincide, but plenty of male and female individuals who have made racy comments are not and will never become sex offenders. A few weeks ago, as I was waiting in line to enter a bar, a male customer unsolicitedly approached me to let me know that “[I] have perky t**s”. I inadvertently rolled my eyes and went on with my night. While studying abroad in Brazil, men made kissing noises at my friends and me as we walked down the street. My stories are far from unique—every girl has dozens of similar anecdotes. Comments and behaviors like these are immature, irritating, and occasionally offensive. They can be scary and can absolutely prelude stalking or assault. However, they can also be harmless annoyances and blurring the distinction between these comments and sexual assault minimizes the severity of the latter.
A girl may choose to wear a revealing Halloween costume for any number of reasons. Maybe she’s just been working out a little extra and wants to pretend her two abs are six. Girl, if you’ve got it, flaunt it—crop tops are only socially acceptable for so long post-grad. Is a girl in a revealing costume attention seeking? Maybe, maybe not. But who cares what motivated her outfit choice? By focusing our attention on this question, we are blurring the distinction between consensual and unconsensual acts. Because no girl—slutty costume or not, attention seeking or not—is asking to be sexually assaulted on Halloween or any other time.
The distinction for both genders needs to be emphasized in discussions of rape culture. Just as a female in a revealing Halloween costume is never asking to be victimized, the vast majority of men who make crude comments do not and will never assault anybody. By focusing on a female’s outfit choice or a male’s word choice, we detract attention from the very real epidemic of sexual assault, which should be at the forefront of these conversations.