A Love Letter to Halloween: Welcome To Feminspire’s Halloweekend!
Halloween is, hands down, my favorite holiday. It wasn’t my favorite holiday until recently–until after college. As a child, Halloween was fun–what kid doesn’t love dressing up and running in a frenzy from house to house with her friends, collecting candy–but it was also scary. Not scary in the way Halloween is supposed to be scary, but scary in the sense that it was surrounded by constant reminders of danger. I was never allowed to eat my candy until after I got home and my mother had meticulously checked each piece for signs of tampering. Anything that wasn’t sealed, or could conceivably be easily re-wrapped, was tossed. In the late eighties and nineties (my childhood years), the hysteria over the poisoned candy myth was at a peak. I dimly recall school assemblies where a police officer would come to talk to us about all the ways that Halloween could possibly kill us–including being run over by cars that we couldn’t see through our masks, and having our cheap flammable costumes brush against a Jack-o-Lantern and instantly immolate us. It didn’t ruin Halloween for me, but it definitely put a damper on it. Is this something you remember from your childhoods? Is this still something you worry about?
In high school, I didn’t get much of a chance to celebrate Halloween. I did theater tech, and we always had a fall show going up right after Halloween, which meant that I was stuck in hours-long rehearsals or climbing up rickety ladders to focus lights. Once, I think I stayed home to do a Spanish project. (Nerd alert.)
In college, Halloween morphed more into what it is today–a reason for adults to get dressed up and drink while dressed up. This was the Halloween I liked, but I never really enjoyed it in college, mostly because the highlight in Baltimore was the fact that everyone went to Fells Point, and went to bars, and being underage, this just stressed me out. I also didn’t like it because it seemed as if it brought out the worst in people–as exemplified by an incident at my school over a fraternity Halloween party that was widely decried as racist. I remember mostly making up excuses to avoid Halloween, in college. I tried once, my senior year–when I could legally get into bars–but got to Fells Point and forgot my ID and just went home and ordered takeout.
The first Halloween I remember truly loving was in 2010. I was one month out from surgery to remove a tumor from my pancreas, and I had spent most of the previous two months in a state of extreme emotional distress. There were many days when I lay on my couch, feeling too weak to move, but so stir-crazy and lonely that I would stare at the unmoving front door, wondering if it was going to eat me. Halloween–which fell on a Sunday that year–was the first weekend that I put in the effort to really go out. It was the weekend that marked the end of the period in which I thought of myself as a somewhat dehumanized patient.
In 2011, I had just left Baltimore, the city that had been my home for the past six years. While I had friends in New York–I was struggling to adjust, to feel like I belonged. Halloween was the first weekend that I truly felt that way, traipsing around the East Village in a freak Nor’easter celebrating my friend’s 30th birthday.
What I love about Halloween, though, is more than my own personal relationship to it. It’s more than a fun excuse to dress up and go out. It’s more than pumpkins and pumpkin-flavored everything, or horror movies, or candy. Halloween is a cultural snapshot of where we are as a society. That picture changes every year. Our culture is rapidly changing, especially with the rise of the Internet, where ideas can quickly spread.
Much of it, of course, is related to costumes–one of the foundations of Halloween. The holiday is believed to be rooted in the Celtic holiday of Samhain, when the boundary between our world and the world of spirits, fairies and demons thinned and they walked on Earth. Many believe that costumes began as a way to confuse those beings. Most of us no longer believe that the dead, fairies and otherworldly beings mingle with the rest of us on Halloween, but we still overwhelmingly choose to dress up.
Dressing up is fun, but it’s also a powerful act. It’s a way for many of us to be wild, or to express a facet of our personality, with the safety of ‘it’s just a costume.’ Our choices–and how those choices are perceived–are not meaningless. Women’s Halloween costumes are often scrutinized–do you choose to be sexy? Funny? Scary? Many people believe that Halloween just gives women an excuse to “dress slutty for men”–something that points to the denigration of women’s sexuality in our culture, among other things. People often choose to dress as things from other cultures, or as stereotypes of other cultures. What do we say in our choices, about what we consider normal and acceptable? Going back to my own experience–the Halloween party at my university, a ‘Halloween in the Hood’-themed party that drew on many stereotypes about African-Americans, became a campus-wide issue, with many people claiming that it was just in fun, while many students, led by the Black Student Union, pointed to it as a way of showing how prevalent racism was on our campus.
Halloween is also an insight to what has made an impact on our society. In 2008, I remember tons of Sarah Palin and Michael Phelps costumes. Last year, I saw a lot of people dressed as Sugar Skulls. This year, what will the popular costume be, and what will it say about us? I imagine we will see many people dressed as Psy, the Korean rapper behind the viral Gangnam Style video. While Thanksgiving, Christmas and Hanukkah are associated with a continuity of tradition, Halloween is different every year.
I know, I know–here those humorless feminists go again, taking all the fun out of everything. Right? Well, no. Here at Feminspire, we love Halloween. That’s why we’re dedicating this entire weekend to Halloween-related content–from fun nail, costume and makeup ideas to examinations of the “slutty” costume and the idea of masks. We love Halloween, but we don’t think we should just ignore the openings it gives us to discuss our culture. We want to be a fun holiday–but a fun holiday for everyone, including people who risk walking around and seeing stereotypes of their ethnicity or who don’t risk being sexually objectified and disrespected.
Have a happy, safe, and fun Halloween, everyone!
Written by Jess Mary Aloe
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